Kirtanam is that form of Bhakti wherein the devotee chants and sings praises in the name of the guru or the deity. Such chanting and singing the name of the Lord breaks the shackles that tie people to worldly inhibitions and sufferings. In Kirtanam the Bhakta dances and sings in the praise of the Almighty. The connection to the egoistic mind is broken. Such singing and praising also alleviates Bhaktas from all suffering, and strikes a chord deep within the devotees hearts. In practicing this method of devotion, a Bhakta’s heart gets tuned to the praise of the Lord, and the enjoyment he gains is not outward but within himself. Kirtanam purifies the mind, and cleanses it so that there is freedom from pent up tensions and emotions.
Singing the Glories of the Lord
A bhakta while practicing Kirtanam becomes so engrossed in his piety towards the Almighty that he starts to sing and dance with ecstasy. The act of chanting and singing in praise of the Lord with full unfaltering devotion takes the devotee closer to the Lord and his ego gradually loses significance. God recognizes this form of devotion when practiced with true love and devotion and without any ulterior motives. It is important that such practices should be straightforward and right from the heart. The single pointed devotion that the devotee has towards the Lord is a kind of meditation wherein the Bhakta recognizes the God within himself. Meditation of this form quietens the mind, and brings the Bhakta even closer to the Lord. Such meditation cleanses the soul of the devotee, and he is then able to perceive the quietness of his Atman, and he revels in the glory of his self.
The Bhakta is engrossed in such devotion which involves singing and praying to the Lord in the form of japa. He also invites fellow Bhaktas and encourages them to practice his form of devotion to the Lord. The Kirtanam form of meditation is ideal in Kali Yuga. Kirtana alone is the best yoga. This method is often prescribed to Bhaktas in this day and age. All worldly entanglements are removed in the mind of the Bhakta. As the ego of the Bhakta is destroyed, he becomes Sattvic, and his heart is purified. A number of divine persons like Narada, Valmiki, Sukadeva, in ancient times, Gouranga, Nanak, Tulsidas, Surdas, etc., in comparatively recent times, have all attained perfection through Kirtana Bhakti alone. Even the great sinner Ajamila crossed the ocean of Samsara by repetition of Lord’s Name. Japa and Kirtana are the most potent forms of devotion, and place the Bhakta on the road of salvation.
Suka-Maharshi is an example of a Kirtana-Bhakta. He recited the Srimad- Bhagavatam to Parikshit. Suka Maharshi was fully in the state of Bhava- Samadhi at the time of reciting the Bhagavata. It has been mentioned in the Bhagavata Mahatmya that, when Sri Suka was singing the glories of the Lord, the Devas themselves came down from heaven and took part in the Kirtana with various musical instruments. Narada played his Veena and Indra played the Mridanga. Prahlada danced with his cymbals and Lord Siva Himself began His Nritya. Lord Vishnu was present. All those assembled there were thrilled by the divine dance of Sri Suka himself.
Even sinners are given a chance to change for the better, once they are totally involved with praising the Lord in all his glory. In fact it is said that Kirtana is an effective method to get closer to the Lord. A common man, not exposed to spirituality begins to love material things. His love is a farce he concentrates on the things he can enjoy, such as sweet music, dance, and entertainment. The other side of the coin is a man who dedicates his life towards the Almighty. It is such a Bhakta whose heart melts on hearing the sweet music in praise of the Lord. Music and dance in praise of the Lord, touches the Bhakta’s heart. Music is enough to melt the heart of a rigid and stone-hearted man. The heart of such a Bhakta is transformed to a state of undying love for the Absolute. Sensual enjoyments are circumvented, and the Bhakta dedicates himself to the love of the Lord. Kirtana bhakti, in the form of music and dance that is directed towards God, envelopes the Bhakta with immense pleasure. Such praising and singing of the Lord is done bereft of any sensual enjoyment.
