Sanskrit Belgium is almost one month old. I have had a few questions these past weeks on whether I also sing kirtans. I’m afraid I’m simply not talented enough for that! My classes are purely Sanskrit recitation and meditative japa mantras. I will however lay out here the differences between Sanskrit chanting and Kirtan singing as I sense the two are seen as the same thing sometimes.
Traditional Sanskrit chanting is a specific way of reciting verses from scriptures, following a certain framework of rules (pronunciation, intonation, count, strength, continuity & liaison). There are different ways to chant, and Vedic chanting in particular is very austere and strict with following the rules. It is believed that the Vedas – the most ancient and important of Hindu scriptures, had no author and that it was a divine revelation preserved through the centuries using the tradition of oral transmission or shruti. A teacher would recite, students would repeat, until they mastered the verses. Each Sanskrit syllable has a specific energy associated with it and therefore pronunciation is of essence to truly experience its powers. When you go to a Sanskrit chanting class, you are learning these rules, you are learning the correct pronunciation, you are learning some grammar, and you are preserving something ancient and special. Sanskrit practitioners advice against adding music, notes and turning verses from the Vedas into songs – mainly because you cannot maintain the framework of rules that these verses require. This is Sanskrit chanting.
Bhagavad Gita chanting
When you learn a mantra and repeat it several times over – this is a japa practice. It is very popular to repeat mantras 108 times to bask in its full effect. Japa is used as a tool for mindful meditation as you are expected to memorize the mantra and repeat with a japa mala. Different rituals depending on the context may also accompany this practice. This is a serious spiritual discipline with the aim of inner evolution and to achieve a higher state of consciousness.
Shiva japa meditation:
A kirtan or a bhajan is a devotional song or chant accompanied by musical instruments. It originally came from India’s Bhakti traditions and has many different styles depending on the region in India. A Kirtan has no fixed form and can be composed in any language, including Sanskrit. It is not governed by the rules that traditional Sanskrit recitation maintains. It can be extremely simple or quite sophisticated based on classical music meters and traditions. Kirtans are composed about Gods and rituals and sometimes also social subjects. Melodious and beautiful, it can be a very joyful experience. Kirtans are believed to awaken your inner devotional being in order to surrender to a higher truth.
Here’s one of my favourite bhajans composed by Adi Shankaracharya – Bhaja Govindam
Classes at Sanskrit Belgium follow traditional recitation frameworks and teaching methods. I don’t sing kirtans or bhajans, I only teach Sanskrit chanting.