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(Wondering who the hell Vrinda is? Read to the end…)

Hare Krishna by TheBhaktiBeat.comIt’s true. I, Vrinda, am a kirtan pusher.

I mean, I’m already a self-diagnosed “kirtan addict,” and we’ve established that there are a lot of those out there. I’m okay with that.

But a pusher? Well, this just, ahem, pushes it to a whole different level.

It hit me in the midst of a PM to a friend in Connecticut about a kirtan in a cave that she simply must attend.

My god, I thought. I’m like a kirtan evangelist.

The idea stopped me in my tracks, mostly because I’ve never had much use for evangelists who go about proselytizing their faith to anyone who will listen, and even less use for the Christian fundamentalists who tend to do the proselytizing.  On the other hand, the Revivalists, with their raise-the-roof/Praise-the-Lord church parties, have always fascinated me.  Maybe it’s the memory trace of that one my sister and I attended as adolescents in the little white church up the road from our farm in northeastern Vermont. It was both exhilarating and terrifying.  I had never before experienced that kind of passion for Jesus — of sheer sing-your-heart-out joy and dramatic redeem-thyself theatrics — certainly not in the staid Catholic church my family filed into every Sunday at 10, like clockwork.

Dear Lord, had I become like the fire-and-brimstone preacher up on that little church altar, waving his Bible at the Congregation of trembling souls and enjoining them to experience ecstatic redemption?  Is my call to Come to Kirtan any different than his call to Come to Jesus? Is this why my non-kirtan friends avoid me like the plague?  Suddenly I was on a roller-coaster ride of self-reflection and deep personal inquiry, along with its inevitable bedfellow, self-doubt.

“Jeezh,” my snarky twin interrupted.  “We just thought it would make a funny blog.  Lighten up already, will ya’?”

Oh, right.  [Sound of brakes screeching] Back to those signs.  After great personal exploration and intense research (a 30-second google search), I, Vrinda, have come up with this list of possible symptoms that may indicate that you, too, might be a kirtan pusher.

8 Signs You Might Be a Kirtan Pusher

1. You always know where your next kirtan is.

2. You drive down the road with kirtan blasting, smiling at anyone who notices.

3. When friends come to visit, you introduce them to so-and-so’s new bhakti CD.

4. You spend copious amounts of your “free time” inviting people to kirtans, posting notices about kirtans, organizing kirtans…and oh yeah, attending kirtans.

5. A typical grocery-store encounter starts and/or ends with Radhe! Radhe! or Haribol!

6. You belong to more than 5 kirtan-related groups on facebook.  (This is a dead giveaway).

7. Your kirtan friends are always asking you what’s going on.

8. Your non-kirtan friends stopped asking you what’s going on.

Keep Calm and Bhav On by TheBhaktiBeat.comIf you recognize any of these symptoms in yourself or others, seek help immediately.

Start by opening your mouth and saying Ommmmmm. Put on Krishna Das. Visit a friend with a harmonium right away. Join The Bhakti Beat’s Chantaholics Anonymous Support Group.  If it gets severe, call the Kirtan Hotline at 1 800 HARIBOL to find out immediately where the nearest wallah is.

 

photographerEditor’s Note: “I, Vrinda” is a new, occasional first-person series on TheBhaktiBeat.com in which I, Vrinda (aka Brenda Patoine) say what I’m thinking, whether you want to hear it or not.  Call it op-ed, editorialism, commentary, satire — hell, call it whatever you want.  Vrinda is opinionated but open, largely unfiltered, at times irreverent, and sometimes downright sassy (don’t say I didn’t warn you).  She’s pure Gemini, part wise, part wise-ass; the good the bad and the naughty all rolled up into one messy, messed-up, hopelessly imperfect, doing-the-best-she-can kinda’ girl, er, woman. She — I mean, I — may offer two cents or more on subjects from the ironies of the yoga world to the injustices of the corporatocracy,  the ins and outs of the bhakti community, or the ups and downs of internet dating. She/I may even occasionally try to be funny, undoubtedly with mixed results. Vrinda really just wants everyone to wake the f**k up (I warned you).   For more on Vrinda, including why she uses that name, click here on this link…but you’ll have to wait until I get that piece written.

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Like what you see here?  Help us keep The Bhakti Beat flowing!  Consider donating today, a one-time contribution or a recurring contribution — any amount is so appreciated and will help us continue to bring you the bhav.  The Bhakti Beat is a labor of love, completely self-funded by Brenda Patoine (moi), who is a freelance neuroscience writer by day.  Every bit helps! THANK YOU! Donate Here.

 

 

 

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Krishna Das by TheBhaktiBeat.comVideo interview at the bottom.

