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Variety of Kirtan

by Swami Sivananda

Sankirtan Yoga can be practised by sincere devotees and earnest Sadhakas after God-realisation in a variety of ways. Just as we take delight in preparing various kinds of dishes out of one and the same vegetable and relish their tastes immensely in each of the preparations individually, even so devotees sing in ecstasy the blessed Names of the Lord and enjoy the unparalleled spiritual bliss. Mind is a peculiar combination of various kinds of moods, temperaments, whims, fancies and sentiments. It is a strange mixture of various sentiments, emotions, etc., that is known in this world. Therefore the Rishis of yore have designed various methods to control the mind. Control of the mind forms the most important and major item of spiritual Sadhana in the path of God-realisation.

Bhakti Yoga and specially Sankirtan being the easiest, surest and quickest means of God-realisation it is worthwhile giving very careful attention and earnestness in its practice and hence details will be of great help to Sadhakas in this direction. Of the various methods of Sankirtan we have the following varieties.

People of different communities, localities and provinces conduct Kirtan in their own usual and established manner. For example there is Sankirtan prevalent in Latvia, a description of which is given elsewhere in this book. Srimati Anna Plaudis of Riga is a great Sankirtan enthusiast in Latvia and through her we know something of Latvian Sankirtan which the members of the Divine Life Society at Latvia also practise. In South India they have what is called 'Divya Nama Kirtan.' Maharastrians, Bengalis, Gujaratis, Biharis, etc., have their own ways of conducting Sankirtans in their places.

Some of the most important and existing modes of Sankirtan are 1. Akhanda Kirtan, 2. Prabhata Kirtan, 3. Prabhat Pheri, 4. Nagar Kirtan, 5. Boat Kirtan, 6. Lorry Kirtan, 7. Kirtan on elephant back, 8. Party Kirtan, 9. Nama Kirtan, 10. Gunanuvad, 11. Yas Kirtan, 12. Naradiya Kirtan, 13. Lila Kirtan, etc. Thus Sankirtan can be done in a variety of ways to suit the temperament, time and place. Sankirtan can be done without any restriction to its time and place. Not only Bhaktas, even Vedantins can do Sankirtan and we have Vedantic Kirtans. The attributes of the Nirguna Brahman are described by means of attractive Kirtans.

Generally Sankirtan is conducted in temples, houses etc. Devotees join together at sunset in temples or they keep a photo of the Lord in a hall, decorate it with flowers etc., and seat themselves in front of the picture in two rows facing one another.

In the beginning Omkar or Pranava is chanted loudly in chorus by all the devotees three times. Then Ganesa and Guru Kirtans are sung. One of the devotees sings the Names of the Lord melodiously and others follow him next. This method ensures more attention, harmony and uniformity. This preliminary Kirtan consisting of Ganesa and Guru Kirtan lasts for about five minutes. Next the Maha Mantra or Kalisantarana Upanishad Mantra, 'Hare Rama, Hare Rama' is repeated for nearly 10 minutes. Then the turn comes for all other devotees too to sing and lead the Kirtan individually. They sing for a definite period and it is beneficial to keep 5 to 10 minutes as the minimum time. When all the devotees have sung Kirtan the Kirtan is concluded with Jayajayakaras, prayer for world peace and repetition of Santi-Mantra 'Purnamadah Purnamidam' etc. In the end there should be common meditation for a few minutes. There should be also Arati to the Lord's picture and distribution of the sacred Prasad.

Next comes Akhanda Kirtan a detailed description of which is given in the book Bhakti and Sankirtan.

Sankirtan is conducted in the early morning hours also. The devotees leave their beds at 4 a.m., wash their faces, teeth etc. They also take a bath if convenient and then sit for Sankirtan. They keep their Ishtadevata in front of them and do Kirtan as mentioned above. Before the starting of Kirtan they repeat certain sacred hymns to Sadguru, Lord Vishnu, Sarasvati and others. This is called Prabhata Kirtan. When Prabhata Kirtan is concluded the devotees start the Prabhata Pheri. Pheri means going round and Prabhata Pheri means going round in the morning doing Sankirtan of God's Names in a batch. Generally Prabhata Pheri is conducted before sunrise. It is done as the first item of the programme in all spiritual congregations and assemblies like Sankirtan Sammelan, Sadhana Weeks etc. This serves to make the people know of the forthcoming congregation.

