I am the co-founder of Ann Arbor Kirtan, a type of yoga chanting that integrates meditation, mantra and chanting. Our vision was to create an opportunity for people who love chanting to come together in a setting that was not affiliated with any religious group. Ann Arbor Kirtan combines Indian and Western instruments and melodies, including guitar, bass, sarangi, dulcimer, cello, tambura, harmonium, flute, cymbals, tabla, khol drum and an assortment of other percussion instruments. Kirtan is a participatory and cross-cultural musical experience in which the participants are equally as important as the chant leaders and musicians.
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.
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.
We did not come together for the purpose of performing to an audience. In fact, we’ve done everything we can think of to minimize the separation of the chant leaders/musicians and the participants, and still maintain enough structure for it all to work well. Participants are offered chanting sheets with the Sanskrit words and English translation. Recently after one of our monthly Kirtan nights a young couple new to chanting was overheard commenting, ‘this is such an amazing way to spend a Friday night!’ Well said! Chanting is a moving experience that is easy to do, requires no special equipment, and it’s free! What’s not to like?