New York Times Chanting Is an Exercise in Body and Spirit is about the rising tide that kirtan is riding on.
“It has left the churches and the yoga studios because it’s such a simple practice,” said Krishna Das, 61, who grew up on Long Island as Jeff Kagel and traveled to India in the early 1970s. “It’s not about belief in any religions, so people are coming from all walks of life. You give it a try and if it works, you’re in fat city. If not, you do something else.”
Although kirtan is rooted in India’s devotional religions and involves chanting the names of God, Krishna Das says the practice requires no allegiance to any deity or set of beliefs, and he is dismayed that many associate the chant “Hare Krishna” with people who begged on the streets and danced in airports in the 1970s.
As I’ve said before here, Krishna Das is the soundtrack of my yoga experience. What is really interesting is the fusion that’s happening in the United States as musicians and yogis take the Hindi core and combine it with pop, gospel, reggae, hip-hop and rapping, plus all the other world music influences, to produce a unique, innovative sound, nurtured in the small venues of yoga studios and churches. It’s part of the mainstreaming of yoga in America. Purists probably hate it and it will never achieve broad popularity, but that’s not the point. It’s what is happening to yoga itself, starting out with the “pure” Indian practice (which may be a relatively modern application of ancient rites) and then layering on multiple riffs and licks of Pilates, marital arts, gymnastics and dance. The market and society are bending it in new ways that make it more relevant and “marketable” in our society.