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MD Van Wedeen, Mass Gen.Harvard.connectome imageScientists have definitively identified, for the first time ever, a rare but rapidly increasing brain disorder affecting the frontal lobes, amygdala and hippocampus of people who regularly chant kirtan.

Publishing in the Journal of Neuroscience and Non-Duality, lead author Baba Bhavakirtanananda, a former saddhu who spent 20 years chanting the Maha Mantra nonstop in a cave near Braj, India, before accepting a research position at the University of Vrindavan, even coined a term for the condition: bhav brain.  Symptoms of bhav brain include markedly decreased attachment to one’s self-identity, blurring of the demarcation between “self” and others, disillusionment with materialistic gain, and reduced anxiety about what the future may bring.  In extreme cases, Bhavakirtanananda said, bhav brain can produce symptoms that can mimic intoxication or drug use, including inexplicable elation, stumbling or aimless wandering, or general “spaciness.”

These symptoms, he said, explain why people who have been chanting for many hours — as is common at kirtan festivals — are sometimes described as “stoned on the bhav.”

The scientists reported that they had also identified a potent neurotransmitter that seems to be expressed in excessive quantities after prolonged chanting, which they have accordingly named bhavatonin.  They found bhavatonin-specific receptors in the hippocampus, where the biochemical seemed to trigger a remembrance of one’s own divine nature, and in the amygdala, where it apparently tamped down fearful reactions and anxiety.

Long History in India, But New to the West

Historical documents suggest that bhav brain has been around since at least the 15th century; there are oblique references to the symptoms in sacred texts in the vedic traditions and in the works of so-called bhakti poets like Hafiz and Mirabai.  But the syndrome of symptoms has only recently been observed in the West — first in an area of New York’s Hudson Valley known as the Bhajan Belt, and then in Southern California, especially around the town of Joshua Tree.  More recent evidence suggests the condition is spreading — last summer there was a flurry of reports from Madison, Wisc. of chanters driving in circles, heading in the wrong direction on the highway, and unable to use simple machines like gas pumps.  The geographic and temporal distribution of these reports is closely associated with large-scale chant festivals.

That’s no coincidence, says Bhavakirtanananda.  He said he had long suspected there was a signature biological “fingerprint” associated with the syndrome, and was frustrated that no serious scientist had attempted to investigate it.  So he took it upon himself, first investigating it in a pilot study at India’s legendary Kumbh Mela festival before traveling all the way to Southern California to study attendees at a 4-day festival where the chanting was virtually nonstop.  His team recruited 100 men and women ranging in age from 16 to 97 (median age 39), and conducted functional MRI scans before, during and after the festival.

Prevalence is Rapidly Increasing

In the article, the authors noted that the prevalence of the condition — virtually unknown in the West until recent years — has been rapidly increasing in step with the growing popularity and “mainstreaming” of bhakti yoga, an obscure form of yoga from 15th century India that eschews the Western yoga world’s fixation on having a really great butt in favor of an emphasis on loving devotion and seva, or selfless service.

Reactions from the bhakti community have been mixed.  Kirtan musician Dave Stringananda said he was not surprised.  “I’ve been fascinated for years by how chanting might be affecting neurotransmitters like anandamine and serotonin, so the idea that there is a brain chemical called bhavatonin that is specifically ramped up by kirtan makes so much sense.  I am elated.” Stringananda immmediately set to work incorporating the findings into a new workshop series.

Skepticism in the Bhajan Belt

In Woodstock, N.Y. in the heart of the Bhajan Belt, long-time kirtan wallah Sri Sri Ramanananda dismissed the findings as overhyped hogwash.  “Symptoms of a disorder?  Pshaw! Here in Woodstock, these kinds of behaviors are as common as peacocks in Vrindavan,” he said.  “If ‘bhav brain’ is a disease, then I’m a monkey-god’s uncle.”

