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5 do's and don'ts of kirtan singing
Photography by hartim belyamani

5 do's and don'ts of kirtan singing

by Kamini Natarajan kamini natarajan
Be Spiritual | Meditation


I have been chanting and singing Kirtans for as long as I can remember. From experiencing Kirtans at intimate gatherings to large music festivals, I have seen it all. Kirtan is form of music and it of course involves singing. However there is more to it than simply music. When we talk about Kirtans we don’t think of it as music for entertainment, we think of it as music for meditation. It brings a sense of bliss, connects us with our inner consciousness and gives us a sense of happiness. There is this feeling of buzz that people often relate to after Kirtan.

In my experience I have noticed people smiling, giggling away and generally being more open and ready to accept after Kirtans.

Here are 5 Do’s and 5 Don’ts to help you enrich your Kirtan experience.

DO’S

1. Do bring your heart: Kirtan singing is not a private activity. When you attend a Kirtan you will encounter lot of people – some chatty, some quiet, some overly gregarious, some serious and everyone else in between. Come with an open heart. We all have our own life story and experiences that make us what we are. We all have different personalities. Embrace it with all your heart. Don’t be stressed out or pissed off by the difference. It is what makes us unique.

2. Open up your voice: Look, I totally understand that you may not be the best singer in town. Neither is the person next to you or the one next to him/her. When we sing together your voice is not going to be the only voice. In Kirtan voices merge together to create a sound that is divine. So contribute yours. Make it count for yourself by singing out loud. Remember there are musicians, lead singer, other participants etc. So sing your heart out.

3. Musicians, keep your ego away: This is a hard one and I suffered from this too. If you are a trained musician, don’t get all worked up if someone next to you is singing out of tune. It does not matter. Kirtan singing is not about technical singing at all. It is about sharing the melody and love that music creates. If you happen to be the Kirtan leader, try not to create Kirtans with intricate melodies or odd time signatures. You can keep them for your solo/band performances. Kirtan needs to be simple and soulful. The idea is to encourage everyone to sing and participate.

4. Be in the present moment: This is a pretty obvious one but we tend to focus so much on stuff we want to forget about that we end up constantly reminding ourselves of those things. That nosy co-worker, that guy in red Mercedes who cut you off, that person who gave you a left handed compliment and said “you look so nice with your makeup on.” Hmm what did she mean anyway! Let it all go and fade away. Although I am a firm believer of not suppressing your inner voice and thoughts, Kirtan is not a place to think about these. On the contrary, you participate in Kirtan to get such clutter out of your mind. So be in the present moment and enjoy.

5 Embrace new words: Whether you are attending your very first Kirtan, or your 154th Kirtan, you will encounter words that are new and difficult for you. Kirtans are mostly written in Sanskrit – a foreign language that is not only new to you but is pretty darn hard even for people from the land where it originates from – India. So it is totally okay to skip a word or replace it with something that fits (as long as it is appropriate!) If you don’t get it the first time, try again. Kirtan singing is repetitive. The lead singer is going to be singing the same line again and again and again. So you will get plenty of chances to catch up. Be patient with yourself and people around you.

DON’TS

1. Don’t beat yourself up: Really- isn’t that the entire idea of Kirtan? Don’t sweat it if you sing something wrong. You can observe and learn the next time. Don’t panic if you don’t know what the hell you are singing. Go with the flow- or don’t go- just let it flow.

2. Don’t let your kids go wild: parents, guardians, grand-parents – I totally LOVE kids and have my own. If you want to bring your kids to a Kirtan, remember to take care of them and keep them with you. Kirtans are not play dates or a time for them to start learning a new instrument. I enjoy being around kids and feel they can benefit greatly from Kirtans and meditation. However as parents we need to teach them that Kirtan sessions are intended to be meditative. Other attendees who are there don’t want their experience to be ruined. Be mindful of others and either book a baby-sitter or talk to your kids about what to expect from a Kirtan before heading out.

3. Don’t feel pressured to sing: I know I said above to open your voice and sing. This is by no means a legally binding statement – you absolutely don’t have to sing if you just want to come, relax, and listen. Some people gain the same feeling of joy and meditation without uttering one word. If you are that person don’t feel compelled to sing. The important thing is to be surrounded by divine sound waves and energy. Majority of people find it easier to concentrate by singing but maybe you can do it without singing. If you are able to connect with your inner self and avoid distractions without singing and you don’t want to sing, then don’t sing by all means.

4. Don’t be uncomfortable: Typically Kirtan singing involves sitting down and singing for couple of hours. If you are not used to it, there is no obligation for you to follow it. Bring a folding chair, yoga block or whatever you need to be comfortable. You don’t need to suffer and think about your knee pain while participating in a Kirtan. It will distract you from singing and be counter-productive. Be comfortable, be present.

5. Don’t stand right in front of others: This one is my favorite. I have a good friend who always posts pictures of people behind who stand right in front of her and totally block her view during Kirtans. If you are one of those offenders, please, please don’t do that the next time. You may say, what is there to see in Kirtan- it is mostly dark anyway. But the person behind you might want to look at the lead singer / musicians. Sometimes it helps focus or helps figure out what words lead singer is singing. Some lead singers make hand gestures to help others sing back. So please, once again, don’t block people by standing up. If you absolutely need to, then please go to the back of the room.

Happy Kirtan!

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