Kirtan is a Hindu Sanskrit word derived from Kirtana and means “telling,” “narrating,” “praising,” “recital,” or “celebrating.” It’s actually a Yogic chanting technique, and even considered a type of Yoga in itself, which is then called Kirtan Yoga.
Nevertheless, Kirtan is more than just chanting. It’s chanting or singing that is accompanied by classical Indian instruments while the Mantras (or Chants) are repeated in a call and response i.e. question and answer fashion, often done in participation with the public.
Typically, the singers would recite or describe a legend, express devotion and worship to a Deity, or discuss or expound spiritual ideas. Kirtan may also involve dancing or the expression of emotive states.
When done as part of Sadhana (spiritual discipline), the idea behind Kirtan Yoga is to calm and still the mind and to devotionally open the heart. It’s typically carried out in a group setting.
Closely related to Kirtan is the practice of Bhajan. Kirtan and Bhajan have the same aims and are of a spiritual and devotional nature — such as in Bhakti Yoga — but Bhajan has a rather free style.
For instance, Bhajan can be done without a musical instrument, and it doesn’t need to follow a structured form such as a call and response performance.