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For the longest time, kirtan seemed mysterious and odd to me. While all of my yoga friends embraced it as something that enhanced their yoga practice, I was left scratching my head. The idea of singing to Indian gods and goddesses in a language I didn’t understand was not only foreign and uncomfortable to me, it seemed a little inauthentic–after all, I am a white girl who grew up in the Bible Belt of the United States. I am accustomed to hymns, not so much chanting. Yoga has helped me connect more to who I am, where I came from, and where I want to go … but I didn’t feel like I needed to embrace a whole other culture to embrace yoga.
But I’ve had a change of heart over the last few years. Kirtan is one of my favorite parts of the Jivamukti class I’ve been frequenting. The repetitive melodies almost always lull me into a delicious meditative trance, and there’s nothing sweeter that that moment of silence that comes right after a long session.
What changed my mind? For one thing, someone handed me a print out that explained (in English) what the Sanskrit words meant. I read it over and could appreciate the beauty and simplicity in the meanings. Somewhere along the way, I also realized that I could sing the sounds and appreciate the vibration without really worrying that much about the meaning for each syllable. In my mind, your own intention behind the sounds is more important than any abstract meaning someone else attaches to it anyway.
Here are my favorite Kirtan chants and a rough translation.
1. Om Namah Shivaya. I bow to the Self.
2. Sita Ram. Sita and Rama are deities who are husband and wife–to chant Sita Ram is to unite with our own perfect masculine and feminine.
3. Shiva Shiva Shiva Shambho. Mahadeva Shambho. Shiva is the essence and source of joy. Lord, the bestower of good.
4. Om Gam Ganapataye Namaha. I offer my love and devotion to Sri Ganesha; please grant me success in my noble endeavor.
5. Lokah Samastah Sukino Bhavantu. (My favorite!) May all beings everywhere be happy and free.
Have you had a similar change of heart about kirtan? What are your favorite chants?