Ram Dass about Kirtan from Be Here Now:
“Song, dance, chanting and prayer have been throughout the ages traditional forms of bhakti yoga. At first such rituals are a matter of curiosity, and you are the observer. Then you arrive at the stage of peripheral participation-a “sing along.” Then in time you become familiar with the routines and you start to identify with the process. As your identification deepens, other thoughts and evaluations fall away until finally you and the ritual become one. At that point the ritual has become the living process and can take you through the door into perfect unity. To know that these stages exist does not mean you can jump ahead of where you are. Whatever stage you are in, accept it. When you have fully accepted your present degree of participation, only then will you experience the next level.
Singing and music: Most familiar to us is the use of a song to open the heart. Hymns such as Holy, Holy, Holy . . .Amazing Grace-have touched the hearts of millions with the spirit. In India, bhajan (the singing of holy songs) has been until recent times practically the only social function in the villages. Evenings, the men gather, squatting or sitting on the ground in a circle with their chillums (pipes) and a harmonium, a set of tabla (drums), perhaps a serangi or violin (stringed instruments) and cymbals . . . and they take turns singing the stories of the holy beings such as Krishna and Ram. Night after night they participate in this simple pastime, keeping themselves close to the Spirit.
It is often startling to the Westerner to realize that it is not the beauty of the voice but the purity of spirit of the singer that is revered by these people. It was only when music was profaned that it became a vehicle for gratification of the senses. Prior to that, it was a method of communion with the Spirit.
A special form of bhajan is called kirtan . . .which is the repetition in song of the Holy Names of God.
The melody of kirtan is usually basically simple and it is only after many repetitions that the process of coming into the spirit starts to happen. Singing the same phrases over for two to five hours is not unusual for the true seeker. And you will find as you let yourself into the repetitive rhythm and melody that you experience level after level of opening.”