Kirtan

by Rachel Creager Ireland

I just found Devi 2000 on Pandora, and the songs took me back to Debi Winston-Buzil’s kirtans, which I used to attend when I lived in Chicago. Kirtan is devotional chanting, via the Hindu tradition. Everyone sits on the floor. Debi plays a harmonium and leads call-and-response singing. Two or four lines are repeated dozens of times. We’d move through maybe three or four songs in an hour or an hour and a half.

I always used to have this weird thought. It was like I could remember seeing something like this on TV when I was little, in the 1970s. I don’t know if I really did, or if this picture is something my brain has put together as sort of a collage of subterranean ideas from the midwestern subconscious, as it confronts the exotic. In my mind I see somebody talking about a new thing the hippie kids are doing, some serious news reporter like Dan Rather.  There are young people sitting around, obviously not at all concerned with their appearance, surrounded by incense and candles and singing mindlessly, eyes closed as if the repetition of a couple lines of a song could somehow magically transport a person to a state of higher consciousness. Imaginary Dan Rather reports that it is the express intention of these brainwashed people to turn off their minds. (Gasp! To what horrors are we vulnerable when we stop thinking critically?)

The funniest part is that it’s all true.

Years later, all I remember of my favorite chant is, “Bhajamani Ma, Ma, Ma, Ma, Bhajamani Ma, Ma, Ma, Ma.” The translation is something like, “Hail to the Great Mother,” but it seems that the people who do this kind of thing are often vague about the meanings of the words. I think it’s more important to experience them than to know what they mean.  Since my Mom was far away and losing her mind to Alzheimers disease, the Mother chants were always somewhat poignant for me. I’d try to find in myself what about our relationship resembled the Divine. Whenever my mind tried to rehash memories of nasty, demented things she’d said, or unfair childhood punishments, or how I could never do things well enough to satisfy her perfectionism, I’d will myself to let it go. I’d direct my attention away from the mind and its incessant thinking, looking for pure light, for peace, for love.

Kathie Carlson wrote about how the archetype of the Goddess Mother can help women in their mother/ daughter relationships. Being human means that it is inevitable that the human mother will, in some way, fail her daughter. The way to heal this relationship is for the daughter to shift her expectations and needs from her human mother to the Goddess Mother, who is eternal and unfailing in her perfect, unconditional love. When we feel this perfect Goddess love, we can let go of our desire for the human mother to be perfect, to give what she couldn’t give.

When I stopped thinking about my mother’s failings, I could start to feel her intense love and protectiveness. I could feel her secret awareness of her flaws. I could feel the enormity of her desire for me to overcome my wounds and fulfill all my potentials. Like all humans, she wasn’t perfect, but sometimes she allowed Goddess Mother love to radiate through her.

At this point my throat would start to constrict and I’d have trouble singing, and I’d be grateful that the candle light was dim so that no one would notice the tears running freely down my face.

I had become one of those hippies. And I feel immensely grateful that I had the opportunity to be there.

Would you like to be one of those hippies too? If you’re in Chicago, follow the Devi 2000 link above, so you can go to kirtan, an experience I miss here in rural Kansas, and which I think about whenever I sing devotional chants to my daughters.

[My eight-year-old daughter just walked in and asked me to put “I love Mama,” into my post.]

Bhaja mana ma.

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