The philosophy behind Prabhata Pheri is this. The people of the locality who are not in the habit of getting up before sunrise will develop the habit of waking before sunrise, in the Brahmamuhurta. They will hear the Names of the Lord chanted as soon as they get up which purify the inner impurities of mind. The effect of the Prabhata Pheri Kirtan is beyond description. It generates a divine current in the whole Mohalla or town. There will be peace, joy, and ecstasy in the minds of all those who sing and hear.

NAGAR KIRTAN:- This is generally done in the evening after 4 p.m. It can be conducted in the morning also. Here the group of devotees start from a particular place with harmonium, Kartals, and other instruments of music. After Ganesa Kirtan, Guru Kirtan and Mahamantra Kirtan the devotees sing various other Sankirtan Dhvanis. Nagar Kirtan can be done without instruments also. This is more effective. The pure vibrations of the Lord's Names will not be tainted by the instrumental sounds in the middle. The devotees go round the town and return to the place where they started and do Arati to the Lord with great zeal.

Nagar Kirtan is conducted on Purnima, Ekadasi and other days sacred to the devotees like Ramanavami, Janmashtami, Sivaratri etc. In South India Nagar Kirtan is conducted in many places at night with grand illumination. In the month of December Nagar Kirtan is conducted daily in Brahmamuhurta. This is sacred to the Bhaktas. The month of Margasirsha is very sacred according to Srimad Bhagavad-Gita, which says, Masanam MargasirshohamI am the month of Margasirsha among months.

BOAT KIRTAN:- This is done in places like Haridwar, Rishikesh, Brindavan, Ayodhya etc., where there are sacred rivers. Devotees sit in a boat with a nicely decorated picture of the Lord kept in the centre. The Kirtan begins and the boat moves slowly from place to place. Sometimes the devotees spend 12 hours or 24 hours in river doing Kirtan. In Rishikesh the Boat Kirtan is conducted during Sadhana weeks. Sometimes the Kirtan continues even for 3 days. The spiritual benefit derived through a Boat Kirtan is beyond description. Even atheists will have faith in God if they do Boat Kirtan. Pilgrims while crossing the Ganges during Mela times and on ordinary days also, sing the Lord's Names in sweet tunes. This fills the air with pure spiritual vibration at all times.

LORRY KIRTAN:- To disseminate the knowledge of Bhakti and Sankirtan the best way and most potent means is lorry Kirtan. It helps Sankirtan propagandists very much. This is the easiest and quickest means of spreading Sankirtan in all places. Here the party of Kirtanists move in motor lorry from place to place.

KIRTAN ON ELEPHANT BACK:- This method of Kirtan is prevalent in U.P. more than any other place. The picture of the Lord is well decorated and mounted on an elephant's back. Some devotees sit on the elephant. A huge party of Sankirtanists with Kartals etc., accompany the elephant all the while singing the Names of the Lord in chorus. The Names of the Lord are written on big cloths, paper or inscribed on metal plates. The devotees hold them aloft and walk before the procession. Spiritual teachings and laconic sayings of the Vedas and of saints and Rishis are also written on boards and exhibited to the public during Melas and religious fairs. They produce deep and indelible impressions in the minds of those who happen to see them. But what do you find in these days? There is much noise and fuss everywhere. You see pompous advertisements of 'Dongre's Balamrit,' 'Melin's food' etc. It is really lamentable indeed.

PARTY KIRTAN:- The devotees arrange themselves in two sections or batches. before starting the Kirtan. One party sings in chorus and the other batch follows them in chorus. They do Kirtan alternatively. There is a big and mighty spiritual vibration when party Kirtans are held in masses. There is a silent competition between the parties. Each one tries to excel the other in tune. There is great concentration in this method of doing Kirtan. The mind is easily merged in the Lord and Bhava Samadhi ensues for a sincere Bhakta.

NAMA KIRTAN:- In Nama Kirtan there is repetition of mere Names of the Lord. Various Names of the Lord are composed in a particular way and sung melodiously. This is a special Sadhana by itself. Akhanda Kirtan or Nama Kirtan is highly purifying. The mind is easily elevated.

GUNANUVAD:- In Gunanuvad there is description of the glorious deeds of the Lord in His various incarnations. Side by side Kirtans are also conducted. This is also called Harikathakalakshepam in South India.

