Last Saturday I did a couple of very exciting things. They were intertwined but several aspects of my adventures each made me say:
As I’ve mentioned before, I’m a massive kirtan fan. If you don’t know what that is, the commercial incarnation of kirtan is Krishna Das (the pics in the clip are unrelated!).
So, devotional singing. Repetition. Call and response. Beautiful, simple music to support the chanting as the pace increases and comes back down.
What I find so wonderful about kirtan is that it’s very much meditation in action, a heart opening and a sense of clearing out all the crap that usually crowds our minds. Kirtan was responsible for helping me understand that we can generate our own happiness and self-love, without relying on other people for those feelings. That sense of connectedness.
So yeah, I’m a die-hard kirtanist.
Every now and then in Melbourne, there’s a kirtan workshop advertised where you can begin to learn about playing the harmonium and what it takes to lead a kirtan. I’ve been meaning to do one for ages but the timing just wasn’t ever quite right.
Until a few weeks ago when I saw an advertisement for beginner workshop. The only thing was that it was an hour and a half out of town, in Castlemaine. A place I’d never even been before.
But I COULD go. I didn’t have any other conflicting plans and I really, really wanted it. So I booked myself in, booked a car for the day and yay… road trip!
Saturday morning I was brimming with excitement. Organising snacks for the car and making sure I’d be warm enough etc (somewhere nearby Castlemaine it snowed on the weekend!).
And off I went. Driving by the Google maps on my phone and arriving in a sweet little town northwest of Melbourne just in time for the workshop. Yay!
There were about eight of us, most were local to Castlemaine.
We learned about the harmonium and its history (originally European, actually but adopted by Indian musicians) and how to play some basic chords. WHEEEE! I’ve never learned an instrument before and it is SO. MUCH. FUN.
Playing the harmonium goes hand in hand with singing kirtan and in fact, I found it easier to remember what notes to play while singing. More feeling, less thinking!
Then there was a break to get some dinner, where I got to talk to some of the other workshop attendees. People who’ve moved to Castlemaine from the city for an alternative to high stress living. People who are very much like me! Apparently it is one of those out of town centres for spiritually-minded people. Food for thought, I can tell you.
One of the most interesting things our workshop leader said was this:
Sound existed before we gave it meaning.
He was referring to the Sanksrit alphabet, which is said to be discovered as a result of deep meditation looking for the sounds of the universe.
They say that Sanskrit letters are all parts of the vibration of the universe, which were then put together to form words. So our workshop leader says that it doesn’t matter if you know what the words mean, or if you believe in the gods and goddesses being sung about or not.
Because words are just sounds that we’ve given meaning to. And the words used in kirtan are made of the very essence of the world that we live in. Which is why kirtan is so healing and joyous and can create such clarity in the mind.
Anahata refers to the heart chakra, but is also the word for the “unstruck sound” – or the primal sound of the universe. So the sounds of the universe and the heart chakra are related. Interesting, no?
So five hours of kirtan leading and harmonium playing, plus a little yogic and music theory… made for an excellent afternoon.
Then there was a kirtan performance in the evening, but unfortunately I couldn’t stay til the end as I didn’t want to be driving home too late at night.
I’ve been singing kirtan songs in my head ever since, as the workshop has only encouraged my love of it all. And now I really want to buy a harmonium so I can keep practicing.
Hope you had a fabulous weekend, too.