About Kirtan and Shivaratri
Swami Shishyananda Saraswati is a highly experienced yogini who has had the good fortune to spend a lot of time with great yogis – including Swami Satyananda Saraswati. She is an accomplished Bhakta, Kirtanist and Tantrika. We asked her to write about kirtan and Shivaratri.
Chanting/kirtan is a significant and mysterious practice. However, it is not just a practice – chanting is the highest nectar and a divine medicine that nourishes the soul. To experience love, one of the greatest pathways is chanting the Divine Name for it opens the heart and allows love to flow freely. Chanting releases such intoxicating inner bliss that simply through the nectar it generates, the abode of the Self can be experienced.
Chanting is one of the greatest therapies for dissolving negativities; not only does chanting purify the inner condition but it also purifies the atmosphere, reaching the plants, animals, insects and micro-organisms. Kirtan is an easy freeway to ecstasy, the one great and redeeming path that can be practised wherever you are.
The great sages have said that if we chant the Divine Name with great respect and a full heart, without expectation, we can be Self-realised in a very short time. Lord Krishna says:
“Oh Arjuna, I do not dwell in the heavens, nor am I seen in the orb of the sun. I transcend even the minds of yogis. But if you ever need Me, know that you can find Me in a place where devotees are chanting My name with love.”
The Divine Name is a pure elixir because it is the form of the Divine. When we chant the Divine we touch the personal aspect of God/Goddess/All That Is, which has form and attributes. A devotee who understands this mystery of the Name knows that when we chant the Divine Name, we touch God/Goddess with the tongue, and when we listen to it, we hear God/Goddess through the sacred sound.
The glory of chanting is immeasurable. Tukaram explained it beautifully when he said:
“With the sweetness of my chanting I will make the knowers of truth drool. I will bring great yogis out of samadhi. I will make pilgrims desert the holy places. As I chant, I will make my own body the embodiment of love. Through the glory of chanting, my entire body will become the absolute. Therefore, O seeker, avail of this easy path.
“Have faith in the Holy Name. Chant the Holy Name. Sing the Holy Name. Don’t shy away from spiritual life saying, ‘It is very difficult.’ God has made it easy, especially for this age. The penance, austerities, denials and mortification that one had to do in previous ages/yugas, are no more binding or demanded of the seeker in this age. The Name overcomes everything, it is so powerful.”
There are a number of different sciences behind the chanting/use of mantras. Put simply, every word creates a vibrational sound-field as expounded in sciences such as physics and psychoacoustics. If a person goes into a shop and asks for a green apple, they will get one, because the sound wave of “green apple” has gone out and brought back the desired response. In the same way, by chanting/repeating a mantra, the sound wave goes out and returns with an energetic response.
Dr. Herbert Benson, discovered that mantra chanting helps induce the “relaxation response,” causing reduction of heartbeat, brain waves and respiration. Dr. David Shananoff-Khalsa says that chanting mantras enables the tongue to stimulate the acupuncture meridians inside the mouth. Dr. Ranjie Singe discovered that chanting specific mantras causes the release of melatonin and that, because of this, there are many benefits, including shrinkage of tumours and enhanced sleep. Other findings show that the chanting of mantra will allow the synchronisation of the left and right brain hemispheres.
Shivaratri Akhanda Kirtan
An akhanda kirtan is an unbroken/continuous chant of the mantra AUM NAMAH SIVAYA.
Shivaratri can be viewed from a devotional or a scientific perspective. Briefly, from the devotional view, twelve hours of chanting AUM NAMAH SIVAYA can offer a prolonged opportunity to immerse oneself in the love of the Divine.
On Shivaratri, the aspect of Divinity being propitiated is Shiva, the dispeller of illusion. From a transcendental/scientific perspective twelve hours of chanting can offer purification, healing and peace via sound vibration.
The main objective is to stay in the chanting space as much as possible. If you tire, the invitation is to rest on the floor within the room. If you hunger or thirst, replenish yourself and return to the chant as quickly as possible. It matters not if you are unmusical or have never chanted before, simply come and immerse yourself in the experience from a scientific or devotional (or both) perspective.
Read more about this year’s Shivaratri.
Hari Aum Tat Sat.