Monday Morning Greetings 2023 #52 – Is Sankirtan Better Than Kirtan?

December 25th, 2023

Is Sankirtan Better Than Kirtan?

Yes. Śrī Jīva Gosvāmī compares the two and says sankirtan, congregational chanting, as compared to kirtan, glorifying Krishna by oneself, gives special feelings of bliss.[1] When I originally read this in Śrī Bhakti-sandarbha a question naturally arose: “Why?” Recently, a second questions arose when reflecting on Jīva Gosvāmī’s comparison, “If devotees seem to become more easily absorbed in sankirtan than japa, then why is a certain amount of sankirtan prescribed at initiation instead of japa? Wouldn’t that be better for most struggling sādhakas? In this post I will try to answer these questions.


Why is sankirtan better than kirtan?

  1. Music enhances emotion: The superiority of any yogic process is the facility it gives one to connect or become absorbed in the object of one’s meditation. In bhakti-yoga, one’s connection with one’s object of meditation, which is the holy names of Śrī Krishna, is an emotional connection, which is our devotion to Krishna. As raga (melody) and tāla (rhythm) are connected to deep parts in the psyche that increase one’s emotion, couching the holy names in proper music (sankirtan) naturally enhances our devotion.[2]
  2. Shared bliss is greater than individual bliss: A proper community, like those joined together in sankirtan, is a place where shared interest is higher than individual interest and thus a place that helps remove the egocentric or limited concept of “I” or the false ego. As it is this ego that covers us from our loving connection with God, then naturally sankirtan or community kirtan, which facilitates removing the ego, helps give the sincere participant in such kirtan “special feelings of bliss”.[3]
  3. Group petition is more powerful than individual petition: Bhakti is the path of grace. We attract grace by entreaty or the humble petition for mercy. Group petition is more powerful than individual petition and thus the congregational chanting of the holy name powerfully attracts grace for a sincere participant.[4]


Why japa?

  1. Ultimately there is no hierarchy in the main devotional practices: The main rule on the path of bhakti is to remember Krishna and never forget Him. There are different ways to do that. What is better for one depends on one’s taste. In that sense, although we may say that one practice is better than another, there is no absolute hierarchy in devotional practice.
  2. Chanting alone is a more efficient way to access the holy name: The goal of devotion is to chant always, which is much more easily accomplished when not dependent others. How much could one fill his day or week with the holy name if required to do it with others that have a certain level of devotion and musical ability?
  3. Chanting alone deals more with control of the mind: Japa meditation is classic yogic meditation, which traditionally gives one a special facility to help control and strengthen the mind, which is essential in developing the ability to rise to the higher levels of meditation required for fully remembering Śrī Krishna’s pastimes.
  4. There is a special flavor to being alone with Krishna: As glorifying Krishna with others has a special flavor, being alone with Krishna in terms of japa affords one a special opportunity to individually and intimately express one’s own heart and develop one’s personal relationship with Him. So yes, the shared experience that one can have in kirtan gives special feelings of bliss, but so does the experience in a slightly different way of being with Krishna alone during japa in the form of His holy name.


So, is sankirtan better than japa? Yes, there are some unique aspects to sankirtan that help us become absorbed in the holy name that give special feelings of devotion, but we are meant to chant always, to learn to control the mind and to focus on developing a personal relationship with Krishna. For that the chanting of japa is more conducive. Our goal is to always think of Krishna and never forget Him. Our ācāryas have recommended several essential practices to help us accomplish this and they are all important. Sincere devotees may gravitate to a particular form of devotion and certain practices may be emphasized, but they do not minimize or neglect any of them recommended and followed by our ācāryas, as they all have in their own way the potency to enhance devotion and move us towards our goal, krishna-prema.



[1] This statement that compared to kirtan, sankirtan gives special feelings of bliss, is found in Śrī Bhakti-sandarbha in the section where Śrī Jīva Gosvāmī elaborates on each of the nine main practices of devotional service and describes the practice of kirtan.

[2] The relationship between music and the psyche in relation to kirtan is described in the following article, which I feel is the best I’ve read, that describes the dynamics how kirtan influences the psyche: Sat Hari Singh Khalsa, “Kirtan: The Sacred Music of the Sikhs,” Journal of Vaishnava Studies, Volume 17, No. 2 (Spring 2009), 169–184.

[3] The idea of the power of shared bliss comes from rasa theory that states for an audience to experience rasa from an appropriately composed drama the audience must hear it as if in one mind and such an experience is transcendentally uplifting. In Greek dramaturgy this is called catharsis.

[4] The power of group petition is described in the story of the birth of Krishna when Lord Brahma goes to the milk ocean accompanied by the demigods to petition Krishna’s descent. The commentators explain that he went with the other demigods because of the power of group petition.


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