Chanting as a Spiritual Path
By Linda Johnsen and Maggie Jacobus
Kirtan has recently arrived in the West, carried by brilliant singers and musicians, creating a new musical movement that’s turned yogic chanting into a cultural phenomenon. This book interviews eight of America’s top Kirtan singers: Krishna Das, Deva Premal, Bhagavan Das, Snatam Kaur, Ragani, Jai Uttal, David Stringer, Wah.
Helen Fedro, Himalayan Path, Volume 7, Number 3, Summer 2007
Linda Johnsen has done it again! This time with help from Maggie Jacobus. The two writers have interviewed eight of the most popular kirtan singers in the West today and have them sharing intimate stories about their life work.
The authors first take care to let us know that the Sanskrit word kirtan means “singing, chanting, and praising the Divine” and that “it’s a sacred practice anyone can do—no special training is required.” Then their history of Indian spiritual music shows us the background of chanting, the use of mantras in song, and the love that the art of kirtan brings to hundreds of thousands of people across the globe.
The chant masters interviewed open their hearts as they speak of their great love of chanting. That endears these singers to the reader and makes us want to listen to their music more than ever. The singers interviewed are: Krishna Das, Deva Premal, Bhagavan Das, Snatam Kaur, Ragani, Jai Uttal, David Stringer, and Wah! A peek into their lives strongly shows us that kirtan is a flowering of bhakti yoga, the yoga of love and devotion, and the photos of each chant master shows that in their face.
We learn that for some of the musicians, chanting is the last thing they planned. Classical music, rock music, band music, and sometimes anything but music, is the background of most of the artists, yet they were all “tapped on the shoulder” to share devotional chanting with the public and change their life completely. Several of the chant masters—Krishna Das, Bhagavan Das, and Jai Uttal—are devotees of Neem Karoli Baba. Deva Premal is a disciple of Baghavan Shree Rajneesh. Snatam Kaur is a Sikh and a follower of Yogi Bhajan, Ragani is a disciple of Sri Swami Rama, David Stringer follows Swami Muktananda, and Wah! is a disciple of Amma.
Kirtan! explains how the repetitive music, as well as the power of the words sung, prepares the heart and mind of the chanter for deep meditation. Minds and emotions seem to be carried into the silent space of meditation through the vibrating kirtan hall of loving music and sung mantras. All the musicians give this same message of heart and mind guidance through chanting in a variety of words and experiences. Each one also insists that after years of chanting, they can surely do nothing else.
The book carries a dictionary of the Sanskrit names and praises normally chanted, as well as web sites for each of the chanters for readers to pursue.
Johnsen and Jacobus have written an extremely important book that pulls us, page by page, into the wondrous ecstasy of kirtan