Kirtan (call-and-response Sanskrit chanting), is becoming increasingly popular in the West. Three recent books aim to describe this practice to newcomers and experienced chanters alike. If you are interested in learning about the practice of Kirtan and about the popular Kirtan wallhas (performers) then one or more of these books will definitely appeal to you.
If you are new to Kirtan, then Following the Sound into Silence by Kailash provides an excellent overview on Sanskrit and Tibetan chanting. This hardcover book is truly a work of love by its author and includes beautiful watercolor depictions of the Deities, a chanting CD, and exquisitely detailed insights on the spiritual practice. This extremely helpful introduction to chanting is beautifully written, concise yet thorough, and easy to read.
The two other books take a similar approach to discussing the practice of Kirtan through the interviewing of modern American Kirtan wallhas (performers). Kirtan!: Chanting as a Spiritual Path is the shorter of the two, focusing on the most popular performers. The Yoga of Kirtan is a newer book with a much longer list of interviews, and includes a CD of chanting by several of the artists featured in the book. It is interesting that while these two books are almost identical in their approach to this subject they have some striking differences. The interviews in Kirtan! have longer introductions and give the Kirtan artist less questions and more space to talk freely. The focus also centers more on the artist’s love for and experiences with their Guru. The book begins with a brief introduction to Kirtan and ends with a guide to practicing Kirtan and a glossary of common Sanskrit words used in the chants.
In The Yoga of Kirtan, the emphasis is more on the history, background and spiritual experiences of the artists. There is also a greater focus on the philosophy, tradition, approaches and techniques of the practice. This shift of attention results in many juicy, interesting and longer spiritual discussions. While this book interviews over twice as many artists than Kirtan! there is a notable absence of two very popular kirtan performers (Bhagavan Das and Wah!) especially with the book’s inclusion of many lessor known ISKCON (Hari Krishna Movement) chanters.
All three of these books shed valuable light onto the practice of Kirtan, and all the authors and artists are clearly passionate about the practice of chanting. As each book has its own flavor and uniqueness, each one will be helpful in taking you deeper into the art and practice of devotional chanting.