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Kirtan or kirtana (Bengali: কীর্তন; Punjabi: ਕੀਰਤਨ Hindi: कीर्तन ;Telugu:కీర్తన ;Sanskrit for "praise; eulogy"; also sankirtan) is call-and-response chanting performed in India's bhakti devotional traditions. A person performing kirtan is known as a kirtankar or, colloquially, a "kirtaneer". Kirtan practice involves chanting hymns or mantras to the accompaniment of instruments such as the harmonium, tablas, the two-headed mrdanga or pakhawaj drum and hand cymbals (karatalas). It is a major practice in Vaisnava devotionalism, Sikhism, the Sant traditions and some forms of Buddhism, as well as other religious groups. Kirtan is sometimes accompanied by story-telling and acting. Texts typically cover religious, mythological or social subjects.
In the Bhagavad-gita (9.13-9.14) Lord Krishna states that great souls worship and glorify him single-mindedly, but the practice of kirtan was popularized as a means to this end in the bhakti movement of the Moghul era. It is often suggested as the form of religious activity best suited to the present age. Kirtan is often practiced as a kind of theatrical folk song with call-and-response chanting or antiphon. Narada, the ancient sage said to have composed the Narada Bhakti Sutra, is often spoken of as the originator of this tradition. The famous story of Prahlad in the Avatar Katha mentions kirtan as one of nine forms of worship, called the nava vidha bhakti along with shravanam (listening), smaranam (remembrance), pad sevanam (service), archanam (offering), vandanam, (obeisance), dasyam (servitude), sakhyam (friendship) and atmanivedanam (surrender). The so-called Naradiya Kirtan divides kirtan into five parts; naman (prayers),purvaranga (spiritual lesson based on old epics), chanting, katha or akhyan (exegesis) and a final prayer for universal welfare. All in all this may last from half an hour to three hours.
The Varkari saint Namdev (c. 1270–1350), a Shudra tailor, used the kirtan form of singing to praise the glory of god Vithoba. In the early 16th century CE Chaitanya Mahaprabhu traveled throughout India popularizing Krishna sankirtan. In the second half of 16th century Kalachand Vidyalankar, a disciple of Mahaprabhu, made it popular in Bengal, where several schools (sampradaya) have been practicing it for hundreds of years, including the Kartavaja (which originated at Ghoshpara near Kalyani), the Baul minstrels and the Kalachandi (disciples of Kalachand Vidyalankar). Geetashree Chabi Bandyopadhyay and Radharani Devi are among many who achieved fame by singing kirtan.
Marathi kirtan is typically performed by one or two main performers, called Kirtankar, accompanied by harmonium and tabla. It involves singing, acting, dancing, and story-telling.  It is usually based on poetry of the seven famous saints of Maharashtra; Nivruttinath, Dnyaneshwar, Sopandev, Muktabai, Eknath, Namdev and Tukaram. Jugalbandi Kirtan is performed by two persons, allowing question-answer, dialogue and debate. Performance requires skill in music, dance, comedy, oratory, debate, memory, general knowledge and Sanskrit literature. Training takes place at the Kirtan Kul in Sangli, the Akhil Bharatiya Kirtan Sanstha in Dadar, Mumbai, the Narad Mandir at Sadashiv Peth, Pune and the Kalidas Mahavidyalay in Ramtek, Nagpur as well as at smaller schools in Goa, Beed and Ujjain.
Rashtriya Kirtan is a special form originated by Dattopant Patwardhan, who used the format to raise awareness of the struggle for freedom against the British regime using mythological stories. In modern times stories of great scientists, warriors, freedom fighters and social reformers entertain and educate the masses. Another form is named after Samarth Ramdas and based on his poetry.
The Sikh tradition of kirtan or Gurmat Sangeet was started by Guru Nanak at Kartarpur in the early 16th century and was strengthened by his successors, particularly Guru Arjan, at Amritsar. In spite of several interruptions, kirtan continues to be performed at the Golden Temple and other historical gurdwaras.
Sikhs refer to a hymn or section of the Guru Granth Sahib (GGS) as a shabad. The first shabad in the GGS is the Mool Mantar. The hymns are arranged in chapters named after musical ragas. The shabads in any chapter is to be sung to that particular raga with due attention to tala and dhuni (melody) (See also Sikh music).
The following texts show the importance the Sikh gurus gave to kirtan;
In South India the compositions of Tallapaka Annamacharya, a 15th-century mystic, represent the earliest known music called sankirtan. He wrote in praise of Lord Venkateswara, the deity of Seven Hills in Tirumala, where unbroken worship has been offered for over twelve centuries at the Tirumala Venkateswara Temple.
Annamcharya is believed to be the incarnation of Lord Venkateswara's sword. During his long and prolific career, he reputedly composed and sang 32,000 Sankirtanas and 12 Shatakas (sets of hundred verses). His works were in Telugu and Sanskrit.
Kirtan became more common with the spread of Gaudiya Vaishnavism by the International Society for Krishna Consciousness's (ISKCON) founder A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada in the 1960s. Yoga centers report an increase in attendance at kirtan; according to Pure Music’s Frank Goodman in conversation with Krishna Das in 2006, kirtan has taken on a wider popularity. Kirtan singers have appeared in the West, such as Krishna Das, Bhagavan Das, Wah! and Jai Uttal as well as Snatam Kaur, Lokah Music, Deva Premal, Jim Gelcer, Jyoshna, Aindra Prabhu, Gina Sala', and Gaura Vani & As Kindred Spirits.
In ISKCON ("Hare Krishnas"), the term sankirtan is also used to refer to preaching activities, such as distribution of religious literature to the public.