What are some of the benefits of kirtan?
Swami Sivananda: The mind is a peculiar combination of various kinds of moods, temperaments, whims and fancies. It is a strange mixture of various sentiments and emotions. Therefore, the rishis of yore have designed methods to control the mind. Control of the mind forms the most important and major item of spiritual sadhana on the path of God-realization. Melodious music soothes the nerves. In America doctors cure diseases by music. Shakespeare says in The Merchant of Venice (V, 1):
The man who hath no music in himself or is not moved by the concord of sweet sounds, is ft for treason, stratagem and spoils. The motions of his spirit are dull as night, his affections dark as Erebus. Let no such man be trusted.
Vedanta and jnana can only be understood by a microscopic minority. The vast majority are ft for sankirtan bhakti only.
Even the majority of highly intellectual people derive immense benefitby doing sankirtan, singing God’s name with a group of people. Their minds are elevated for practising meditation. The tossing of their minds is removed. Even so, one has to work hard in the practice of kirtan if one wishes to realize fully the fruits of kirtan bhakti yoga.
There is infinite shakti in God’s names. It removes impurities from the mind. Vedantins say that there are three kinds of obstacles to Self-realization: impurity, restlessness and ignorance. To remove them they prescribe selflessservice, worship and meditation. Sankirtan alone can achieve these three together. Kirtan removes the impurities of the mind, steadies it and checks its tendency to vacillate, and ultimately it tears the veil of ignorance and brings the sadhaka face to face with God. Kirtan enables the devotee to realize the Infinite here and now. Kirtan saves one from delusion.
God is a mystery. Mind is a mystery. The world is a mystery. How sankirtan transmutes human nature into divine nature, how it overhauls the old vicious samskaras, how it changes the mental substance, how it transforms or metamorphoses the asuric or negative nature into pure sattwic nature and how it brings the devotee face to face with God is also a mystery. Science and reason can hardly explain the modus operandi of sankirtan.
What is naman sankirtan?
Swami Sivananda: The Sanskrit verb krit means ‘praising’. Kirtan is commonly known as a certain type and method of melodious singing, particularly singing Sri Krishna’s name and lila, the stories of his playful acts. Only praising the name of God and his lila in melody for the purpose of keeping the fame of bhakti burning in one’s heart can be termed kirtan. Kirtan can be classified as naman sankirtan and lila kirtan or rasa kirtan. ‘Singing the names of the Divine in melody’ is named naman sankirtan. The main sadhana in the nine kinds of bhakti is naman sankirtan. The influence and utility of this are highly appreciated among the Vaishnavas of Bengal and among all religious cults of India. They think that the essence of religion in Kali Yuga is naman sankirtan – kalua namansankirtanaat.
Singing Hari’s name aloud is sankirtan. From this prema, love, blossoms and a devotee forgets the existence of the outer world while he sincerely sings the name of God. This is called avesha. A bhakta attains samadhi by singing God’s names just as a yogi does through yoga sadhana. The primary aim of naman sankirtan is to attain prema and the main aim of the Vaishnava cult is to generate this prema. It is said that when Chaitanya did naman sankirtan dipped in prema thousands accompanied him.
When the mind is attracted towards the Lord, the heart experiences a selfless, blissful state and this is called rati. When this rati or intense attachment attains a greater hold, it is termed prema. The devotee does not wish for moksha or liberation because even asking for or wanting moksha is a type of vasana or desire and selfishness. When God is the only object of attainment, what else can be desired? The purpose of naman sankirtan is the purification of the heart and it is both the method and the goal as the Name and the Named are one and the same.