Born from one of the oldest sacred sound traditions of the world, kirtan call-and-response chanting, comes to us from India. Kirtan involves Satsang, a Sanskrit term meaning where people gather together as a community to remember to turn inward and to help each other find our own inner path. Kirtan is called yogic chanting and yoga means union. Kirtan uses a combination of sound, vibration, melody, harmony, and Sanskrit mantras to lead us into meditation: a state of unity and inner connection with ourselves, our community, and more expanded states of consciousness. The chanting can be moving and exhilarating, and at the same time, quieting and meditative. Kirtan may he performed in any language because all sound comes from the Divine source and because kirtan is sung with devotion the vibrations that are created have a universal impact. Kirtan is part mantra yoga, nada yoga (the yoga of vibratory frequency and sound), and bhakti yoga (the yoga of devotion and the heart). Chaitanya Mahaprabu (1486-1533) began spreading congregational call and response chanting of the holy names of universal consciousness throughout India, and started the sankirtana movement that continues worldwide today.
An ancient yoga tradition, kirtan is one of the oldest sacred music traditions in the world. Recently it has been popularized by such notable people as Krishna Das, Jai Uttal, Ragani, and Deva Premal. Kirtan is a participatory, call-and-response, cross-cultural music experience that incorporates the audience into the event. Musically, Ann Arbor Kirtan combines Indian and western instruments and melodies, including bass guitar, guitar, dulcimer, keyboard, cello, tambura, harmonium, flute, cymbals, tabla, and an assortment of other drums. Kirtan is a participatory and cross-cultural music experience in which the participants are of equal or greater importance than the musicians and chant leaders.
Chanting is a form of spiritual self-expression. The individual chanter expresses who they are in that moment, giving themselves wholeheartedly to the chant, and in turn opening their heart and moving their personal process forward in a significant and powerful way. You don’t have to be feeling blissful or be a ‘true believer’ to experience this. One can simply participate as an experiment and see for oneself. Ann Arbor Kirtan is a not-for-profit organization of volunteer musicians and singers, coming from a variety of yogic disciplines and professions, who engage in chanting as a spiritual practice. Each of us has had some kind of direct experience of the power of mantra and chanting, and through this became committed part of our regular spiritual practice.
Below is an example of a chanting sheet we hand out at our kirtan events. The name of the chant is on top, followed by the words in the chant and then the meaning of the is explained.
1) Samadhi Sita Ram
Hari Rama Rama Ram, Sita Rama Rama Ram.
Bolo Sri Ram jai Ram jai jai Ram, Sri Ram jai Ram jai jai Ram
Ram Ram Sita Ram, Ram Ram Sita Ram,, Sita Ram, Sita Ram, Ram Ram Sita Ram
Meaning: Rama represents the perfect king, who establishes the rule of dharma, right action, manifesting harmony on earth. Sita represents the ideal consort/wife. Sita was born from the earth, and endured great trials with humility, strength and devotion. Their passion desire for each other not only represents the yearning of devoted lovers, but also for the inner unity of the male and female energies within ourselves. The words (jai and bolo) here simply praise Rama and Sita.
2) Govinda Hare Gopala
Govinda Hare Gopala
Govinda Hare Hare
Hare Krishna Hare Hare
Meaning: Devotional song to Govinda & Gopala, who are aspects of Krishna, the lord of universal love, ecstasy and bliss.
Om Namoh Bhagavate Vasudevaya (repeat 4X)
Panduranga Vitale, Hari Narayana, Baja Narayana Govinda
Hari Narayana, Baja Narayana, Narayana Baja Govinda
Narayana Baja Govinda (ending)
Meaning: These are actually two ancient chants in praise of Krishna. The first heralds the enlightening energy of the original creator of the universe. The second hails the purity of Krishna’s physical manifestation. When we sing these chants, we joyfully praise the force of creation manifesting in our daily lives.
4) Krishna Govinda Gopala
Krishna Govinda Gopala
Krishna Murali Mano Hara Nanda La La
Meaning: These are all names of Krishna who represents devotional and ecstatic personal love, knowledge, and bliss that transcend all boundaries of time and space
5) Rama Rama Rama
Rama, Rama, Rama, Sri Rama, Sri Rama
Meaning:Rama, legendary king of ancient India, is revered for his unending compassion, courage and devotion to spiritual values and duty, despite harsh tests of life and time.
6) Jaya Bhagavan
Meaning:Meditate on Universal Consciousness / Oneness in the Infinite form.
7)Hari Krishna ( Vaiyasaki Das)
Hari Krishna, Hari Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hari Hari
Hari Rama, Hari Rama, Rama Rama, Hari Hari
Meaning:This sixteen-name, thirty-two syllable mantra is believed by practitioners to bring about a higher state of consciousness when heard, spoken, meditated upon or sung out loud. This higher consciousness ultimately takes the form of pure love (Krishna). Hari refers to the energy of the divine while Krishna and Rama means "He who is All-Attractive" and "He who is the Source of All Pleasure."
8) OM Mata Kali
Om Mata Kali Om Mata Durga
Kali Durga ye Namoh Namah
Meaning: Om is the universal mantra invoking the possibility of achieving enlightenment. Mata means mother. Mata Kali and Mata Durga are two aspects of the divine feminine, one in her fiercest form and one in her warrior persona. The words in this chant invoke the support of more vigorous energies of feminine consciousness to achieve enlightenment.
Nataraj Nataraja, Jay Shiva Shankara Nataraja
Shivaraj Shivaraja, Shambho Shankara Shivaraja
Om Namah Shivaya, Om Namah Shivaya
Meaning: We are invoking Lord Shiva, who is the Lord of the dance/play of consciousness, to please perform his dance of annihilation to rid ourselves and grant us liberation from the demons of ignorance and ego within us!