Music has so much power that it can free your ego. Through kirtan you can reach the highest pinnacle of spiritual experience. Not by yoga or by any other means but by kirtan alone can you have the vision of the Divine.
-Swami Satyananda Saraswati
The tradition of naam sankirtan is very ancient. Naam means 'name', sam means 'complete' and kirtan is the chanting of simple mantras set to music, together in groups, with rhythm, energy and devotion. The prefix 'sam' implies that one should sing kirtan with full feeling (bhava), love (prem) and faith (shraddha). Naam sankirtan is one of the nine forms of bhakti. In Kali yuga, the present age, the simplest way of attaining peace and God is through naam sankirtan. "There is no other path, panacea or way out in the present era," says Sri Swamiji.
The singing of God's name is a science which has been perfected in India over thousands of years. It is a part of nada yoga, the yoga of sound, in which you produce sound waves and follow them with your awareness. Nad means 'flow of sound vibrations', yoga means 'to unite or merge with', so nada yoga is uniting or merging with these sound vibrations in an attempt to transcend the mind. Kirtan is mantra or eternal sound. When the mind becomes one with the nada or sound and the mantra, there is no difference between the mind and the mantra.
Mantras do not belong to any religion, caste or creed. They transcend all borders and the chanting of mantras associated with the various religions opens up the heart to an acceptance of the brotherhood of man. It is of little importance whether one sings Rama, Krishna, Chandi, Durga, Allah or Christ, as all are the names of the One Supreme Being. Singing these mantras to the accompaniment of music, with the correct pronunciation, beat, rhythm, tune and pitch, and with the whole heart, enables one to withdraw from the body and the external environment, leaving the mind and all the prejudices that go with it behind.
Swami Satyananda Saraswati has said, "In the past, I thought that if people wanted to learn yoga, then it should be taught to them. But now I say teach naam sankirtan to young and old. The whole atmosphere will be purified. There will be peace, happiness and well being wherever kirtan is sung. Kirtan will be the yoga of the 21st century. Just as you have taken an interest in yoga, you will also take an interest in kirtan. It is my dream."
Emotions are the eyes through which you can experience a greater love and awareness. If you want to experience peace and God, you have to develop the emotional side of your nature.
-Swami Niranjanananda Saraswati
Kirtan is concerned with the emotional personality. It bypasses the mind altogether. Emotions are very powerful tools in the hands of the aspirant, and one should conserve and channel the emotional energy very carefully. Through the intellect you cannot go very deep; you cannot realize the consciousness. But, using the fuel of the emotions through kirtan, you can just soar up beyond the mind like a plane taking off into the open night sky. However, the singing of kirtan is an art and not simply an emotional outburst. Neither is it only a song by means of which we express our feelings in an uncontrolled way. Rather, it is the means, the method, by which we can dive into our emotions, without any interference from the mind, and experience our inner expansiveness, our inner universe.
The singing of God's name is one way of developing bhakti or one-pointed devotion towards God. In fact, the relationship between devotee and God should start with singing of the name. Name or mantra is a method, but actually it is your own inner feeling, your emotion, that is important. These emotions, which are usually so unruly, uncontrollable and dissipated, can be focused and channelled towards the object of devotion or God through the means of naam sankirtan.
When one sings without ego, with fully focused awareness and intensity, straight from the seat of the emotions at anahata, one can ignite and unite the hearts of others and help them transcend through the combined power of the emotions. Regarding the emotions and kirtan, Sri Swamiji says, "When you practise kirtan you are travelling by the jet of emotions and therefore you do not confront the mind at all. If your emotions are charged just by hearing the name of God, you can go into a trance."
The point of singing God's name is divine intoxication, divine ecstasy. 'Harinaam ka pyala peekar aur pilakar ban ja tu matavala' - Drink the glass of wine filled with God's name yourself serve it to others and become ecstatic. If you could sing just one line of kirtan for three to four hours, you would go into bhava samadhi.
- Swami Satyananda Saraswati
When total harmony between body, mind and prana takes place, together with the mantra, it is known as bhava samadhi, or ecstasy, where action and emotion fuse into one, and we develop awareness of the inner spirit, or atman. When kirtan is sung correctly with the right rhythm and harmony, it restructures the whole pranic flow, as the body and mind move with the rhythm of the music and mantra. If you continue singing kirtan with devotion in the same rhythm, slowly and steadily, and build to a climax very slowly, you will go into a trance, into bhava samadhi. Chaitanya Mahaprabhu - and many other saints - used to move about in this state. Intoxicated by the name of God, he would be followed by a gathering of villagers, singing and dancing in ecstasy.
God's name is like a detergent that cleans the karmas. It cleans the dross of the soul which you have accumulated during the course of this life and of many past lives. By constantly remembering the name, man can cross over the ocean of life to the other side. The Lord's name is the redeemer of all physical, mental and social illnesses.
-Swami Satyananda Saraswati
Kirtan opens up the heart and purifies the atmosphere. As Sri Swamiji says, "It is like waving a stick of incense in the air." It creates such pure, positive energy that no evil spirits or negative influences can enter the environment where it is sung. In the house where kirtan is done regularly, both mental and physical sickness will be warded off. Kirtan is also the best way to relax and to raise your energy. It helps to make you free from tension, high blood pressure and other stress-related diseases, bringing about happiness and mental peace. So, when you come home tired and strained from a stressful day at the office, just sit down quietly, close your eyes and sing a few kirtans with your friends or family and see the effect.
Kirtan removes the fears, inhibitions, suppressions and neuroses, from which the people of the 21st century suffer so acutely. Regarding this Sri Swamiji says, "When you sing kirtan you must come down from the pulpit of the ego and think, 'I am nothing'. Then you can transcend the complexes and blocks. You should have no inhibitions about two things: eating and singing God's name."
Kirtan is a great aid to meditation. The higher the velocity, the lower the frequency and the higher the frequency, the lower the velocity. Velocity pertains to the mind, which is very active. The mind must lose its velocity and attain frequency. This is possible through kirtan. After singing kirtan for half an hour or an hour, the brainwaves slowly convert to alpha, so kirtan is an important method for obtaining pratyahara, the state in which the mind is withdrawn from the external senses and becomes tranquil. In this way many minds become as one mind. The brainwaves also affect the heart and blood circulation. In fact, the name of God influences both the mental and physical chemistry. After a session of kirtan it is very easy to concentrate the mind. In the words of Swami Satyananda, "Sing kirtan for about half an hour, then sit quietly for meditation. If you have involved yourself completely in the kirtan, when you sit for meditation you will find that the highway is clear. There will be no traffic jams on the mental plane."
Swami Sivananda was a great sankirtanist. He also developed a unique way of teaching through simple songs and kirtans (in both Hindi and English) into which he wove his fundamental teachings. According to Swami Sivananda, "Singing the names of God is the quickest, safest, cheapest, surest and best way to reach God." He had so much faith in the name that he used to turn up an hour early at his friends functions just to purify the atmosphere with his kirtans.
Let us end with a message from him regarding the power of naam sankirtan: "Friend, the glory of the name of God cannot be established through reasoning. It can certainly be experienced through faith, devotion and constant repetition of the Name. Have reverence and faith for the Name. Every Name is filled with countless powers. Take refuge in the Name and cross this formidable ocean of birth and death. Name and nami (one who chants the name) are inseparable. Glory to the Lord. Glory to his Name."