Story of Surdas
Surdas was born to a poor Brahmin family in 1478 AD. He was blind by birth. He was mocked at and ridiculed by his siblings and the neighbouring children. As his family was poverty-stricken Surdas had neither proper clothing nor proper food to eat. When Surdas was around 6 years old, he heard a group of devotees singing the praise of Lord Krushna. The devotees were sadhus who were on their way to Mathura. Enraptured by the beautiful singing of the sadhus, Surdas began to follow them. As night approached, the sadhus took shelter near a pond. Surdas too rested along with them. Towards early morning, the sadhus left leaving behind the sleeping Surdas whom they considered an encumbrance. Surdas upon awakening became aware that the sadhus had deserted him. He then sat alone under a tree, and began to sing in praise of Lord Krushna. Hearing the melodious voice people began to flock around him. He sang with full devotion, and began composing versus dedicated to the Lord. His name spread across all god loving people. Many felt blessed under his presence, and he is also known to have foretold certain events in the lives of his followers. As his popularity increased a rich man donated a piece of land with a cottage to him. Surdas stayed in the cottage and continued to compose poetry and he continued his singing in praise of the Lord. Many sages and spiritually blessed people visited Surdas. After living in the cottage for a few years, Surdas decided to leave for Mathura, the birthplace of Lord Krishna. He had had enough of the comfortable life at the cottage, and wanted to seek shelter under the Lord himself. As he walked towards his destination, Mathura, he is said to have tripped and fallen into a well. He was rescued by a wondrous child, who was perceived as Lord Krushna himself. Upon reaching Mathura, he was initiated by none other than Saint Vallabhacharya, who was a famous spiritual scholar. Surdas’s fame grew. Surdas was then made to chant devotional songs in a nearby Srinath temple. For seven decades Surdas’s mellifluous voice and splendid compositions moved the hearts of his followers. The great singer Tansen too sang the compositions of Surdas before King Akbar. The king wanted Surdas to visit his palace and sing before him, but Surdas declined and said he would never leave the divine abode of the Lord. Lord Akbar himself visited Surdas, and is said to have been enraptured by the melodious compositions of this devout and humble man. Surdas’s compositions were rich in meaning and were of high calibre. Many of his compositions were imbibed by his followers, and were adapted as their daily prayers towards the Lord. Surdas used Braj Bhasha to compose poetry which is close to the Hindi script, and is popular even to this day. His compositions are free from communal connotations, and some of his poetry is part of the Guru Granth Sahib. This amalgamation of music, poetry and devotion initiated by Surdas is a hallmark in the Bhakti movement. He was proficient in the creation of devotional poetry. Most of his compositions are based on Lord Krushna’s Leelas as a child. The Lord’s mischievous pranks, and his playful behaviour in the eyes of his mother Yeshodha have been adeptly captured in his compositions. He has also written about Radha’s love for Lord Krushna, and the deep piety of the gopis towards the Lord. Surdas has been acknowledged superior to most other composers during that age. Lord Krushna appeared before Surdas and asked him if He could gift him eyes, to which Surdas replied that as He was with him, there was no need for eyes. Such was the devotion of Surdas to Lord Krushna.
Chanting the Name of the Lord as a Means to Moksha
It was in the medieval Bhakti movement that the greatness of Hindu culture and practice were revived. This movement was brought about by several Vaishnava spiritualists, and many poet-saints. These saints dedicated themselves to bring Hinduism into the lime-light. Therefore spiritual scholars have directed their disciples to perform prayers in line with the current yugas. In Sat Yuga it was dhyana or meditation, in Treta Yuga it was Yagna or fire sacrifice, in Archana Yuga it was temple worship, in Dwapara Yuga and in Kali yuga it is Naam Japa. The current practice of this Yuga is hence Naam Japa. It has been said by learned people that reciting and invoking the name of the Lord, brings the Bhakta closer to the Lord’s presence. There are several examples that can be cited here. In the Ramayana, Lord Hanuman upon invoking Lord Rama’s name gave him the strength to cross the sea towards Lanka, in one single leap. Valmiki even upon reciting Lord Rama’s name incorrectly attained salvation. Dhruva Maharaj took Lord’s Krishna’s name, given to him by Narada Muni and is said to have attained Moksha. As a Bhakta invokes the name of the Lord as a form of japa, he is released from all worldly desires. The importance of japa cannot be ignored, and if practised as a form of a mantra makes the chanting even more powerful. There are a few spiritualists who undermine the practice of japa because they believe it is an easy form of devotion. However, experience has shown that chanting the name of the Lord truly brings the Bhakta closer to the Lord himself. In the Bhagvat Purana it is said that taking God’s name with all reverence and piety is essential to cleanse a devotee of all his misdeeds. The Brihad Naradiya Purana declares that invoking the name of Hari, is fundamental to obtaining salvation in Kali Yuga. Though there are certain sceptics who declare that japa is only an easy form of worship, there are several great scholars who rate it high in the spiritual journey towards Moksha. The chanting of the mantra is truly efficacious if it is given by a holy person of sacred lineage. There are other spiritual injunctions that need to be obeyed for the Bhakta to really reap the benefits of the japa. In this age where man wants quick fixes towards his life’s journey, God has rendered him a simple way to attain salvation. Chanting mantras with absolute faith and devotion makes the life of the Bhakta ever pure and sinless.