The Telugus

Kirtan: Untranslatable Indian Word

Kirtan at Govindas in Sweden

Kirtan is a Sanskrit word, कीर्तन , and found its way literally to other Indian languages including English as it is ‘kirtan’.

Kirtan is usually a eulogy, a praise, to a god, godhead, or spiritual leader.

Kirtan in Hinduism is devotional singing usually accompanied by musicial instruments. Kirtan means singing, narrating, reciting, telling, describing, chanting of a holy name, an idea, a story specifically related to ancient Indian Hindu scirptures – Vedas, Upanihads, Puranas, Epics.

Kirtan is also a genre of performing arts connoting a musical form of narration or a shared recitation, spiritual or religious ideas, as in Indian subcontinent.

H. H. Bhakti Charu Swami Maharaj (1945-2020) was a spiritual leader and worked in spreading the message of the power of holy name ‘Krishna’ and ISKCON’s mission. For him, kritan was a pathyway to spirituality and spiritual sky. He saw kirtans, singing and changing of the holy name Krishna, as a way to discover one’s spirituality and the pathyway to spiritual sky. He said ‘just by singing, by chanting this holy name we can develop spiritually and eventually find ourselves back in the spiritual sky’. He said, ‘How do I appreciate kirtan,” asked Bhakti Charu Swami and explained about the significance of kirtan. “Kirtan means glorification of Krishna … when we chant glories of Krishna, then Krishna hears, and Krishna becomes pleased. In this age of Kali, Krishna descended himself in the form of holy name. Therefore we are getting an opportunity to associate with Krishna through chanting of his name or kirtan. And another aspect of appreciating kirtan is its beautiful melody, its beautiful beat, its beautiful rhythm, and when we get exposed to kirtan then automatically, spontaneously we become appreciative and we begin to dance. The dance is an expression of our inner joy. So the real appreciation of kirtan comes from our inner joy that we experience in chanting.’

Kirtan allows us to enter into a mystery world – a world where all the logic of our minds, all the condition and learning are left outside. And in this mystery, we create a temple inside of our hearts, a place of refuge, a place of love, a place of just being.” –Jai Uttal

Kirtan is a form of purification and liberation. The mantras sensitize us, polish away the clutter in our heads and melt the numbness in our hearts, so we feel clear, awake, and brilliantly alive.” –Sean Johnson

“Are you looking for me? I am in the next seat. My shoulder is against yours. You will not find me in the stupas, not in Indian shrine rooms, nor in synagogues, nor in cathedrals: not in masses, nor kirtans, not in legs winding around your own neck, nor in eating nothing but vegetables. When you really look for me, you will see me instantly – you will find me in the tiniest house of time. Student, tell me, what is God? He is the breath inside the breath.” –Kabir

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