YAS KIRTAN:- In Yas Kirtan the devotees sing the praises of the Lord in a variety of ways. They recall His various kind acts where he helped devotees like Dhruva, Prahlada and others.

NARADIYA KIRTAN:- The Divine Sage Narada, the Chiranjivi roams about in all the three worlds singing Sriman Narayana Narayana Narayana even today. Devotees who have strong faith and devotion and yearn for His Darshan can do this Kirtan and get the blessings of Rishi Narada.

LILA KIRTAN:- This is prevalent mostly in the Punjab and U.P. Young boys and girls enact the life of Sri Krishna and Lord Rama in public. Lila Kirtan if enacted by devotees with faith and devotion the Lord is highly pleased and the persons who witness the Kirtan will derive immense benefits thereby. If the Lila Kirtan is not directed and controlled by a saintly personality there may arise corruption. Kindly go through the article Canker in Sankirtan in Bhakti and Sankirtan.


Salutations to the Sat-Chit-Ananda Para Brahman, the All-pervading, the Bhaktatma, who dwells there where His Glories and Names are sung by the devoted Sankirtanists.

Sankirtan is one of the nine modes of Bhakti. It has been developed in various ways at various places. Here an attempt is made to describe as to how Sankirtan has been developed in South India, with special reference to Divya Nama Sankirtan.

Sankirtan (or Bhajan) begins with 'Jayajayakaras' and Slokas or verses on the glory of the Lord's Names and the glory of Sankirtan.

After a few songs and Namavalis, the blessings of Sri Guru are invoked, and then, one by one, of the various Deities. For instance, after Slokas, songs and Namavalis of Sri Guru, comes Anjaneya Kirtan, then some portion of the famous Gita Govinda (popularly known as Asthapadi, as each piece of it contains eight Padas or verses; the Gita Govinda contains 24 such pieces, Slokas occurring in between the pieces) of Sri Jayadeva. The Gita Govinda is full of Madhurya Rasa and fully reflects the Sakhya Bhava and Dasya Bhava. After this, the songs of Sri Narayana Tirtha (known popularly as Tarangam) are sung. The Tarangams of Narayana Tirtha are full of devotional-Vedantic type songs. The Tarangam is followed by songs of Kabir, Mirabai, Surdas, Tulasidas, Saint Tyagaraja. Then are sung Slokas and songs in praise of Sri Ganesa, Sri Sarasvati Devi, Sri Subramanya, Lord Siva and Panduranga. 'Glory of Sadhus' is an important item in the South Indian Kirtan. And then the All-Pervading Lord is invoked by the following song:

Ehi Tata Sri Vasudeva, Ehi Pahi Gopijanavallabha,
Dehi Devamudam, Ambujanabha. (Ehi Tata)
Vijayagopalayati Mohanarupa. (Ehi Tata)

Meaning: Come on Father, O Lord Vasudeva, O Beloved of Gopis, Come, Protect us, etc., etc.

(Note: The word Tata also means 'O Dear Friend,' 'O my beloved child.')

After having got into this mood or Bhava, the Bhava of a devoted son receiving his Father with great reverence, respect and love, the devotee (the son) offers to his Father, the All-Pervading Lord, Dhupa, Dipa, flowers, Chandana, etc., and offers Prasad.

It is at this moment that Jayajayakaras are done to the Lord and in this mood or Bhava is the Divya Nama Kirtan begun.

Divya Nama Kirtan is known by the popular name of Dipa Pradakshinam (doing Pradakshinam or going round and round a Dipa or Light). A five-faced lamp (known as Kuttuvilakku) is lit up and adorned with flowers, Chandana and Kumkum. It is on this Dipa that the devotee does Avahan of the Lord. The Dipa or light is placed in the centre to symbolise the Light of lights, to give the devotee the Real Light or Knowledge and lead him on from darkness to Light.

To deviate from the trend, Divya Nama Kirtan includes in it all the nine modes of Bhakti, Sravana (hearing the Lilas of the Lord), Smarana (repeating His Names), Kirtan (singing His Lilas), Padasevana (worshipping His feet), Archana (offering flowers), Vandana (prostrations unto His feet), Dasya (servant Bhava), Sakhya (the Bhava of a friend), Atma-Nivedana (self-surrender).

