In December 2022, I began taking music instrument classes from Amrita Virtual Academy, starting with the ganjira.  In February 2024, I also started learning kaimani.  Both classes have had a strong impact on my life, my path and my sadhana. They have given me access to a practice that has sent its roots deep into many areas of my life.

The classes have helped connect me to other spiritual seekers in a beautiful way.  They have challenged me to expand at multiple levels and shown me that it is most important that my actions be connected to love.   They have also shown me that Amma is very much with me, that her plans are often surprising, and that her work is deep and constant. I feel very lucky to find myself in these classes. I would not have predicted that I would do something like this.

In this first blog post, I would like to tell the story about how, by Amma’s Grace, I started to attend these classes, beginning with the ganjira, and how I found my ganjira teacher, Br. Vipin. 

The story begins in Amma's Ashram Amritapuri….

The first time I remember hearing a ganjira was in the Kali temple at Amritapuri.  It was in the fall of 2022 on my first trip to India.  Every morning, women gather for archana in the Kali temple.  The 1000 Names of the Divine Mother are followed by the Sri Mahisausuramardini Stotram – a chant depicting an epic battle where the Divine Mother in the form of Durga slays various demons.   Normally, there are no instruments played during the chanting, but one day, the woman who was leading the chant played the ganjira.

This changed everything for me.

The stotram came to life.  I became enchanted and wondered if I could learn to play that instrument so I could bring this experience home with me.  

I am not really musical, and I had never heard a ganjira played like that before.  No one I spoke to had either.  The thought of my learning to play one seemed like a long shot.  But as it turned out, some time after I got home, I saw lessons offered online through the Amrita Virtual Academy.  So now, all I needed was the instrument.

A few weeks later, I rode with a friend to the San Ramon Ashram in California to attend satsang.

That very night, someone was playing a ganjira, in the bookstore,  after bhajans.  And sure enough, he was a student of Br. Vipin who teaches both in-person and online ganjira classes through Amrita Virtual Academy.  We then discovered that a few ganjiras were for sale in the bookstore.  We each bought one that very night.

But that is not the end of her grace.

Now that I had my own ganjira, I quickly signed up for the online class.  The class is detailed and starts with a comprehensive lesson on how to approach the instrument, how to hold it, and how to respect it. 

Br. Vipin introduces a few basic beats (or rhythms) used in Indian music which we are encouraged to practice with a metronome. Then step by step, beat by beat, the classes add something new each time.  Each section of the course is followed by an invitation to connect with Br. Vipin and submit a sample of our homework in video format.  Br. Vipin then responds with encouraging words and clear and precise recommendations for improvement.    

At the beginning, my playing was a bit stiff, my timing was off, and in some ways, not strong. Despite this, we—the ganjira and I—would practice and play together. If I found an exercise too challenging to do on my own with the metronome, I would just set a 20 minute timer, and play along with Br. Vipin and the demonstration videos, until it felt natural to me.

In September 2023, I returned to Amritapuri where I was able to meet Br. Vipin in person and take in-person lessons.  During our first lesson at the beach, he mentioned that this day was Ganesh Chaturthi (celebration of the birth of Lord Ganesh) and that a group of young people would be playing bhajans as part of the Ganesh puja at the Kalari (the space where Amma first started to give darshan and where the fire ceremonies are now held).  He invited me to join them.  It turned out to be a wonderful experience—very vibrant, fun and dynamic.  This opened up to other opportunities for me to play along with others. 

There is a video from the Ganesh Chaturthi 2023. You can see it here.

Shortly after Ganesh Chaturthi, during Onam (the harvest festival of Kerala where the relationship between man and Nature and human beings and God, is celebrated—read more here), I was able to hear first-hand other forms of percussion that are found in Kerala.  This helped to give me a context for what I was trying to create with the ganjira. 

Br. Vipin also gave tips to help me reduce my tension by encouraging me to slow down, relax, be in the moment and to play naturally.  Through these suggestions, as well as through the focus on playing as a meditation, he wove ganjira playing into my spiritual path. 

In Napa Valley, California (also known as wine country) people talk about “terroir”, a way of referring to the unique, recognizable qualities that a specific soil of an area offers to a grape, and later to the wine it produces.  Being immersed in the rhythms of Amritapuri and the surrounding area, I was able to feel that terroir of the rhythms of the Ganjira.   I could hear them echoing from their origin.  

Recognizing this instrument as a form of Amma’s love has helped me to keep practicing.  Every now and then, I hear something lovely in my playing—it feels like a kind of grace, an attunement with the beauty contained within all things.  This has become my meditation practice. 

Try out the Ganjira Course with Brahmachari Vipin, here.

Amrita Virtual Academy offers a wide range of musical classes, from singing to learning different instruments. See more here.

As a Amrita Virtual Academy member you have access to more than 60 different courses in different fields. Discover more about the AVA Membership here, and join.

From Amritapuri to Spain: A Student’s Journey of Learning the Headed Tambourine (Ganjira)

From Amritapuri to Spain: A Student’s Journey of Learning the Headed Tambourine (Ganjira)

During the coronavirus pandemic, we began offering online music classes.  Before, I only taught the Ganjira in person, and only at Amritapuri. Many students were eager to learn, but some could only visit the ashram for one or two weeks and so did not have enough time to delve deep into their studies or take many lessons. 

Since people couldn’t come to Amritapuri at all during the pandemic, we began to conduct Ganjira classes online through Amrita Virtual Academy, with great benefit.  As learning an instrument can take some time, students could progress from home at their own pace through a large variety of rhythms and beats. They could submit video assignments or join us for live sessions according to their own schedules. It was really inspiring to connect over Zoom and offer feedback and encouragement. Our students are so sincere and dedicated. Here is some feedback from one of our Ganjira students from Spain named Sridevi:

I have just finished the first Ganjira (Headed Tambourine) course and I want to share my experience with you.

