Saturday, February 26, 2011

A Chant for Protection

Last week, we began our Kirtan Circle with a chant to Ganesha that I learned from my teacher, David Newman. David, also known as Durga Das, which means "Servant to the Divine Mother," is shown in the video above leading a group in the chanting of this same mantra, "Jai Ganesha." 

Ganesha, the elephant-headed God of hinduism, embodies the quality of the divine that can remove obstacles and is an excellent choice for embarking on any new endeavor--such as launching a new Kirtan circle. In the days following the first meeting of our new Kirtan chanting group, I realized how even more appropriate this particular mantra was for the days our world was living through. The sanskrit text for this chant is:

   Jai Ganesha! Jai Ganesha! Jai Ganesha Pahiman
   Sri Ganesha! Sri Ganesha! Sri Ganesha Rakshamam
   Gung Ganapataye Namo Namah 

And the meaning, in English, is roughly: 

    Hail Ganesha, the One who saves us.
    Venerable Ganesha, the One who protects us.
    I bow in reverence to the name Ganapati, the name of Ganesha. 

In this period of great upheaval and turmoil in the world, it is good to have the opportunity to sing with others to God. It is good, and comforting, to seek safety and protection in the divine that is always with us. Although the chants in traditional Kirtan are made to Hindu deities and the religion could not be more foreign to me, I have been greatly moved by the practice of Kirtan and no longer doubt the power of this particular form of worship.

Although Kirtan does not come from the tradition I was raised in, and I still know very little about it, I have found that the practice speaks directly to my heart, bypassing my brain and making it unnecesary to fully understand the stories or theology behind the songs. God has many faces and many names and, in the final analysis, my own beliefs are only a vague approximation of the true ultimate reality that is beyond any human comprehension. Keeping this in mind has been a great help as I have found myself swept away by this powerful devotional practice from a tradition not my own.

Tonight we meet again for Kirtan and we will offer our chant to Ganesha, asking for God's protection and grace, for ourselves and for all around the world who are living through these tumultuous times.

Peace be with you,


Friday, February 18, 2011

Kirtan Circle Launches

The last few weeks have brought a sharply increased level of activity in my yoga teacher training activities. I would like to have written more blog posts about all these activities, but this flurry of stuff has really kept me busy. Since the start of the year, I have been apprenticing in a beginner's class, have attended two weekend intensive sessions and, last but definitely not least, have prepared and am ready to launch my project: Sun & Moon Yoga Studio's first Kirtan Circle.

As readers of this blog know, I am passionate about Bhakti yoga, which involves a form of devotional chant known as Kirtan. I knew, even before I began yoga teacher training, that I wanted to share this powerful practice with others. Like everything in yoga, talking or writing about a yoga practice is no substitute for actual doing it, so I have been strongly motivated to find a way to share what I know about this practice and give others the opportunity to experience it.

All Sun & Moon teacher trainees are required to do a project as part of the training, so I chose to develop a Kirtan Circle where people who know nothing about devotional chant can come and try it out. Since early January, I have met with a small group of interested yogis at the studio, teaching them what I have learned in the few years I have been practicing Kirtan. We have met every week that we can, learning chants, singing together and having a wonderful time.

Although I knew, and could sing, many chants that I had learned "by heart," so to speak, I quickly realized that I needed to find a way to bring instrumental accompaniment into the mix. Our practice group chanted to CDs and MP3 files for awhile, and I slowly began to pick out some of the tunes on my portable keyboard. Others brought drums and shakers and bells and before too long, we were singing "Jai Ganesha" and "Hare Krishna" without even having to turn on a CD player.

This weekend we are ready to open our practice to all interested participants. Our first Kirtan Circle will occur Saturday, February 19, 2011 at 5:30 pm. The Sun & Moon studio has been wonderfully supportive of this project, and has listed our Kirtan Circle dates on the website where you can find directions to the studio. If you are close by and can join us, please do. We would love to chant with you!