Vol. 17 No. 2 (2009): Journal of Vaishnava Studies
Journal of Vaishnava Studies

The Sanskrit word kîrtana (pronounced keer-ton-uh) means “praise” or “glory.” The more common Hindi pronunciation is “keer- ton,” dropping the final “a.” Simply understood, it is a form of song that centers on glorifying God, commonly performed in a “call and response” style of singing. There is Nåm-kîrtan, which are songs composed of God’s sacred names, and Lîlå-kîrtan, or songs that celebrate the esoteric activities of the Divine. There is Saµkîrtan, when the songs of praise are performed in a group setting, and Någara-Saµkîrtan, when the group is taken into the streets. And there are numerous variations on these terms and themes. But kîrtan, in any form, is ecstatic.
A closely related idiom is bhajan (bah-jon), prayerful song, which involves an internal, more meditative technique, usually in a sitting position. This is in contrast to kîrtan, normally performed while standing, at least, if not dancing. Bhajan literally means “worship” and is often conceived as a more solitary practice, though it is also generally performed in a group, like kîrtan. In addition, bhajan is generally softer, whereas kirtan can become quite strident. Various sects and regions in India will attribute different labels to different forms of prayerful song, sometimes defining bhajan as a subcategory of kirtan and vice versa.