The Divine Mother of the Universe creates the world of name and form first through the movement of sound vibration. The universe itself is made up of vibration or sound, and that sound is “Nada Brahman”. Thus, when we sing the notes, Ragas and compositions of India’s devotional music, we become co-creators with God as we experience the bliss of inviting Divine Reality into our consciousness.
So often, our minds are filled with our daily problems and concerns, and it is difficult to remember life’s Higher Purpose. Devotional music, practice and participation in Kirtan and Bhajan, provides a highly effective way to rise above the pettiness of everyday life and to unite our hearts and minds with the Divine.
It is said that a person can achieve “Moksha”, liberation from the cycle of birth and death, by remembering God in the final moment of life. To do this, however, one must practice until the Divine Name arises in the mind without effort. Music, Bhajan, Kirtan and chanting are “Sahaja Yoga”, an inspiring way to practice remembering God throughout life, and to realize the divine forms of God that reside in each note.
Music Sadhana can be practiced in two different ways, first:
Bhakti Marg Sangeet Sadhana:
Music Practice Through Emotional Attunement
Chanting and Kirtan can be practiced without a lot of music knowledge or expertise. Kirtans are simple chants, or “dhuns”, that are based on the many names of the Divine. Dhuns have very few words and relatively simple melodies which can be learned in a few minutes. “Sri Ram Jai Ram Jai Jai Ram” and “Kali Durge Namo Namah” are two examples of simple chants or dhuns.
Chanting practice is not primarily developmental. Although, with practice, you will get “better” at chanting, improvement is not the most important goal. The purpose of kirtan or chanting is simply to move the mind away from its’ everyday concerns by giving it something else to focus on- something spiritually engaging, repetitive, and filled with divine vibration. When we participate in chanting, we do not need to worry about whether our voices are “good”. We simply let the mind and heart fly with the divine sounds. This frees the mind and heart to experience a level of peace and bliss that is often not attainable in our mundane activities, or even in our meditation.
Group chanting is very powerful. When chanting with a group, it is important to keep the mind focused and stay in rhythm and tune with the group. This facilitates everyone’s concentration and absorption in the Kirtan. Some people like to play simple rhythm instruments, like finger cymbals (Manjira) or shakers (Kartaal) during group Kirtans. To do this, some elementary knowledge of how to keep rhythm with the group is required. Rhythm for chant is not random. Similarly, playing improvisational instrumental accompaniment for Kirtan (drums, Tabla, tambourine, flute, harmonium, etc.) requires fairly advanced knowledge and skill.
We can also chant alone by either singing along with a CD or tape, or simply repeating a simple chant we have heard. We can practice playing simple rhythm instruments along with a CD as well. Chanting practice can be done anywhere we feel free to make noise- in the shower, in the car, at home while doing housework, etc. Adding Kirtan to the beginning or end of our meditation or Yoga practice can also provide new depth and joy to our existing routines.
Kirtan or chanting can offer a wonderful addition to your existing Sadhana or spiritual practice, or a manageable beginning to a new resolution to practice spirituality.
Another Music Practice path is:
Jnana-Bhakti Marg Sangeet Sadhana:
Music Practice Through Emotional Engagement
and Disciplined Practice
While chanting and kirtan can offer wonderful spiritual rewards, even more is possible through learning and practicing divine music as a Yoga or spiritual discipline. The devotional and Raga music of India is a whole universe of spiritual possibilities that we can come to know more and more intimately through regular disciplined learning and practice. This kind of music practice is called Riaz.
There are twelve notes in the Sargam or octave of Indian Raga music- Sa Re Ga Ma Pa Dha and Ni, with softened versions of RE, GA, Dha and Ni, and a sharpened version of Ma. Each note or swara is a divine being- a Goddess, who can be experienced. We can get to know these Goddesses through Riaz or serious music practice. These notes do not correspond to specific notes or keys in western music; they exist only in relationship to each other and thus reflect the relative, transitory nature of the world, or Maya. Each note corresponds to a Chakra in the human body, so we can get to know ourselves better through Riaz. Each note also corresponds to an element (Tattwa) in the makeup of the universe, so we can feel our place in the universe more deeply through Riaz. The notes in various combinations make up Ragas or melodic frameworks or outlines. Each Raga is also a Divine Being, a God or Goddess, with its own personality and mood. We can become intimate with these Raga-beings through Riaz or music practice, and this intimacy can affect both our emotional and physical health in many positive ways.
Music practice may be either vocal or instrumental (or both). It also needs to include understanding of the rhythm cycles of Raga music (Taal). These rhythm cycles reflect the many rhythms of existence that makes all life possible. Everything in the universe, from the sunrise and sunset, to the tides, the seasons, the motion of the planets, and the cycles of life and death are all rhythmic. Rhythm is what holds everything together; likewise, knowledge and practice of rhythm or Taal is central to the practice of devotional Raga music.
Like any serious spiritual practice, this music practice will only be possible if it is “right” for you. One of our teachers once said “You have to have a destiny for this music.” If you feel attracted to this music practice, the only way to find out whether you have a “destiny” is to try it out. To try it out, you require a teacher and enough time to practice every day. If this practice is “right” for you, it will give you rewards beyond anything you can now imagine. At Sri Vidya Nada Mandir, we offer opportunities for Kirtan, chanting, and devotional Raga music (Bhajan) at “Curry Kirtan”- music and potluck dinner- the first and third Friday of each month at 8:00pm, as well as group and individual instruction in devotional vocal, Tabla and harmonium. Please see our Calendar for more details.