San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Join the celebration at Costa Rica's Kirtan Festival

The kirtan is a melodic and beautiful tradition. It is a process of chanting and meditating. During the kirtan a mantra will be repeated again and again. Performers sing and play centuries-old instruments. It is lively. It is peaceful. Always there is beauty.

The first Kirtan Festival will be held in Costa Rica this week. Events already have taken place in Nosara and Liberia. But for those looking for an authentic kirtan experience in downtown San José should visit the Jakob Karpio Gallery on Tuesday and Wednesday at 7 p.m. On Wednesday night, kirtan musicians and singers will play a show. On Thursday at 7 p.m., there will be a kirtan performance at the University for Peace, in Ciudad Colón, an hour west of San José

The festival remains rooted in Indian culture and yet it has an internationalist twist – the kirtankars (those who partake in the kirtan) are from all over the world.

Among them is Deborah Jaishree, from Boston, Massachusetts, who has come to Costa Rica. Jaishree sings kirtan in the United States. Her chanting skills can be heard Wednesday at 7 p.m. during a performance at the Jacob Karpio Gallery with a couple kirtan musicians. For her the festival is particularly poignant since it is, “open to everyone- religion, race, and ethnicity. Since everyone has a soul.”

The kirtan originated 500 years ago in Bengal, India. But the tradition has expanded outside its birthplace. It was first brought to the West in the 1960s by kirtankars eager to share a means of connecting with others on deeper level.

Pandit, a Chilean who also will be participating in the festival, traveled to India in order to learn to play the mridanga, an ancient Indian percussion instrument. Used for both mediation and folklore, the mridanga has been adapted for Western audiences. As Pandit observes, the music he plays most frequently is neither Bengalese nor Western but a “fusion” of the two.

Mukunda, an Australian who spent part of his life in India, grew up studying many of the ancient Indian texts like the Bhagavad-Gita. He points out that the tradition of chanting has persisted for thousands of years in India.

The purpose is for everyone to feel be equally connected through the artistic expression, he says. Mukunda believes the western version has not altered the essence of this tradition. He sees this festival as important means for spreading culture.

“The kirtan is about opening the heart, meditating and projecting it,” Mukunda says. “It’s what we love best, having a bit of a grove…having a higher purpose.”

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