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Kirtan - the song of the heart

‘Bhakti is love for love’s sake … Love is natural to everybody.’

Swami Sivananda

Kirtan is an ancient practice which cultivates a sense of calm, connectedness and community. It originated in South India some 1500 years ago, when people from lower castes began to sing and dance in ecstatic communion on the streets, as they were not allowed into the temples. By chanting sacred mantras and devotional poetry, they were able to bring themselves to a state of pure love and devotion, despite the hardships of their lives.

This practice remains very powerful in the 21st century. Using the voice to repeat Sanskrit mantras in a group brings harmony and peace to the mind. To take part, you don’t have to be a singer, or even have any musical gifts at all. Music is your birthright as a living being on this planet, and kirtan can help you come and claim that right. As well as our voices, we will use a harmonium, drums, and singing bowls to create the sounds.

Kirtan is a non-denominational practice - it is for people of all faiths and none. You can direct the energy of the practice towards your loved ones, or the deepest dreams of your own heart. Or you can have a strong spiritual path in a certain direction and bring that devotion to kirtan. Everything and everyone are welcome.

The mantras are chanted in Sanskrit, an ancient language which is a precursor of Latin and Greek. It’s a language that has been preserved specifically for spiritual practice. We sing the names of deities associated with India and Hinduism, but what we are really invoking are universal patterns of energy that we might want to bring into our lives. For example, we might sing to Durga, an aspect of the Divine Mother, for fierce courage; elephant-headed Ganesh to remove obstacles in our lives (especially the ones we put there ourselves) or the embodiment of pure consciousness, Shiva, for the ability to let go of what no longer serves us.

Rym first encountered kirtan in a Jivamukti yoga class in London a few years ago. At first, the words were startling and off-putting, hard to pronounce and remember. But then the rhythm of the chanting and the sweetness of the melodies, as well as the sheer joy of singing alongside other human voices offered with such vulnerability began to sweep away her doubts.

Ed first heard kirtan around 15 years ago, at the Sivananda Centre in London. He was similarly hesitant at first, but has since dived into this practice and has been studying tabla (an Indian percussion instrument) for the past seven years.

Together, in 2018 we embarked on a journey deeper into the practice with Nikki Slade, who is our dear teacher and a pioneer in making kirtan accessible and bringing it to a 21st century public. We have also studied devotional song in Mysore in India, and led kirtans in London (from where we moved to Norwich in September 2019).

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