As a whole, it has been a blessing, as are all of the ways Amma gives us to grow and become closer to ourselves. I would not say that learning a new instrument has always been easy for me, but the whole time I felt I was in the best company possible. During the classes I felt very well cared for — guided through all of the hurdles and gently brought out of any potholes on the road of learning.

I had never learned how to play any other instrument before I started the Ganjira course at Amrita Virtual Academy — a virtual holy space inspired by Amma. Because of this my progress felt slow, but the effort was worth it to grow closer to Amma’s teachings and the feelings of inner spiritual presence this musical sadhana offers. 

Learning an instrument is a very easy and sweet way to keep your mind on God all day, because you go so deep into the lesson that you can spend a great part of the day delving into the bhajan you are studying that week. It also helps us become oblivious to any toxic atmospheres we may be subjected to in our day-to-day lives. Bhajans are a great inner companion — always offering positive thoughts and vibrations — in contrast with what we sometimes have to hear when living in the world. Immersing ourselves in bhajans is like wearing a shield!

Devotional practices are always sweet, even from the beginning. However, trying to learn something new can be frustrating at times, and that is a great time to practice some of the qualities Amma constantly reminds us to cultivate: patience, acceptance, will-power, perseverance, determination to continue, focus, and self-confidence. It is a very long list!

Playing takes a lot of coordination, as the left hand also plays its part in making the music! One hand (the right) strikes the Ganjira, while the other hand (the left), helps tune and adjust the quality of the sound. I’m so grateful for this excellent step-by-step course, which helped me make strong progress in learning this instrument. 

I’m sure that anyone with an interest in learning the Ganjira will really enjoy this course, and soon be joyfully playing along with Amma’s bhajans. May the grace of the divine be with you all in your musical inner journey! May the Divine Mother bless us all with her presence within every time we pick up our instruments.

Om Namah Shivaya!

It really brightens my heart to hear such beautiful thoughts from this student, who obviously has been studying hard while connecting with the depths and deep benefits available from the gangira and other instruments we teach at Amrita Virtual Academy.

We are so grateful to all our students who have helped AVA come to life. It has been a beautiful few years together. We look forward to further learning and growing together. If you have any questions about the Ganjira, please contact us at

You can learn more about our online course here:

You can also see how the Ganjira is played here:

Wishing you grace in all your endeavors and studies.

In Amma,
Ganjira Instructor, Amrita Virtual Academy

How to Select Kaimani (Hand Bells)

How to Select Kaimani (Hand Bells)

In order to really deepen one’s ability in playing an instrument, one must first truly understand it, appreciate it, learn about its historical significance, its physical properties, and how it’s used. Selecting any instrument is a highly personalized process and developing a special relationship of love and reverence towards it will help in honing in on the right instrument.

In the Kaimani: Level 1 Art of Handbells course, we spend some time learning about the ethnomusicology aspects of the Kaimani, its place in devotional music and its relevance in Amma’s bhajans. This kind of research and understanding will help you find the type of instrument you may be drawn to. Or maybe, I should say, that this kind of love and understanding will facilitate the process for the right instrument to find you!

What is a Kaimani?

Kaimani literally means hand (kai) bell (mani) in the Malayalam language. In North India, it is called Kartaal or Manjira or Manjeera. For South Indian Bharatanatyam (classical dance) it is known as Nattuvangam.

Used in temples and homes for centuries, this classical Indian instrument adds rhythm and beauty to devotional music. The bells create a soft and subtle tone, which are instrumental in keeping time. Notably, the Kaimani for Amma’s bhajans are tuned to specific keys (sruthis) and different sets of hand bells are often chosen based on the key of the bhajan.

Types of Kaimani

Bell Shaped Stringed Kaimani

There are two types of Kaimani that are most used. The first, and more common one, is the stringed Kaimani. The cymbal is typically flat, polished, shiny and made out of brass or other bell metals. If the cymbal surface is smaller, lightweight, it will have a brighter tone with less resonance. The other type of stringed Kaimani has a bell shaped, textured cymbal. It has a deeper tone with a lower pitch than the flat kind. The bell itself is usually darker in color than the flat, polished variety.

Beaded Kaimani

The second type of Kaimani utilizes wooden or plastic beads as the main handgrip on each cymbal. These bells are usually a darker color, more resonant and have a deeper tone. If the bell has more of a cupped shaped and textured surface, it may have a lower and more resonant tone. Generally, the beaded Kaimanis are also louder and their sound can be overpowering. When you’re trying out different pairs of Kaimani, it’s important to consider the context you may be playing it. For example, if you are just practicing on your own in a small space, you might want a smaller and flat Kaimani that is lighter and less resonant. However, if you plan to play for live bhajans or kirtan sessions amidst loud amplified music, then a more resonant or deeper toned Kaimani would better suit that particular context. The beaded Kaimani are the more preferred type in Amma’s bhajan group. However, I have personally cherished playing the stringed kind for some of Amma’s bhajan sessions in order to get lighter texture that’s better for recordings.

In my early days of playing percussion instruments, I was quite enamored in selecting my instruments and forged a deep love and lasting connection with them. In fact, I used to hold the tabla and sleep with it closeby. These instruments are manifestations of the divine; the love or bond you develop with your instrument will truly help you progress in your playing. 

If you are interested in getting a pair of Kaimani, please visit

Learn more about the Kaimani by taking the Kaimani: Level 1- The Art of Handbells course

Wishing you all the best in your quest to find the perfect Kaimani & hope to see some of you in class!

Author: Anu Chechi, Kaimani Instructor, Amrita Virtual Academy