Healing and cleansing—as we swayed and swooned to the tight melodic riffs; hearts singing in unison, and hands clapping in time.
Jai Ma, Jai Jai Ma Saraswati, Saraswati.
As rain clouds merged menacingly over Whitetop Yoga in Abingdon, Virginia, we gathered in hushed anticipation for an evening of chanting, meditation, and song.
We were there as a celebration of Kirtan (Keer-tahn), the branch of Bhakti Yoga which is considered to be the most direct path to the Divine.
Yoga instructors-in-training, and occasional practitioners like me, opened our minds and hearts to the rhythmic fusion of Asheville’s Sangita Devi Kirtan—and we were generously rewarded.
Joining in the call and response Sanskrit mantras, or simply absorbing the meditative, and at times hypnotic beat of the music, had its way of holding us in its charm—sweeping us up in a wave of emotion, or lulling us into reflective stillness.
We had become Sangha.
Sangha is a community bonded by our intention to be whole, to heal divisions within and without; a community intent on co-creating a lived experience of peace, justice, and harmony for all.
While Sanskrit mantras invoke the various Hindu deities, meditators understand that they are essentially tapping into the core universal energies that surround them.
“…sing Psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts“
Kirtan reminded me, not only of this verse from Paul’s Letter to the Colossians, but of the Christian meditative practice of Taizé—a candlelit ritual of meditative chanting founded by Brother Roger of the monastic community of Taizé, in Saône-et-Loire, France.
Like Kirtan, the Taizé service is centered on the repetition of simple chants, many of them in Latin like Ubi caritas et amor…Ubi caritas Deus ibi est (where there is charity and love, there God resides). “It is a time to rest in God, to let the words listened to and sung penetrate one’s being,” is how Brother John, a Taizé monk, explains this elegant service in the dark.
As in Kirtan, a Taizé prayer service is punctuated with many moments of silence, allowing participants to rest in stillness, quiet prayer, or reflection.
Heart of Devotion
Singing in an ancient, holy language like Latin, Sanskrit, Hebrew, or Punjabi has a way of evoking devotion in the heart of the singer. As our Kirtan leader explained, simply allowing the music and mantras to evoke whatever response they do, is enough. It is a sacred experience of joy and upliftment—whether one dances around the room belting out the chants, or sits in quiet stillness enjoying the feeling of connection with the group.
The essence of the experience is that of connection and sacred bonding.
“Kirtan is a means of finding our way back to the core of our being, to our heart, and to our connection with each other.” ~ Ragani
With one final drum roll from the rain on the roof of Whitetop Yoga, our evening of Kirtan came to an end. And with it, we felt washed in a spirit of gratitude and renewal.
Given the relentless grind of deadlines, finances, and social networking that we indulge in daily, an occasional evening of Kirtan is an elegant way to decompress, reconnect with spirit, and nurture a heart of devotion for the divine presence within and around us.
A precious gift to self in a ragged world in search of its soul.
Om Shreem Hreem Saraswatyai Namaha.