Kirtan, is a unique traditional practice in Maharashtra that intersperses hymns sung in praise of god with social messages, witty banter and music to not only show the audience the right path to a meaningful life but also entertain. Maharashtra is a land of poet saints who had recognised the positive impact of the art of kirtan on the masses and classes centuries ago. In the absence of any other medium of mass communication, this tradition became a potent channel of infotainment and social reform. The rich tradition of kirtan in the villages of Maharashtra not only laid the foundation of the Marathi culture but also shaped the approach of the masses towards various arts. A large section of an audience was created which could distinctly differentiate between excellence and mediocrity. By fusing religious values and the traditional wisdom, this performing art contributed in the social awakening process. Later, during the struggle for independence, leaders like Lokamanya Tilak encouraged kirtans in order to take the struggle to the masses.
The kirtan is an art in itself. To reach the top of his profession a kirtankar must be well-acquainted with many fine arts like music, literature and dramatics. Fine oratory, a keen sense of witty humour and knowledge of poetry too are the necessary prerequisites for a successful performance. Therefore it can be said that the kirtan is an amalgamation of many arts together.
There is no doubt that this rich tradition has been somewhat marginalised in the age of electronic mass media and commercialisation. But recently there have been efforts to rejuvenate this art with positive results. Some committed kirtankars are teaching this art to packed classrooms. In cities and towns kirtans are being conducted in halls and temples with full audiences. The new generation of kirtankars now talks about the various ills of society and the stress of modern lifestyle. Therefore, despite many apprehensions, this art has not only survived but is gaining strength. There is a hope that this tradition will pass the test of time and thrive in the future.