Yes, it’s true.  Krishna Das went to prison for Call and Response. The Call and Response Foundation, that is.

For the least few years, the nonprofit foundation has been arranging for kirtan wallahs to chant in prisons, psychiatric facilities, children’s hospitals, and other places where people might benefit from the healing power of mantra music.  This time, it was the Chant Master himself serving a little time in prison.

(You can support this important seva by contributing now to the Call and Response Foundation’s Prison Outreach Program.)

It was a gray, frigid Monday afternoon in northern Vermont, vexed by a drizzling rain that threatened to turn to snow. Krishna Das and his drummer, Arjun Bruggeman, arrived at the Chittenden County Regional Correctional Facility for Women early, after a double-header weekend of kirtan+ workshop that were partial benefits for Call and Response.

They were at the medium-security prison in South Burlington to fulfill the pie-in-the-sky request of an inmate named Lucinda.  Six months earlier, Lucinda had picked up a Krishna Das CD in the prison library.  Apparently, she couldn’t get enough of it, and she wondered aloud to her counselor, Philip Pezeshki, if Krishna Das would come chant with them.  Long story short, here he was.

Krishna Das Arjun Bruggeman prison VT Call and Response Foundation by TheBhaktiBeat.comThey brought nothing but a harmonium and a Naal drum.

Bruggeman’s usual tablas were left behind because  the little metal hammer that he uses to tune them was a security risk. The six of us — including C&RF director Jen Canfield and local wallahs Patrick (Yogi P) McAndrew and Jeanette Bacevius — dutifully stashed wallets and cell phones and jackets and scarves that could present a choking hazard into the lockers in the waiting room, then traded our driver’s licenses for visitor’s passes.  Krishna Das and Arjun opened up their instruments for a thorough search by a serious but pleasant enough security guard. I presented my Nikon to the guard, hoping for a miracle, but it was not to be,  so I reluctantly stuffed it into the locker with everything else.  At least he let me keep my little reporter’s notebook (after leafing through it thoroughly) and a pen to take notes. Then we all took off our shoes and filed through a metal detector, their instruments and my notebook set to the side.

We were led through a series of security doors to a windowless, concrete-block room off a main corridor.  There was a whiteboard with a hand-written list of stress-relief strategies on one wall, and on another wall, a single poster exhorting viewers to “end the silence” about sexual abuse.  A few rows of yoga mats, folded in thirds, were set up in a semi-circle, with a row of mismatched chairs at the back.

KD and Arjun set up their instruments underneath the “End the Silence” poster.  Then KD wrote out the words to five chants on an easel.  Shree Ram Jay Ram Jay Jay Ram.  Om Na-moh Bhag a vah tay Na ma ha. Om Na-mah Shee vy ah. Jay a Jagat Ambay. Om Ay-eem Shreem Sara swa ty yay Na ma ha. 

Krishna Das prison VT by TheBhaktiBeat.comLucinda, the inmate responsible for all of us being there, came in and sat with KD for several minutes to interview him for the prison newsletter.  Soon enough, about a dozen or so inmates — most appearing to be under 30 — began filtering into the room.  They looked somewhat bewildered, even gruff, like they didn’t know what they were getting into.  Several prison staff members also came in, with serious faces.  Honestly it was hard to tell who the inmates were, until I realized they each had on a dark blue scrub shirt over their street clothes.  The chairs in the back filled up quickly, and the seats in the front, closest to where KD and Arjun were now seated cross-legged on yoga blocks, remained empty.

No, this was not going to be your average Krishna Das kirtan.

KD started by telling the group what kirtan was not.  “This is not a religious practice.  There is no blind faith required,” he said. “This is not a missionary trip.  I’m here because I was invited.”

Arjun Bruggeman at Krishna Das prison VT by TheBhaktiBeat.com(In the waiting room, KD had told me that the last time he chanted in a prison, it was with a group of 100 or so men in a maximum-security facility in the South.  “Everything was going along great,” he recalled, “until I started singing the Maha Mantra.” As soon as the prisoners heard Hare Krishna, they started scowling and fidgeting, looking at one another and shaking their heads.  Every one of them got up and walked out.  Every. Single. One. He hadn’t been back to a prison since.)

Kirtan, Krishna Das told those gathered in the cold cement room, was “a way to quiet the mind, to kind of short-circuit the stories we tell ourselves.”

“We mostly don’t get a vote about our thoughts,” he said.  “Chanting is a means of winding down the mind and training ourselves to let go of thoughts.”

He initiated the singing as he always does, with an opening prayer, which he described as “a prayer to that place within us that is looking for true love.”  After the prayer, he paused in the silence of the room, a silence that was routinely interrupted by a loud slam of the security doors in the hallway outside.  Looking out at the women prisoners in the back, he said quietly: “These mantras are sounds that have a magnetism to them.  By repeating these mantras, we bring the mind to a quiet place.  When the mind is quiet and the heart is at peace, your life can take a different course.”

