The Sanskrit word kirtan generally means glorification or praise, specifically of the Supreme Being, Krishna (God). When performed in a group setting, with musical instruments and call-and-response chanting, it is called sankirtan, or "complete kirtan." Typical instruments used in a Hare Krishna kirtan are the Mridanga drum, which is considered an incarnation of Balarama, also Kartals which are hand cymbals usually made of bell metal or brass.
Harinam Sankirtan is the congregational street chanting of the holy names of Krishna or God. Harinam Sankirtan is the yuga dharma for this age and was propogated by Lord Chaitanya around 500 years ago in West Bengal India. Lord Chaitanya ( an incarnation of Krishna), and his eternal associates, the Pancha Tattva, spread the chanting of the Holy Names of God all over India. More recently his great devotee Srila Swami Prabhupada Maharaja and others have since spread Lord Chaitanyas teachings all over the world . Lord Chaitanys preaching past times are recorded in the sacred book, the Chaitanya Charitamrita written by Krishnadas Kaviraja Goswami, a disciple of Raghunatha Dasa Gosvami who is a famous saint and devotee of Lord Chaitanya Mahaprabhu.
500 years ago Lord Chaitanya predicted that oneday the Holy name of Krishna would be heard in every town and village all over the world, today his prediction is coming true. Lord Chaitanya stressed that the chanting of the Hare Krishna Maha-Mantra, Hare Krishna Hare Krishna Krishna Krishna Hare Hare Hare Rama Hare Rama Rama Rama Hare Hare is the easiest means of self-realization in this age of Kali Yuga (the age of quarrel and strife). Following in Lord Chaitanya’s footsteps, devotees chant and dance in the city streets, traveling to various places of the world to give a chance to the conditioned souls to hear and benefit from hearing Krishna’s holy names.
In the Chaitanya Charitamrita it states:
"'In this age of quarrel and hypocrisy, the only means of deliverance is the chanting of the holy names of the Lord. There is no other way. There is no other way. There is no other way.'"
Śrī Caitanya Caritāmṛta Madhya 6.242
Because the people of this age are so fallen, they can simply chant the Hare Kṛṣṇa mahā-mantra. In this way they can rid themselves of the bodily conception of life and become eligible to engage in the Lord's devotional service. One cannot engage in the devotional service of the Lord without being purified of all contamination. This is confirmed in the Bhagavad-gītā (7.28):
yeṣāḿ tv anta-gataḿ pāpaḿ janānāḿ puṇya-karmaṇām
te dvandva-moha-nirmuktā bhajante māḿ dṛḍha-vratāh
"Persons who have acted piously in previous lives and in this life and whose sinful actions are completely eradicated are freed from the dualities of delusion, and they engage themselves in My service with determination." Sometimes people are surprised to see young men and women take so seriously to the Kṛṣṇa consciousness movement. By giving up sinful activity — illicit sex, meat-eating, intoxication and gambling — and strictly following the injunctions given by the spiritual master, they have become purified of all contamination. They can therefore fully engage in the devotional service of the Lord.
In this Age of Kali, hari-kīrtana is very, very important. The importance of chanting the holy name of the Lord is stated in the following verses from Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam (12.3.51-52):
kaler doṣa-nidhe rājann asti hy eko mahān guṇaḥ
kīrtanād eva kṛṣṇasya mukta-sańgaḥ paraḿ vrajet
kṛte yad dhyāyato viṣṇuḿ tretāyāḿ yajato makhaiḥ
dvāpare paricaryāyāḿ kalau tad dhari-kīrtanāt
"The most important factor in this Age of Kali, which is an ocean of faults, is that one can be free from all contamination and become eligible to enter the kingdom of God simply by chanting the Hare Kṛṣṇa mantra. The self-realization that was achieved in the Satya millennium by meditation, in the Tretā millennium by the performance of different sacrifices, and in the Dvāpara millennium by worship of Lord Kṛṣṇa can be achieved in the Age of Kali simply by chanting the holy names, Hare Kṛṣṇa."
Purport by Srila Swami Maharaja Prabhupada, Chaitanya Charitamrta - Madhya 6.242
No importance should be given to the mayic world. Even if there is a fire burning, we should not say, "Oh! I shall first put out the fire and then I shall come to join the Krsna-kirtana." No! No! No! If the whole world is burnt to ashes, there is no loss. Rather if we are saved by fire from the conception of this material world, we shall be fortunate.
Follow The Angels by Srila Sridhar Gosvami
The third quality mentioned by Srila Rupa Goswåmi as belonging exclusively to Krishna and not to any other form of the Lord is that Krishna is the player of the transcendental flute: The transcendental sound that comes from Krishna’s flute is so sweet it attracts all the universes; and there are millions and millions of universes in the sky. Everyone becomes half-mad and crazy when they hear the sweet sound of Krisha’s flute. The court- yard looks like the ocean, and the ocean like the courtyard. No one can conceive where this very sweet sound vibration is coming from. Brahmå and others, who are all expert about Shabda, sound, are stunned to hear the miraculous sound of Krishna’s flute.
