Kia Miller will be teaching at Bhakti Festival in Joshua Tree September 5-9th, she wrote this lovely post on her chanting experiences, and a nice overview of the power of chanting that is integral to the Bhakti Fest experience.
Years ago whilst in India I had an experience of pure bliss brought on by chanting. I was in Rishikesh, a holy town in the foothills of the Himalayas on the bank of the River Ganges. I was walking along the Ganges in the early evening, and was drawn toward a large group of people chanting. As I got close, a woman noticing my interest invited me to join them. I sat down, closed my eyes and at first just listened to the cyclical sound of the mantra. I did not understand what they were chanting, but I felt the chanters’ depth of feeling and got ‘hooked’ in to the rhythm and the melody. Before long I joined in.
The sound was swelling and surging in and out of me. It was like getting on a train with no idea of your destination, being simply along for the ride. I have no idea how long I sat there, just that I was transported to a feeling of bliss and joy that I had not felt before. It was a moment where I felt at one with the Universe. I later learned that I had been chanting the Gayatri Mantra, one of the oldest known mantras from the Vedas, considered a universal prayer calling on the supreme light to enlighten our minds so that we may know universal Truth.
Since then, chanting has been an integral part of my life. It is considered one of the most powerful ways to shift through internal mental blocks and to elevate your consciousness by ‘bathing’ in the vibration of the sound. It is an integral part of the practice of Yoga, which offers a tried and tested way to work through fears, anxieties and to connect to your deepest truth.
One of the most popular forms of chanting is kirtan. In this the singer calls out a verse and the listeners then respond; the energy and pace of singing gradually builds to a crescendo. This style of chanting is done to engross the mind and channel one’s emotions into a state of devotion. It is this devotion in motion that characterizes a bhakta, one who is steeped in the tradition of Bhakti Yoga, or the yoga of love and devotion. A Bhakta uses chanting as a way to direct their consciousness toward God.
Traditionally in kirtan the names of deities or ‘images of the divine’ are called out in rapture. This can be a stumbling block for many who have a particular religious leaning and feel uncomfortable chanting and honoring images of the Divine that do not belong to their tradition. The popularity of traditional Hindu chants, such as Hare Krishna within the western yoga world, suggests that there are many who are willing to suspend their religious resistance when it comes to chanting and allow themselves to engage in a practice that actually requires no allegiance to any particular deity or set of beliefs. It is ultimately not the deity that counts but how you relate to it, your energy and intention. Anyone can chant, and as we do, our senses, our heart and mind are all engaged, we become fully absorbed in the experience. The energy in kirtan sessions can feel electrifying and deeply transformative, elevating your energy and calming the mind.
So if you are new to chanting here are 4 of my favorite chants from western kirtan singers, including two who are performing at Bhakti Fest – Deva Premal and Jai Uttal, to get you started:
Beautiful am I – Aykanna. If the whole sansrkit thing freaks you out then listen to this uplifting modern mantra perfect to sing with the whole family!
Gayatri Mantra – Deva Premal . This is one of the first melodious versions of the original mantra I sang. Deva Premal is a gifted singer whose voice is immediately inviting.
Ganesha Sharanam – Jai Uttal. Jai Uttal is one of the most prolific kirtan singers with a range from traditional chant to reggae infused musical productions.
Stoned on Shiva – Steve Gold. Not a traditional kirtan artist, but Steve’s versions of traditional chants are awesome!
“Kirtan is like a magnet, inviting and begging grace to enter our hearts and our lives. It is a most precious thing, something to be cherished and practiced with total gratitude, and those who learn how to enter into it
will feel God’s grace and presence as the closest of the close, the dearest of the dear—our true beloved.” Jai Uttal
Come experience the practice of Bhakti Yoga firsthand at Bhakti Fest!
About Kia Miller:
Kia Miller grew up in the Falkland Islands, riding horses over vast acres of wild land. Moving to England at 15, she soon joyfully discovered yoga and has been studying with world-renowned teachers in India, Europe and the US ever since. A successful model and filmmaker, Kia has traveled all over the world experiencing many different cultures and ways of life. Yoga was her way to stay centered and nourished through this time. She is passionate about living and breathing yoga, and feels the teachings are a blessing for all. She is certified in the Ashtanga / Vinyasa Flow tradition, as well as Kundalini Yoga as taught by Yogi Bhajan.