form of musical worship or group devotion practiced by the Vaisnava sects (followers of the god Vishnu) of Bengal. Kirtana usually consists of a verse sung by a soloist and then repeated by a chorus, to the accompaniment of percussion instruments. Sometimes the singing gives way to the recitation of a religious poem, the repetition of God's name (nama-kirtana), or dancing. Frequently the kirtana songs describe the relationship between the human soul and God in terms of the love of the divine cowherder Krishna and his favourite, Radha. An evening of kirtana may last for several hours, often bringing about in the participants a state of religious exaltation. Kirtana as a form of worship was popularized by the 15th-16th-century Bengal mystic Caitanya, who continually strove for more direct emotional experience of God.

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Encyclopedia Britannica, 2008. Encyclopedia Britannica Online.
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