Burning Bhakti Question of the Day: Why do so many kirtan enthusiasts insist on divorcing the practice from its spiritual roots?
The article linked below, “Kirtan: The Easy Meditation That Can Improve Your Brain,” has been making the rounds on social media, and while we applaud the recognition of kirtan as a meditative practice in a mainstream publication (Psychology Today), there are a couple things that are troubling here.
1) Kirtan, like meditation, may indeed be great for your brain, but the scientific studies cited by the author as evidence all refer to Kirtan Kriya, a practice that includes chanting but — very importantly, from a brain-fitness perspective — also integrates finger movements and visualization. The research studies did NOT study kirtan in the group call-and-response format, making the headline a huge leap, scientifically speaking.
2) Aside from one dismissive phrase, there is ZERO deference to the cultural roots of kirtan in India nor the historical tradition as a practice of bhakti yoga nor the contemporary South Asian practitioners who practice it in the West. This contributes to a cycle of cultural appropriation that, like it or not, casts a shadow on “Westernized” kirtan.
3) (and most troubling for us). The author states that “the practice itself has no inherent religious implication.” This is akin to asserting that yoga is nothing more than a fitness work-out. Why are we so afraid to call this practice what it is: a spiritual practice centered on chanting the names of God?
What say you, Bhakti Beaters?