Every kirtan tells a story.
Stories underpin the human condition at every step. Stories are the fundamental building blocks of our identities and relationships. We are who we are because we tell ourselves the stories of who we are. Over time, we start believing these stories and in turn, we start living them. Ultimately, the stories we expose ourselves to through culture, society, and art, create our sense of self and of ‘I-ness’ and ‘mine-ness.’ In this way, we get our sense of proprietorship and control. Then, all kinds of anxieties arise, as we delude ourselves that we are in control of anything. In reality, there is only one person in control- Sri Krishna.
Fortunately, kirtan (congregational chanting of the Holy Names) is rather a purifying process, reminding us, so to speak, of the Actual controller. Indeed, kirtan cleanses the heart of all the materially binding stories. Kirtan allows us to transcend the sense of ‘I-ness’ and ‘mine-ness.’ It allows us to open our hearts to the Divine and to embrace Him with our whole beings. Kirtan does not tolerate any petty criticisms and lamentations coming from our story conditioned minds. The way kirtan destroys all these conditionings is by telling a better story, a story of a higher taste, indeed. In reality, kirtan tells the real story of the relationship between the individual soul and the Supreme Soul-and of course, it is a story of mutual Love. Only in a loving divine union (the actual meaning of yoga), can the individual soul transcend the petty sense of proprietorship and control and simply experience the ecstasy of loving exchanges with Krishna.
Of course, for a good story we need good storytellers. In terms of kirtan, the kirtaniyas engage us in their loving stories and personal relationships with the Divine, Sri Krishna. At least that seems to be the case on the surface. In reality, kirtan is such a powerful and subtle act of worshipping the Divine that every single participant contributes to the telling of the kirtan love story, so to speak. This realisation came to my mind during this year’s kirtan festival- Radhadesh Mellows. Yes, there were incredibly talented kirtan leaders that we all love to hear and yes, all of them carry in their hearts the kirtan love story and share it with us. In this sense, they perform incredible service for the rest of us, for which we should be extremely grateful. However, being in the kirtan hall, with additional 300 people or so, made me start noticing aspects of the kirtan, I did not appreciate before that moment. I started realising how the mridanga and karatals were nicely illustrating the dynamic relationship between Krishna and the individual soul. The harmonium was dictating the movements of the kirtan leaders’ fingers. The violin and the flute were nicely inviting all of us to come to the transcendental platform. Then, the smiling faces of all around me, gave me a sense of Krishna’s presence in the hall. Indeed, He was present in the hearts of everyone. Jumping up and down of people was adding yet another layer of ecstatic expressions. Even the walls and the paintings on the walls were telling their kirtan love stories. In moments like these, one forgets all of one’s stories that conditioned his/her sense of identity. In moments like these, the mind quits lamenting and starts hearing the flute, or Krishna’s Divine Calling to join the eternal dance. In moments like these, the individual soul remembers that the Divine has always loved her/him. Ultimately, kirtan tells the story about our long forgotten lover, Sri Krishna, Bhagavan!