Sri Ram Jai Ram Jai Jai Ram…

And so it went. Not unlike a typical Krishna Das workshop.  Talk a little. Chant a little. Talk a little more. Chant a little more.  Yet this one was verrrrry different.  We were reminded of that about halfway into the session.  KD had just finished saying something about how to “find some peace no matter what the outside world was throwing at us” when a beefy security guard pushed through the door loudly, with a list in his hand.  KD stopped talking and simply said: “Come on in.” The guard peered around the room, unsmiling, checking people off his list.  He called out a few names — not the Names that had been ringing in the room a few moments before, needless to say.  Then with a slam of the door, he was gone.

“We’re all still here,” KD joked self-consciously, with an awkward chuckle.  Then he picked up the thread, saying there were all kinds of practices — chanting among them — that one could use to “find a way to chill yourself out no matter what’s going on.”  It was an appropriate lesson for the moment, and you could feel it resonating with the folks seated in the room.

Arjun Bruggeman at Krishna Das prison VT by TheBhaktiBeat.comA couple times during the session, Krishna Das asked if anyone had questions.  It wasn’t until the end that one woman spoke up, asking him if he had always known that this is what he would do.  He told a story he has told many times — of how devastated he was when his guru Neem Karoli Baba (Maharaji) told him to go back home to America; how he had asked Maharaji: “How can I serve you in America?” and Maharaji laughed at him with a look “like he had just bitten a sour pickle;” how he, Krishna Das, was walking across the ashram’s courtyard later on and was suddenly struck by the answer: “I’ll sing for you.”  That was 1973, KD said.  It took him 21 years, until 1994, to finally start singing.

Then he told the inmates a story I had never heard.  He said he didn’t think they were even going to let him into the jail for today’s session because he was a convicted felon.  Say what?   Yep, Krishna Das told us he had been charged with money laundering after a criminal investigation involving the IRS and the FBI.  He told the group that it was an “insane story” that they would never believe.  One woman replied, “Oh yes we will,” and they all laughed.  So he related how he thought he was going to end up in prison, but instead — due to a somewhat remarkable series of graces involving the judge, prosecutor and parole officer in the case — was sentenced to six months of house arrest.  He spoke of the period as a blessing, a relief, a much-needed opportunity for rest after a grueling tour schedule.

More importantly, he said, “Being convicted freed me from the secrets of my past. Now everybody knew.  I didn’t have to hide it anymore.”

Arjun Bruggeman at Krishna Das prison VT by TheBhaktiBeat.comWhen there was only time for one more chant, Lucinda, the inmate responsible for KD being there, requested ‘Amazing Grace’ with the Maha Mantra. I held my breath, remembering KD’s story about all the men walking out when he started singing Hare Krishna.  “We cooooould,” KD replied hesitantly… “Let’s sing the third one,” he deflected, pointing to the whiteboard where the chants were written out phonetically.

Om Namah Shivayah. 

A long silence — blessedly uninterrupted by doors slamming — followed.  Then KD looked out at the women and said simply: “Take good care of yourselves, okay?”

Afterward, many of the inmates lined up to thank him, to shake his hand or receive a hug.  Most were new to chanting.  One woman, Chelsea, said she found the session to be “really inspiring and cleansing.” She told us she felt energized, and definitely wanted to chant again.  Another, Sarah, confessed that at first she thought it was “a little weird,” but by the end, felt that “it really worked. I absolutely loved it.”  Adrienne said she felt relieved:  “The stress is gone. I’m more relaxed. I hope he comes back.” A group of them milled around, smiling, chatting, not wanting to leave.  Somehow, the cold concrete room was warmer, softer…

“Come back every week!” a young blond inmate named Suzi exhorted KD.

When all the staff and inmates were gone, our little group walked back down the hallway and through the double security doors .  We gathered our belongings, traded our visitor’s passes back for licenses, and bundled up to face the frigid Vermont evening.  Outside, a cold rain was still falling, and darkness had descended.  None of us seemed to notice.

Before we disbursed, Krishna Das agreed to a short video interview outside the prison door.  I dare you to not be moved by what happens midway through it…

“Everybody’s a prisoner, sweetheart. Prisoners of our own minds.”

Support the Call and Response Foundation’s Prison Outreach Program here.

View the Photo Journals of Krishna Das’ prison visit  in Vermont 2014, and his kirtan and workshop, on The Bhakti Beat facebook page.

