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Kirtan singing is an ancient practice that originated in India around the 12th Century. It is a form of collective singing- a call and response song where a lead singer starts with a chant and everyone sings it back. This ancient practice has recently become popular in the the west. Many yoga studios offer Kirtan singing as part of their practice.
Kirtans often use short chants or Mantras, often in Sanskrit or Hindi. In this article I am listing the top 5 words you may come across in kirtan singing and their meanings. I am also including words with similar meanings that you can use to create your own Kirtans outside the yoga studio.
Jai means praise
Jai Ganesh means Praise Lord Ganesha. Jai also means Victory. Jai may also be pronounced as Jay or Jaya. It is a word you will frequently find used in kirtan singing.
Namah means I bow down to, or I offer my prayers to. Namah can be used either before or after the subject. For example you could say Namah Shivaya or Shivaya Namah as both mean the same. We can also just say Nama without the “Haa” sound in the end. Please note that it is not pronounced like “Nam” in “Name.” Each syllable is pronounced instead like Na-Ma-Ha.
Shri is used a mark of respect like “Sir.” You will often hear Shri Ganesh, Shri Krishna, etc. Many people write it as "Shree" as there is a long “e” sound in the end rather than “I.” Based on the melody of Kirtan you may also hear “Sheere” instead of Shri- sounding like “Siri” the app. This is also the exact same word as Shri.
Boolo means “Say” more, like “Say it.” Many Kirtan walas and walis use this while singing to encourage participants to sing back. Boolo Jai Ram means “Say Jai Ram.” Boolo is pronounced like “Bo” and “lo” with “o” sound. It is a fun word. Say it outloud "Boolo." See?
Maata means mother. Maa or Maata is used in Kirtan for Mother Goddesses like Maata Saraswati or Maata Durga. Maa has a long “Aah” sound and “Ta” is a sound not found in English but closest to “T” as in “tea.” Practice saying “Tea” but push the tongue towards back of upper teeth. I find it easier to pronounce “Maa” and it has the exact same meaning.
Hope this little list gets you started with your Kirtan singing and gives you a little more confidence in your chanting practice. You can write your first Kirtan with these five words: Jai Maata Namah, Shri Maata Namah and add “Boolo” in the end when chanting gets intense. To learn more about Kirtan or Sanskrit Language, please visit my website at http://www.kaminimusic.com/learn
Author Kamini Natarajan is a Kirtan Singer based in Simi Valley, CA. She organizes a monthly Kirtan Meetup and also teaches special workshops for Kirtan, Sanskrit and Harmonium.