In houses and apartments across L.A., people are gathering together to practice a little-known, but growing, devotional ritual called kirtan.
Somewhere between a singalong and a group meditation, kirtan (KEER-tan) is a call-and-response spiritual practice that has roots in Indian religions, including Buddhism, Hinduism and Sikhism. It was introduced to America in 1923, at a performance in Carnegie Hall. Since then, it has transitioned from an exotic performance to a common practice.
Many of the people practicing kirtan are not otherwise religious. Like meditation or yoga, it is accessible to anyone. Krishna Das, an American-born kirtan performer, is one of the people bridging the spiritual practice and mainstream American culture.
“He’s been a lot of people’s entry — for Westerners — into the power of devotional singing,” said Australian pop singer-songwriter Ben Lee, a kirtan enthusiast.
Das, born Jeffrey Kagel, became a student of spiritual teacher Ram Dass in 1969 and traveled to India with him in 1970. There, Das encountered his guru, Neem Karoli Baba, known to most as Maharaj-ji.
Under Maharaj-ji’s guidance, Das adopted his new name and began chanting as part of following the path of Bhakti yoga — the yoga of devotion. In 1971, shortly after Das returned to the U.S., Neem Karoli died.
“I went through a lot of years of really dark unhappiness,” Das said. Eventually, though, he found his way back to kirtan.
Get Drishtikone Updates
in your inbox
Subscribe to Drishtikone updates and get interesting stuff and updates to your email inbox.
Thank you for subscribing.
Something went wrong.