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A kirtan performance with traditional instruments - the late Giani Harjit Singh in Kenya around the 1960s
A Punjabi Sikh kirtan sample in traditional raga with Tanti Saaz.
A Hindi Kirtana performed by few locals near a road in Hauz Khas area, New Delhi.

kirtana (Bengali: কীর্তন; Kannada: ಕೀರ್ತನೆ; Marathi: कीर्तन; Punjabi: ਕੀਰਤਨ; Hindi: कीर्तन; Telugu: కీర్తన; Tamil: கீர்த்தனை; Sanskrit (IAST): kīrtana; Sanskrit for "praise; eulogy";[1] also sankirtana[2]) is call-and-response chanting performed in India's bhakti devotional traditions.[3] A person performing kirtana is known as a kirtankara or, colloquially, a "kirtaneera". Kirtana practice involves chanting hymns or mantras to the accompaniment of instruments such as the harmonium, tablas, the two-headed mrdanga or pakhawaj drum and hand cymbals (karatalas). It is a major practice in Vaisnava devotionalism, Sikhism, the Sant traditions and some forms of Buddhism, as well as other religious groups. Kirtana is sometimes accompanied by story-telling and acting. Texts typically cover religious, mythological or social subjects.[4]


  • The bhakti movement 1
  • In Sikhism 2
  • Carnatic traditions 3
  • In the west 4
  • Given name 5
  • See also 6
  • References 7
  • External links 8

The bhakti movement

A painting of Lord Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu and Nityananda Prabhu, shown performing 'kirtana' in the streets of Nabadwip, Bengal.

In the Bhagavad-gita (9.13-9.14) Lord Krishna states that great souls worship and glorify him single-mindedly, but the practice of kirtana was popularized as a means to this end in the bhakti movement of the Moghul era. It is often suggested as the form of religious activity best suited to the present age. Kirtana is often practiced as a kind of theatrical folk song with call-and-response chanting or antiphon. Narada, the ancient sage said to have composed the Narada Bhakti Sutra, is often spoken of as the originator of this tradition.[5][6] The famous story of Prahlada in the Avatara Katha mentions kirtana as one of nine forms of worship, called the nava vidha bhakti[7] along with shravanam (listening), smaranam (remembrance), pada sevanam (service), archanam (offering), vandanam, (obeisance), dasyam (servitude), sakhyam (friendship) and atmanivedanam (surrender). The so-called Naradiya Kirtana divides kirtana into five parts;[8] naman (prayers),purvaranga (spiritual lesson based on old epics), chanting, katha or akhyan (exegesis) and a final prayer for universal welfare. All in all this may last from half an hour to three hours.

The Varkari saint Namdev (c. 1270–1350), a Shudra tailor, used the kirtana form of singing to praise the glory of god Vithoba.[5] In the early 16th century CE Chaitanya Mahaprabhu traveled throughout India popularizing Krishna sankirtana. In the second half of 16th century[9] Kalachand Vidyalankar, a disciple of Mahaprabhu, made it popular in Bengal, where several schools (sampradaya) have been practicing it for hundreds of years, including the Kartavaja (which originated at Ghoshpara near Kalyani), the Baul minstrels and the Kalachandi (disciples of Kalachand Vidyalankar). Geetashree Chabi Bandyopadhyay and Radharani Devi are among many who achieved fame by singing kirtana.

Marathi kirtana is typically performed by one or two main performers, called Kirtankar, accompanied by harmonium and tabla. It involves singing, acting, dancing, and story-telling.[10] [11] It is usually based on poetry of the seven famous saints of Maharashtra; Nivruttinath, Dnyaneshwar, Sopandev, Muktabai, Eknath, Namdev and Tukaram.[12] Jugalbandi Kirtan is performed by two persons, allowing question-answer, dialogue and debate. Performance requires skill in music, dance, comedy, oratory, debate, memory, general knowledge and Sanskrit literature. Training takes place at the Kirtan Kul in Sangli, the Akhil Bharatiya Kirtan Sanstha[13] in Dadar, Mumbai, the Narad Mandir at Sadashiv Peth, Pune and the Kalidas Mahavidyalay in Ramtek, Nagpur as well as at smaller schools in Goa, Beed and Ujjain.

Rashtriya Kirtan is a special form originated by Dattopant Patwardhan, who used the format to raise awareness of the struggle for freedom against the British regime using mythological stories. In modern times stories of great scientists, warriors, freedom fighters and social reformers entertain and educate the masses. Another form is named after Samarth Ramdas and based on his poetry.

In Sikhism

The Sikh tradition of kirtana or Gurmat Sangeet was started by Guru Nanak at Kartarpur in the early 16th century and was strengthened by his successors, particularly Guru Arjan, at Amritsar. In spite of several interruptions, kirtana continues to be performed at the Golden Temple and other historical gurdwaras.