The All-Pervading Lord assumes various forms to please His devotees. He is a Bhaktatma. Round the Dipa the devotees stand and begin to sing His Names, Rama Krishna Govinda, Krishna Rama Govinda, etc., etc. As this proceeds further and further, and as the Bhava increases, the devotees go round and round the Dipa, clapping their hands and dancing in joy, suited to the rhythm or trend of the respective songs. It is noteworthy that these Namavalis and Kirtans are sung in different tunes or Ragas.

When the song,

Ehi Mudam Dehi, Sri Krishna, Krishna,

Mam Pahi Gopala Bala, Krishna, Krishna.

Bhavya Pahi Natanam Kuru, Sri Krishna Krishna.

Balabhadrasahita, Sri Krishna, Krishna, etc., etc.

is sung, one will reach the sublime heights of Bhakti.

It is beyond expression to give a vivid picture of how a Bhakta will feel when he sings this song doing Pradakhshina of the Dipa, clapping his hands and dancing in joy.

Many of the songs contain 'Pahi Mam' and 'Raksha Mam' indicating absolute self-surrender.

It is just about the middle of the Divya Nama Kirtan that the famous Gopika Gitam (of Srimad Bhagavata) is sung. Picture as it does the various Lilas of Lord Krishna, sung by the Gopikas, the song takes one nearer and nearer the Bhava of Atma-Nivedana.

The Gopika Gitam is followed by the songs 'Anganam Anganam,' etc. All the devotees will form a circle by interlocking each other's fingers and rotate around the Dipa. The beauty of this song lies in this that people rotate in the reverse direction at the end of one Padam, a portion of the song. The next song is still more excellent in that the devotees expand the circle bit by bit (thus forming a bigger and bigger circle) as the song proceeds. This is done in quick succession and the tune and Tala of this particular song is quite consistent with the quick movements.

This is followed by Kolattam, which is really very interesting and thrilling.

Then comes Churning. This is done in batches of two or three (but in any case not more than three). One man takes hold of another man's left and right palms by his right and left palms and rotate in a circle (around the Dipa) keeping the hands in a horizontal position. The song selected for this purpose is one of Mira Bai, whose devotional songs still inspire each and every one.

After this, the devotees sing various songs on the various Devatas, and after this, a famous song of Sri Narayana Tirtha Swami on Lord Siva is sung. It is Siva Siva Bhava Saranam. It is at the fag end of this song, just where the words Ananda Natana Vinoda, comes one of the devotees assumes the pose of Nataraja and dances in ecstasy. It would seem that Lord Nataraja of Tillaiambalam (Sri Chidambaram) Himself is dancing! Such would the Bhava created, such a sphere this song and dance will create.

Then comes the song Tharo Jagannatha Tharo Hare which deals with all the ten Avatars of Lord Vishnu. At the end of this song, when Lord Anjaneya is invoked, one of the devotees will assume the pose of Anjaneya and not unoften one of the devotees to please the 'Anjaneya' will put a plantain into 'His' mouth.

The finishing touch to Divya Nama Kirtan, is given by dedicating every one of our actions to Him.

At the end of Divya Nama Kirtan Slokas in praise of the Lord are sung, and the Dipa is lifted from its place by one of the devotees (and as soon as this is done, the Bhaktas will bow to the place where the Dipa was placed) and it will be taken to the place from where it was brought. The person taking the lamp will walk with rhythmical steps, in conformity with the rhythm of the song selected for this purpose, viz., one of the portions of Gita Govinda of Sri Jayadeva, Lalita Lavanga Lata Parisilana, in praise of Lord Krishna.

The Lord will be requested by the Bhaktas to go to bed and a song is specially sung for this purpose. And the cock will cry 'kokoko,' to announce that it is early morning (this is actually done by one of the Bhaktas). And all the devotees will sing in the Bhupala tune to rouse up the Lord. Kausalya Supraja Rama Purva Sandhya Pravartate; Uttishtha Narasardula Kartavyam Daivamahnikam, etc. (this particular Sloka occurs in Srimad Valmiki Ramayana, where Sri Viswamitra wakes up Lord Rama and Lakshmana).

With a Mangalam song and Jayajayakaras, the Divya Nama Kirtan is concluded.

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