What is a chant circle?

A chant circle, or Kirtan, is where people gather and sing mantras in devotion to the Divine. It’s an opportunity to sing together and tap into the powerful spiritual energies of sounds sung in Vedic Sanskrit for over 3,000 years. Together, as you lift your voices to glorify the Divine, you sing to Deities like Shiva, Shakti, Hanuman, and Rama- to name a few! Let’s dive into the yoga of sound!

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What is the purpose of a mantra?

If you’re not familiar with mantras, let’s start there. In Sanskrit, “Manas” means mind, and “Tra” means tool.  Mantras, when repeated, are a tool used to aid the mind in concentration and focus, bringing us into a meditative state. We sing specific Mantras to evoke certain energies of Deities. For example, you might sing a Mantra to Lakshmi to call more prosperity into your life. Mantras can help you remove obstacles or even call in manifestations- think of it like a prayer. 

What are the benefits of singing mantras?

It’s not so important to know the meaning of every Sanskrit word as you sing; the idea is that you can let go of the mind and solely focus on the sounds. After a few hours of Kirtan, you may find you’re more relaxed, calm, and so light that you could float out of the circle!

You will also experience a deep connection to the idea that “All is One” when you unite your voices. It doesn’t matter how you sound; each of us has our unique voice expression, and singing in a group helps unblock the Throat Chakra and work through any limiting beliefs that your voice doesn’t deserve to be heard. It activates the Kundalini energy at the base of the spine and helps the energy flow through the Chakra system; it can be a spiritual experience!

How do I prepare to lead a chant circle?

Maybe you’ve been chanting mantras alone, but now you’re ready to invite friends within your community to gather. Firstly, you’ll need a sufficient amount of space. Indoors is always lovely for the acoustics, but finding a public space outdoors is also perfectly fine. You’ll want yoga mats and meditation cushions to sit on if possible- a circle could easily last over an hour, so you want people to be comfortable. People can add offerings if they want to set up an altar in the circle’s center. Tea is also a nice touch to keep the vocal cords lubricated!

Your voices are sufficient, but if you have a harmonium (pump organ) or shruti box, these are traditional instruments used in Kirtan. Guitars, drums, and shakers are also great additions.

You follow a “call and response” style of teaching the songs in Kirtan. The leader will say the words aloud first to teach proper pronunciation and have the guests repeat the Sanskrit. Then, they’ll bring in the melody and sing one line; in response, the guests will repeat it. After a few rounds, everyone will be familiar with the mantra, and you’ll all be singing in unison! You can even hand out lyric sheets for them to follow along!

Photo: @jaya.deva leading a chant circle | Instagram

How do I lead the Kirtan from beginning to end?

Depending on the group size, you could have each person introduce themselves at the start! It’s fun to have them sing their name aloud and have everyone sing it back. Or you might introduce yourself and jump into some voice activation techniques. OM, the sacred sound of creation, is a perfect place to start. Lead the group through deep breaths and OM together a few times to feel the unified vibration.

Choosing a theme for the circle will help you pick which mantras to sing. Each mantra can be chanted 108 times for best results, or roughly 7 minutes, with a quiet pause between each.

Possible theme ideas for the Kirtan:

World peace, inner trust, prosperity, balancing energies, protection, knowledge removing negativity, compassion, etc. 

The order of the mantras can vary, but here’s a suggested format with a few sample mantras to get you started:

Start by invoking the energy of the Divine Mother, ShaktiAdi Shakti Adi Shakti Adi Shakti Namo Namo and the God of Destruction, Lord Shiva- Om Namah Shivaya.

Then, add purifying chants, like a Ganesha chant, to remove any obstacles or negativity- Om Gan Ganpataye Namaha.

Next, you can choose songs for your theme. For example, the Goddess Saraswati is great for evoking the theme of knowledge– Om Aim Saraswati Namah

Sing to your understanding- Ong Namo Guru Dev Namo- “I bow to the Divine teacher within.”

Finally, closing with Lokah Samastah Sukhino Bhavantu is a beautiful way to send compassion into the world, “May all beings everywhere be happy and free.” 

It’s nice to hold hands in the final song and make eye contact as a token of gratitude for each person who shared their heart with you. 

Happy chanting!

Amber is a certified yoga instructor, retreat leader, and yoga teacher mentor. She has been living and teaching yoga in Costa Rica and Nicaragua since 2019. Before moving to Central America, she was a language arts elementary school teacher and started her own yoga business, Flow with Amber. She has run her own studio, led multiple retreats in Nicaragua, and is currently growing her YouTube channel. Outside of yoga, she loves hosting community circles, surfing, gardening, and taking road trips in her 1974 Volkswagen Combi with her husband.


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