You walk down the wooden steps and can hear the beat resounding.
Swerving through the crowded room, you find a spot to sit down.
It’s central London and at long last, a Friday night.
The week is done.
My mind is buzzing.
But this isn’t a club.
In a stylish Covent Garden basement, a group of youngsters have been performing 'Kirtan' (a form of devotional chanting popular in India) for the past 4 years with undiluted fervour.
Instruments that you probably wouldn’t associate with a 'Kirtan' - including a saxophone, a guitar and an African drum - reverberate through the intimate space. The words to the mantra being sung are projected on a blank wall, as people sit blissfully about, lost in meditation.
Welcome to Mantra Lounge.
Initially begun in 2010, Mantra Lounge is held fortnightly on Friday evenings.
The one thing that strikes the first-time visitor is the very palpable energy in the air.
Sound is a powerful vibration but who knew that Kirtan could be so captivating…or fun?!
Once you have attended a few Mantra Lounge sessions, it becomes clear that one does not necessarily need to be religious, or even believe in God to enjoy Kirtan.
In fact, what resonated with me is that Mantra Lounge is almost devoid of convention.
It breaks the stereotype of kirtan being solely “religious”; something done in temples by the older generation; something forced upon the younger ones by anxious elders keeping an eye to ensure no sneaking off.
The inconsistencies with traditional thinking continue with the Mantra Lounge's new album, appropriately titled 'Mantra Lounge: Volume 1'. The album features nine tracks or mantras sung in various different 'Kirtan' styles and is released by Radha Krishna Records, the non-profit music distribution arm of London's Radha-Krishna Temple.
One of the artists include mainstream chart topping RnB/Dance singer and songwriter Charlotte Kelly, who co-wrote Roll Deep's British number 1 hit 'Good Times'.
So, Mantra Lounge demonstrates that not only is Kirtan a form of meditation but that this very ancient part of a shared religious heritage can also be contemporary, versatile and creative.
'Kirtan' is a Sanksrit word which literally means 'To Glorify' and is widely believed to be an aspect of the sub-continent's 'Bakhti' (devotional) yoga.
"The word yoga means 'to connect' and when you're performing yoga, you are connecting with something or someone", explains professional Kirtan singer Radha Londonisvara Das.
The phenomenal rise in the popularity of yoga, particularly in the west, is evidence of the importance of society's pursuit of spirituality and humanity's perpetual urge to "CONNECT" to something.
So what distinguishes Kirtan from more "physical" styles of Yoga, such as 'Bikram Yoga', which claims to not only burn the calories but open those stubborn pores as well?!
The defining feature of Kirtan is that it gets right to the heart of the matter.
"Kirtan takes us to a point where it is 100% who we really are for eternity. That’s what it is. Gradually, bit by bit, we start realising who we are. We find ourselves, we discover ourselves, we become more self aware", continued Das.
Kirtan Singer Radha Londonisvara Das
Launched in 2010, Mantra Lounge is becoming immensely popular, attracting people from all walks of life. Founder Jai Murari says: "It started with a group of friends. We did a three month experiment, a trial to see how it was going. We found that people were interested, people were coming.
"The main inspiration comes from just having many great Kirtan experiences and wanting to share it with other people.
The Kirtan is predominantly been in temples and festivals and it’s just wanting to be able to share it with people and getting people to have that same experience."
Jai Murari, founder - Mantra Lounge
Murari adds that Mantra Lounge is for everyone and appeals to diverse people – not just those with an interest in religion or spirituality:
"Lots of people come to Mantra Lounge - some people just like the chanting, some people just like the way it makes you feel. After a long week of working, most people I know, just want to go and have a drink and relieve themselves - have a sense of experiencing blissfulness. But many people have found that Kirtan gives you the real experience.
"It’s long lasting. And you don’t get hung-over at the end of it!"
In the words of Radha Londonisvara Das, all you need to qualify for Kirtan is to have an open mind and need to want something. That’s about it.
The popularity of Mantra Lounge raises the question: are we becoming an increasingly spiritually aware generation or simply looking for an escape - or is it a combination of both, as these two aspects may very well be entwined?
As a young person working amongst the thrusts and throes of Central London, I can confidently claim that Kirtan is highly unique. Mantra Lounge not only has a convenient central location in Neal's Yard, Covent Garden, but importantly this peaceful space is not intimidating to a novice like me, as I search for inner tranquillity.
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