Sikhs refer to a hymn or section of the Guru Granth Sahib (GGS) as a shabad. The first shabad in the GGS is the Mool Mantar. The hymns are arranged in chapters named after musical ragas. The shabads in any chapter is to be sung to that particular raga with due attention to tala and dhuni (melody) (See also Sikh music).

The following texts show the importance the Sikh gurus gave to kirtana;

  • Let your mind remain awake and aware, singing the kirtana of the Lord's praises.
  • Singing the kirtana of the Lord's praises, the Name abides within the mind.
  • Singing the kirtana of His praises, my mind has become peaceful. The sins of countless incarnations have been washed away. I have seen all treasures within my own mind; why should I now go out searching for them?
  • One is saved from hell, suffering is destroyed, countless pains depart, death is overcome, and one escapes the Messenger of Death, by absorption in the kirtana of the Lord's praises.

Carnatic traditions

In Andhra Pradesh,the compositions of Tallapaka Annamacharya, a 14th-century mystic, represent the earliest known music called sankirtana. He wrote in praise of Lord Venkateswara, the deity of Seven Hills in Tirumala, where unbroken worship has been offered for over twelve centuries at the Tirumala Venkateswara Temple.

Annamcharya is believed to be the incarnation of Lord Venkateswara's sword.[14] During his long and prolific career, he reputedly composed and sang 32,000 Sankirtanas and 12 Shatakas (sets of hundred verses). His works were in Telugu and Sanskrit.

In the west

The Hare Krishna Tree in Tompkins Square Park, New York City under which Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada led his first public chanting of the Hare Krishna mantra in the U.S.[15]

Paramhansa Yogananda Bengali saint was an early proponent of kirtan in the west, chanting Guru Nanak Dev's Hey Hari Sundara ("Oh God Beautiful") with 3,000 people at Carnegie Hall in 1923.[16]

Kirtana became more common with the spread of Gaudiya Vaishnavism by the International Society for Krishna Consciousness's (ISKCON) founder A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada in the 1960s.[17] Yoga centers report an increase in attendance at kirtana; according to Pure Music’s Frank Goodman in conversation with Krishna Das in 2006, kirtana has taken on a wider popularity.[18][19] Kirtana singers have appeared in the West, such as Krishna Das, Bhagavan Das, Wah! and Jai Uttal as well as Snatam Kaur, Lokah Music, Deva Premal, Jim Gelcer, Jyoshna, Aindra Das, Gina Sala', and Gaura Vani & As Kindred Spirits.

In ISKCON ("Hare Krishnas"), the term sankirtana is also used to refer to preaching activities, such as distribution of religious literature to the public.[20]

Given name

The male given name Kirtana or Keerthana is used in South India for females as well, particularly in Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu. The meaning of the name is "hymn sung in the praise of God".

See also


  1. ^ MacDonell, A. A. (2004). A practical Sanskrit Dictonary. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass.
  2. ^ Nye, Malory (1995). A Place for Our Gods. Routledge. p. 124.  
  3. ^ "Kirtan". Archived from the original on 2009-10-31. 
  4. ^ Varadpande, Manohar Laxman (1992). History of Indian Theatre 2. Abhinav Publications. p. 95.  
  5. ^ a b as read online
  6. ^ Hate, Narendrabuwa; Koparkar, G. N. (1982). Keertanachi Prayog Prakriya ( 
  7. ^ Kelkar, M.; Mahabal, K. (2007). Keertanrang ( 
  8. ^ Koparkar, G. N. (2000). Katha Haridasaanchi ( 
  9. ^ Caste, Protest and Identity in Colonial India: The Namasudras of Bengal, 1872-1947; By Sekhar Bandyopadhyay; Published 27 May 1997 by Routledge. ISBN 978-0-7007-0626-6
  10. ^ Dixit, Durga (2009). Diamond Maharashtra Sankritikosh ( 
  11. ^ Varadpande, Manohar Laxman (1992). History of Indian Theatre 2. Abhinav Publications. p. 95.  
  12. ^ Arnett, Robert (2006). India Unveiled (Fifth ed.).  
  13. ^ (Marathi)
  14. ^ SVSA-2008/07/21
  15. ^ Hare Krishna Tree
  16. ^ Yogananda, Paramhansa (2007). Autobiography of a Yogi. BiblioBazaar, LLC. pp. 526–527.  
  17. ^ Jackson, Carl T. (1994). Vedanta for the West. Indiana University Press. p. 134.  
  18. ^ Goodman, Frank (January 2006). "Interview with Krishna Das" (PDF). Puremusic (61). Retrieved Jan 2014. 
  19. ^ Eckel, Sara (2009-03-05). "Chanting Is an Exercise in Body and Spirit - NYTimes". Retrieved 2009-04-21. 
  20. ^ Supreme Court of California, opinion in ISKCON v. City of Los Angeles, p.4. online

External links

  • ISCON - The Hare Krishna Movement
  • Self-Realization Fellowship
  • Sikh Gurbani Kirtan - Exclusive recordings
  • Sikh Kirtan - Live and recorded
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