Connect with The Bhakti Beat!
Subscribe to The Bhakti Beat
The Bhakti Beat on facebook
The Bhakti Beat on twitter
The Bhakti Beat on YouTube
The Bhakti Beat on Google+
 

Like what you see here?  Help us keep The Bhakti Beat flowing!  Consider donating today, a one-time contribution or a recurring contribution — any amount is so appreciated and will help us continue to bring you the bhav.  The Bhakti Beat is a labor of love, completely self-funded by Brenda Patoine (moi), who is a freelance neuroscience writer by day.  Every bit helps! THANK YOU! Donate Here.

 

 

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Kirtan Represents in Grammys First-Round Ballot as Nominations Voting Wraps Up Nov. 5

October 28, 2014
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Grammys season has officially begun, and more than ever before, the world of mantra music represents.  More than a dozen artists in the “non-genre” of kirtan/chant/yoga music are on the first-round ballot for consideration to be among the 57th Annual Grammy Award Nominees for Best New Age Album. [Yes, "New Age" is what the non-genre […]

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I, VRINDA: Finding Irony in the Passing of B.K.S. Iyengar, as the Popular Press Credit Him with a ‘Yoga Craze’ that Ignores Its Roots

August 20, 2014
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B.K.S. Iyengar, the great yogic master who pioneered a system of yoga and is credited for helping bring yoga to the world, died Wednesday morning, August 20, in Pune, India. Editor’s Note: “I, Vrinda” is a new, occasional first-person series on TheBhaktiBeat.com in which I, Vrinda (aka Brenda Patoine) say what I’m thinking, whether you […]

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CROWDFUND THIS! (NOW!!) Final Week For Bhajan Belt Favorites & Shyamdas Compatriots SRI Kirtan’s IndieGogo Campaign for CD No. 3

July 14, 2014
Sruti Ram & Ishwari of SRI Kirtan are working on their third CD -- and need your help to make it happen.
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Project: Full-length Studio-Recorded CD Fundraising Goal: $13,000 Deadline: July 19, 2014 @ 11:59 p.m. PT Contribute  Here NOW!   Ed. Note: This is part of our ongoing series on Crowdfunding Kirtan, in which fans and friends contribute money for new recording projects in exchange for “perks” ranging from free downloads to private concerts.  The trend […]

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Larisa Stow & Shakti Tribe Show How Juicy You Can Get at Shakti Fest (Photos, Set Review)

June 6, 2014
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There is nothing traditional about Larisa Stow & Shakti Tribe.  And that’s just fine with us. Larisa and the Tribe deliver unapologetic Mantra Rock.  Quite unlike anything we’ve seen anywhere else. The first time we experienced their edgy urban-laced brand of bhakti, our jaw dropped, and they just keep get juicier each time we see […]

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‘Too Much Talking’ from a Kirtan Wallah? Hmm. Bhakti Quotes Worth Repeating-Shakti Fest 2014

May 25, 2014
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At one point during the weekend-long love feast that was Shakti Fest 2014, I ran into Vijay Krsna and his beloved, Sarasvati Devi, the couple who lead the Kirtaniyas.  It was the day after their late-night set,  and I was gushing to them about how deeply touched I was by their kirtan and teachings (I […]

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Top 12 Bhavalicious Moments at Shakti Fest, Bhakti Fest’s Spring Fling in the Desert (Photos)

May 22, 2014
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No, this is NOT a blog professing to proclaim the “best wallah” or the “best music” or the best anything at Shakti Fest, the Bhakti Fest franchise’s spring fling in honor of the Divine Feminine.  Choosing a best kirtan artist would be like proclaiming azure blue or burnt orange to be the “best” color in […]

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‘We Need A Bus!’ Kirtaniyas Kick Off Shakti Fest Kirtan & Take Bhakti to a ‘Whole Other Level’

May 16, 2014
The Kirtaniyas at Shakti Fest 2014, by TheBhaktiBeat.com
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Shakti Fest 2014 — the first of the three bhakti yoga “love fests” by the Bhakti Fest franchise — kicked off with a little pre-show Thursday night with the Kirtaniyas, the progressive Krishna Kid bhakti band that is pushing the kirtan movement into new ground. The leader of the pack, Vijay Krsna, paused midway through […]

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CROWDFUND THIS! ‘Sound Colorist’ Jim Beckwith’s Debut Chant CD Fuses Kirtan With Original Lyrics (Interview, Photos)

April 16, 2014
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Project: Full-length Studio-Recorded CD Fundraising Goal: $12,000 Deadline: April 30, 2014 @ 11:59 p.m. PT Contribute  Here NOW!   Ed. Note: This is part of our ongoing series on Crowdfunding Kirtan, in which fans and friends contribute money for new recording projects in exchange for “perks” ranging from free downloads to private concerts.  The trend […]

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