Kirtans in South Florida

By Ramananda Das (Richard Brookens) - Enlightened Practice Magazine Column, Oct - Nov '03

Earlier this year, two Bhakti yogis-Bhagavan Das and Durga Das (David Newman)-traveled to South Florida and held Kirtans in local yoga studios. I was truly blessed to have the opportunity to accompany them on tablas. It was evident that quite a number of the people who attended weren't quite sure what everyone had gathered together for, so I thought that the aim of my first column as a musician/yogi should be to shine some light on the subject of Kirtan. In future columns, I'll be reviewing meditation, relaxation, yoga instructional CDs, and music CDs from a yoga perspective, as well as talking about Yoga musical events.

What is Bhakti Yoga?

Bhakti Yoga is the yoga of devotion and is manifested in practice by teaching about, praying to, and singing the praises of the divine spirit. One way to practice is to take part in Kirtans.

What is a Kirtan?

A Kirtan is a gathering of people with the intent to raise their collective vibrations by connecting to the higher vibration of God-consciousness. Although there are, of course, many paths to experience this higher vibration, I can't think of a way that is more accessible or joyful than Kirtan. By gathering together as a group, the energy (or vibration) of the experience is raised exponentially and the opening of the spiritual heart becomes effortless.

What exactly do you do at a Kirtan?

You sing to God-it's as simple as that. Most commonly, ancient Sanskrit Mantras are sung in an exchange of energy know as call and response. The person leading the Kirtan sings a short line with a simple melody, and the rest of the gathering repeats it. Then the leader sings the next line and so forth. Most Mantras are very easy. Many of them use more than one name for God. In current practice, some Kirtan leaders are also using popular songs, such as "Amazing Grace". Others are also writing spiritual songs of their own, which lead into Mantras. Also very common to a Kirtan is beginning a Mantra with a spirit of devotion and calmness and then, as the spirit moves, the tempo might get faster and the volume increase, reflecting the feeling of ecstatic connection experienced at that very moment. A Kirtan does not necessarily only consist of singing. Teachings, stories, and discussions of spiritual matters are also often part of the evening. At this point, I can only add that the experience far outweighs any description I could compose.

For the uninitiated, Mantras in Sanskrit can sometimes be challenging to decipher, proper pronunciation can be difficult for the western tongue, and layers of meaning are often lost, but in a broader sense, and in current practice, making an honest effort is what connects an individual to the group experience. At a recent Kirtan at Yoga Connection in Plantation, FL, Durga Das (David Newman) told the gathering, "If you're not sure what the words are make up some that sound close". So there is no pressure to "get it right." The point is to "tune in" to your higher self and connect with a higher consciousness-however you think of that higher level is your personal choice. So people of all religions or faiths are welcome and are not asked to participate in specific practices, which might not fit into their personal paradigm.

There are some regular Kirtans held in the South Florida area. In Boca Raton, Something Yoga hosts a monthly Kirtan on the first Sunday of each month at 5 p.m.; a weekly Kirtan, led by Jennifer Vasilakos, just began on Wednesdays at 7:30 p.m. In Fort Lauderdale, Yoga Warehouse has a weekly Sivananda-style Satsang on Saturdays at 6:45 p.m., led by Mohini and Stuart, which begins with a silent meditation, then chanting with call and response, and ends with a potluck vegetarian dinner. Yogi Hari, in Miramar, has his weekly Satsang on Sundays at 7:30 p.m. On Tuesdays at 8 p.m., Yoga South, in Boca Raton, has a Kirtan also led by Jennifer Vasilakos.

Ramananda Das (Richard Brookens) is certified in Sivananda and Kundalini Yoga. He currently teaches Yoga at Barry University in Miami Shores, Spa Atlantis in Pompano, and Yoga Connection in Plantation. He also plays woodwinds (saxophones, flutes, and clarinets) and hand percussion (tablas, clay pot, et al), and regularly performs professionally in the local area. He has also performed throughout the United States, the Carribbean, and in Panang, Malaysia, San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, and Europe. He has released two CDs of original World Fusion Music, and three meditation/relaxation CDs on his Yellow Bell label. Contact him, listen to free samples from his CDs, and view pictures of some of his performances and World instruments at www.yellowbellmusic.com.

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