Joyful Chanting - Kirtan
What are the Vedas?
The oral Indian tradition of Vedic chanting is very old. The earliest Veda was a vast collection of hymns set down 2 or 3 thousand years ago and then passed down through the generations from teacher to student. In 2003, in recognition of its outstanding cultural significance, Vedic chanting was declared an ‘intangible heritage of humanity’ by UNESCO.
Originally these hymns would have been chanted by priests and Brahmin men and had a devotional, religious or ritual purpose.
In the last century however the chants were written down in readable transliterated form and made available to anyone who wanted to work with them. And during this time also there has been a growing interest in the therapeutic value of chanting as an integral part of yoga and yoga practice.
The benefits of Vedic chanting
In the Yoga Sutras an abhyasa like chanting can be seen as a preparation for meditation or indeed a meditation in itself. An abhyasa here denotes the undertaking of a sustained discipline, an activity engaged in over a period of time, not something for the faint-hearted.
Vedic chanting is also seen as a form of svadhyaya – something we do for ourselves – as this is a practice of self study or self understanding. The very procedure of learning a chant, through recitation and repetition, brings us closer to ourselves. The process is called adhyayanam, literally going toward the inner self, which may lead to greater confidence and self empowerment.
Vedic chanting has important physical benefits as well. Unless we are actively singing, chanting or shouting we are unlikely to be exhaling fully. Learning to release the exhalation fully while chanting can release the tension which builds up in the diaphragm, shortening breath and reducing oxygen uptake. A strong exhalation will also tone the abdominal muscles.
Learning Vedic chants
The process of learning chants builds up slowly and takes time. It involves a technique similar to learning to play a musical instrument. The learning takes place step by step, starting with simple chants and then working towards more complex pieces. The process of adhyayanam is always the same: the teacher recites a verse and the student repeats the verse exactly as he has heard it. When the student has mastered the verses he goes away and practices it on his own.
Anyone can take up Vedic chanting – neither a background in music nor a knowledge of Sanskrit is needed.