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Kirtan or kirtana (Punjabi: ਕੀਰਤਨ, Sanskrit: "praise, eulogy"; also sankirtan) is call-and-response chanting or "responsory" performed in India's bhakti devotional traditions. A person performing kirtan is known as a kirtankar. Kirtan practice involves chanting hymns or mantras to the accompaniment of instruments such as the harmonium, tablas, the two-headed mrdanga or pakawaj drum, and karatal hand cymbals. It is a major practice in Vaisnava devotionalism, Sikhism, the Sant traditions, and some forms of Buddhism, as well as other religious groups.
Kirtana may be categorized as 'bhana', which, according to Bharata, the initiator-commentator of bharatiya natyasastra, is an individual performance of an actor, who at a time plays many roles as a self and as many others. An n-glossic (amalgamation of many [n] codes) situation was observed in the discursive formation of kirtana. This code-analysis reveals a difference between speaking and 'musicking' (the term used by Christopher Small). One of the focuses of kirtana is the akhar, which is between or in between speaking and musicking.
There are several steps in the kirtana: speaking, musicking, dialoguing, rhythmic gaps, well-constructed pauses or silences, simultaneous dancing, acting etc. and akhar is at a time an insider and an outsider. Thus, akhar is a liminal or threshold point of the song, which is characterized by ambiguity, openness, and indeterminacy. Moreover, the complicated role-playing of single interlocutors is also also observed in this performance. Though [Volosinov]  found this type of multi-layered performance by a single reader/performer is difficult in the context of Russian narratives, the Bengali kirtaniyas showed the path by performing such difficult text with professional precision. The reporting of the reported speech in the 'bhana' of kirtana had become quasi-direct discourse with the full non-authoritarian participation of the three: composer, performer and the audience. If linguistics is considered to be a “discipline” for establishing dialogue without manipulation, the performance of kirtana as an open text might be cited as an example of such dialogue.
In the Bhagavad-gita (9.13-9.14) Krishna states that great souls worship and glorify him single-mindedly. In Maharashtra state of India keertan is a style of devotional solo performance and theatrical folk art which accompanies spiritual story telling along with call-and-response chanting or "responsory" that generally includes combinations of multiple element of performing arts. Narada is considered the originator of this tradition. The practice of kirtan was popularized as a means to this end in the Hindu devotional revival of the Moghul era.
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.
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).
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 2009, kirtan has taken on a wider popularity.[clarification needed] Kirtan singers have appeared in the West, such as Krishna Das, Bhagavan Das and Jai Uttal as well as Snatam Kaur, Lokah Music, Deva Premal, Sadhu Nada, Aindra Prabhu and Gaura Vani & As Kindred Spirits.
In the ISKCON ("Hare Krishnas"), the term sankirtan is also used to refer to preaching activities, such as distribution of religious literature to the public.