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Who are these deities and what are these Mantras? How are they relevant to me?

Many who are new to chanting have some concerns about who we are chanting to and what we are chanting about!

I have included below the experience of one Kirtan participant in her own words:

"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 woman who grew up in a Christian family. 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 yoga class I've been frequenting. The repetitive melodies almost always lull me into a delicious meditative trance, and there's nothing sweeter than 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."

Also I find these words from Grammy-nominated kirtan wallah Krishna helpful to understaning this:

“People say, ‘I’m singing to the Hindu deities,’ but what does that mean? What is a deity? It's like an older, deeper, bigger being. It's a space, a presence, a feeling. These names are the names of that place inside of us that is love, pure being, pure awareness, pure joy.” Kirtan—and other forms of mantra practice, such as seated meditation—help us uncover that place inside of us, he says: “our true nature.”

The literal translation of the word 'mantra' is to transform the mind; in Sanskrit 'man' means 'mind' and 'tra' means to transform. You could also say 'to guide and protect the mind' or ‘to guide the consciousness away from excessive thoughts.’ Mantra helps to guide your awareness to a place that is quiet and still.

The key to success in any form of mantra practice is repetition. When you’re sitting in a kirtan, gently bring your wandering mind back to the chant over and over again. With regular, sincere practice over time, says Krishna Das, you may notice that “thoughts don’t grab you so deeply. Emotions don’t wipe you out so completely. It changes your psyche.”

“Kirtan is the glue that bonds our hearts together.” David Newman

According to kirtan artist and bhakti yoga educator David Newman, kirtan means “to praise that which is exalted”—aka, the divine. The word “kirtan” also stems from a Sanskrit root that means “to cut through,” he says, so kirtan is also “a practice for cutting through the idea of separation, for connecting to our hearts and connecting to the moment through sound.”

Chanting as a group brings people together as a community in a way that no other form of yoga does. David Newman says, “I always feel very close to the people I’m chanting with, even if I’ve never met them before.” In a world filled with messages about how we’re separate from each other and separate from the divine, chanting mantras together can provide an antidote. “Kirtan was created to fuel a sense of connection and unity,” he says.

When you participate in kirtan, you may experience a few different stages of consciousness, says David. At first, when the kirtan leader sings a mantra and you (along with the rest of the audience), sing it back, you probably hear your own voice in relationship to the voices around you. But as time passes and you relax into the chant, you may notice your voice in harmony with everyone else’s. The third phase is the most alluring: Suddenly your perspective shifts, and it sounds as if there’s a single voice singing. You’re no longer aware of your own voice or others’; there may be 50 people in the room, but only one collective voice.

At this stage, David says, “Your sense of ‘me’ or ‘I’ can literally dissolve and you realize you’re part of the river of life—you’re not separate from it.” Some people experience this as a sense of joy and ecstasy, while others describe it as a sense of boundlessness or timelessness. “You’re just in a very spiritual, untethered, unselfconscious place,” he says. Suddenly, “no matter what’s going on in your life, you know that at a very fundamental level, everything is going to be all right.”

Landa creates her own devotional songs, blending traditional sanskrit mantras with english words that reflect the meanings and energy of the mantras. This makes her work more accessible and enjoyable for a western audience.

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 Landa Love 2020