Singing as a Spiritual Practice
Devotional singing, known as bhajans or kirtan, can help to quiet the mind so that the heart can open to the divine, allowing us to taste the blissful reality that is our true nature. Rather than being a performance in which the audience listens to musicians, it is a participatory spiritual practice in which everyone is encouraged to sing and express their inner joy. Devotion, not musical ability, is the most important aspect of kirtan.
Amma has emphasized the importance of kirtan in these times, saying:
To gain concentration in this age of materialism, bhajan is easier than meditation. By loud singing, other distracting sounds will be overcome and concentration will be achieved. Bhajan, concentration and meditation, this is the progression.
In fact, constant remembrance of God is meditation. Bhajans sung with one-pointedness, will benefit the singer, the listener and also Mother Nature. Such songs will awaken the listeners’ minds in due course.
If bhajan is sung without concentration, it is a waste of energy. It is a spiritual discipline aimed at concentrating the mind on one's beloved deity. Through that one-pointedness, one can merge in the divine being and experience the bliss of one's true self.
A Brief History
Kirtan is a type of devotional singing that originated in India, in its modern form, around 500 years ago. Prior to that time, sacred verses were largely confined to temples and taught to a limited audience.
This changed in the 15th Century, as the Bhakti movement spread throughout the region, bringing devotional singing – often Sanskrit mantras sung to simple melodies – out into the streets to the masses. Today, kirtan music has become popular around the world and is sung in a variety of styles and languages.
These hymns are often accompanied by Indian instruments such as the harmonium (reed organ), tablas (hand drums) and manjiras (finger cymbals). In recent years, western instruments have also gained popularity.
Recordings of Amma and others singing bhajans are available at The Amma Shop and on Amazon and iTunes. The Amma Shop also has sheet music, books and beginners kirtan packages available for those interested learning to sing and play Amma’s bhajans themselves.
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From the Lawrence, Kansas Satsang