Religion Of The Heart by Srila Govinda Maharaja
“When a cloud covers the moon we cannot see the moon but we see the cloud because of the effulgence of the moon.” The original sound is the sound of Krishna’s flute in the transcendental world and because of this all songs in this world are illuminated and activated. Everything in this world is activated by the sound of Krishna’s flute. When we get a connection with the original sound, the sound of Krishna’s flute, everything in this world becomes sach-chid- ånanda-maya, perfect. Sometimes we try to get pleasure here through songs, and we may get ecstatic feelings, but they are nothing compared to the feelings that come from the transcen- dental song of Krishna’s flute. Once we get that connection any song we sing must be for the glorification of Krishna, because the original song of everything comes from Krishna’s flute.
Religion Of The Heart by Srila Govinda Maharaja, page 79.
Once a lady from Russia asked me if it was alright to play music for Krishna. She was very creative but she said she never used the Name of Krishna in her music. She wanted to know if it is possible to make advancement in Krishna consciousness by playing music for Krishna even though she never mentioned Krishna’s Name. I told her in order to get the highest benefit of life it is necessary to make contact with the original sound vibration and that sound is the sound of Krishna’s flute. I quoted the following sloka of Dhruva Mahåråja:
When Vishnu asked Dhruva Mahåråj to accept a boon from Him Dhruva Mahåråj said, “Why should I accept a boon from You? You are like a jewel standing before me and I have come searching for a broken piece of glass. When I see You standing before me, you appear like a jewel. Why should I accept a broken piece of glass?” This is the real song and this is the sound of Krisha’s flute. All vibrations in this material world come from Krishna’s flute and that vibration travels everywhere. It is not only in this world but it is in the transcendental world as well. All songs in this world are illuminated and activated by the sweet sound of Krishna’s flute.
Religion Of The Heart by Srila Govinda Maharaja, page 78.
Once there was a famous singer in India named Tånsen. When he sang, a cloud would form in the sky, fire would manifest and rain would fall. He was the king’s musician and a great singer. His Guru was Haridås. King Akbar asked Tånsen where he had learned to sing so nicely. Tånsen said he had not really learned anything but had only learned a small percentage from his Guru, Haridås. He said, “If you hear my Guru sing, you will never forget it.” Akbar asked Tånsen if he could bring his Guru to him but Tånsen said his Guru would never come to a king’s assembly because he did not live within the jurisdiction of a king. He lived within the Lord’s jurisdiction. Akbar was very intelligent and said, “I want to see your Guru at least one time. Can you take me to him?” Tånsen said, “You can see my Guru but you can’t hear his song. His song is a transcendental song and you are not qualified to hear that song. His mercy has given me some power and through that everything is revealed to me.” Still, Akbar wanted to hear Haridås sing. Haridås sang early in the morning. He glorified Krishna and lived in a thatched hut, so Akbar dressed in ordinary clothes and went to hear him sing. After Akbar heard Haridås sing he was stunned. He fell at Haridås’ feet. Later Haridås’ Guru, Sivaji gave his entire kingdom to Haridås. Haridås said he had taken his kingdom because he was Sivaji’s disciple and Sivaji wanted him to take it. Haridås asked Akbar to try and protect everything nicely. This is a long story but the meaning is that through the light of the transcendental sound vibration everything in this world is activated. All songs in this world are activated by the sound of Krisha’s flute. All sounds are transmitted through ether, and ether is mundane. If we can connect our songs with the transcendental song, which means the transcendental sound vibration of Krishna’s flute, our songs will become transcendental.
Religion Of The Heart by Srila Govinda Maharaja, page 81.
It is said in the Vedic Scriptures that sound is Shabda-brahma—it is a spiritual vibration. It exists on the borderline of Goloka. When sound in this world gets a connection with the spiritual world, it must go to Krishna. Here all sounds come through the flute of Krishna but they are shadow sounds. When the shadow takes form, it becomes reality. It has pure form. Since the mere shadow can give us so much pleasure, how much pleasure can the real song give us? Because of this we need to search for that reality. It is also said in the Vedas that sound is the origin of the Vedas and that the Vedas are a transcendental sound vibration, not a mundane vibration. They are called sat-guna or veda-guna. Everything in this world comes through transcendental vibrations and everything here is activated by those vibrations which come from Krishna’s flute. Krishna’s flute is the original song and the life of the whole creation. Song is good no doubt and if it is good here it must be even better there. We can say Krishna’s flute song is the super-most excellent song.
Religion Of The Heart by Srila Govinda Maharaja, page 81.
When Lord Brahmå took birth from the lotus flower born from the navel of Lord Vishnu he saw everything was dark. He tried to remember who he was and where he had come from but he couldn’t understand anything. Then he heard one sound and that was “tapa.” He was awakened by that sound and began to search where it had come from and which sound he should meditate on. Then he heard the sound of Krishna’s flute and that was the sound of the Gåyatri Mantram. Guru Mahåråj said: The Gåyatri Mantram is the original song of Krishna’s flute. We should try and connect with that song. Songs are good here but if we are addicted to mundane songs we will be cheated. When we know that songs are very beautiful, tasteful and charming here we should try and connect with the original song.
Religion Of The Heart by Srila Govinda Maharaja, page 82.