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A Newbie’s Guide to Kirtan

In a room in Central, Hong Kong, twenty people sit on the floor with their eyes closed. They are in lotus pose or seated on a low chair. Some lightly sway, some close their eyes, some read lyrics. A few hold their hands over their hearts, or hug their neighbour. They harmonize along with a tune kept by a woman in the middle orchestrating the songs.   They are deep in it—the chant, the meditative bliss, the interior being of sacred calm that’s easier to access when you vibe with the sound waves.

In Hong Kong, Kirtan is picking up in popularity.  Kirtan songs might be a repeat of a few words or a few lines, achieving hypnotic quality.  Typically sung in Sanscrit, these simple songs and chants give your ego a rest, without worrying about lyrics, just listen, repeat, and sink into the flow.   In a form of singing meditation, it’s a way of transforming the mind. By practicing vocal meditation, you learn the habits and patterns of your mind and begin to cultivate more positive ways of being.

What happens at a Kirtan?

Usually, the organizer will hand out the lyric sheet to make it easy for everyone to sing along.  The chant lyrics might not be in order so you might be informed on which song will be next.  Simply flip to that page, and the lyrics should only be a few words or a few lines long.  As you repeat the mantras in the song, you might enter a meditative and blissful state. Some people hold hands with their neighbour, and sway along to the music as they chant, others close their eyes and chant. It is a very personal experience, but you still feel connected as you chant and sing with everyone in the room.

Things to Note for Kirtan First Timers

  1. When you first step into a kirtan circle, don’t worry… because no one is comfortable singing in a group of strangers.  Know that you’re not alone.  Everyone has their hesitations.  Everyone is weird for an hour, ok?
  2. You don’t need to get the words right.  Sanskrit is just another language.  It’s not inherently religious or anti-Jesus or anything.  It’s an ancient language that carries a meaning to every syllable.  Examples of mantras could be “love to all” or “peace on earth”.  Yet it’s not imperative you get every syllable correct because your intentions are what matters most.
  3. Can’t sing?  No problem.  What matters is that you come together as a group, and let your voices find each other.

How do you feel after?

Everyone has a different experience, but many will feel the powerful vibes in the room.  Most people feel light, amazing, joyous, loving, with a “meditation high after the session.