The Bhakti Beat asked the members of the popular ensemble band The Hanumen, fresh off a regional tour that included stops at a prison and a psychiatric treatment facility, to comment on the research, but a spokesperson said the band was covered in mud on a beach somewhere and couldn’t be reached.

The Chant and Chill Foundation issued a statement praising the research as an important step forward in understanding what’s going on in the brain of a bhakta:  “This continues to be one of the deepest mysteries of the universe — just look at those Hanumen.  We are delighted to see that someone is finally putting some real effort into it.” The foundation plans to start a campaign encouraging hard-core bhaktas to donate their brains to research in hopes of advancing scientific knowledge about bhav brain.

Stay tuned to TheBhaktiBeat.com for more on this developing story.  Because no one knows bhav brain like we do…

If you like this, you might also like “10 Signs You Might Be a Kirtan Addict”

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Hare Krishna Hare Krishna Krishna Krishna Hare Hare Hare Rama Hare Rama Rama Rama Hare Hare

Dear Lord, kindly engage me in your service.

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return to shiva station coverWith “Return to Shiva Station,” Jai Uttal travels back in time to a period of his life when his musicality was exploding but his personal life was imploding — and emerges with a CD that is more a vision of where he is heading, musically and perhaps personally, than a rehash of where he has been.  It’s a softer, gentler side of Jai — one that is rarely seen at big festivals like Bhakti Fest and largely unseen on his discography of 16 releases.  Until now that is.

“Return to Shiva Station” can hardly be called a remake.  Rather, it is a completely new incarnation of its namesake and inspiration, “Shiva Station,” which was released in 1999.  While the track list on “Return” mimics the original “Shiva Station” song for song, the two albums could not be more different. Where “Shiva Station” is loud and exuberant, “Return” is quiet and understated.  Where “Shiva Station” is multi-layered and unrestrained, with lush instrumentation from an extravagant 11-piece band (The Pagan Love Orchestra), “Return” is pretty much Just Jai, mostly solo and unplugged.  Where “Shiva Station” was “bursting through the heavens,” in Uttal’s words, the new album looks inward.

The difference is by design.  When his current record label, Sounds True, asked him to do a remake of “Shiva Station,” Uttal said his first response was: “Why?” With more than a little cajoling from the label and his manager, Steven Saporta, he reluctantly agreed to try his hand at reinventing the opening track, Guru Brahma.  “I said, if I’m going to do this album – I still wasn’t committed – but if, it’s got to be really different,” he told The Bhakti Beat.

It’s as if Uttal took each song, ripped it up in shreds, stripped it of all excess, and then rebuilt it in a minimalist fashion that reduces each to its elemental beauty, revealing the soul of the song.  It’s Jai Uttal, vocalist and one-man band, stripped down and naked.

The first thing he did was eliminate the drums.

Every other album Uttal has done was very rhythmic, he said, with drums and percussion setting the beat. So he threw those out.  The vibrant horn section that blasts through “Shiva Station” is also nowhere to be heard on “Return.”  Instead, strings take center stage, a reflection both of Uttal’s long-time prowess with Indian stringed instruments and his newfound fascination with Brazalian-style guitar.  (His teacher and mentor in Brazilian guitar, José Neto, who has toured with the Allman Brothers, Steve Winwood and Rod Stewart, plays on almost every track.)

“Most of my albums are very orchestrated — lots of music and lots of instruments. On this one, the production is very simple — not simple-minded, but less orchestrated.  Because of that my voice is much more naked,” Uttal said.  “I couldn’t cover it up with a horn section or a drum set,” he added with a self-effacing laugh, pointing out that he has “always struggled with a lot of insecurity” about his voice.

Omega Ecstatic Chant Jai Uttal by TheBhaktiBeat.comThe distinctive Uttal voice is indeed the focal point of “Return to Shiva Station,” supported here and there by back-up vocals by long-time collaborators Ben Leinbach, who also mixed and co-produced the disc, and Prajna Vieira, one of Uttal’s most consistent response vocalists.  But it is the strings that stand out on this disc more than anything.  José Neto is everywhere with his masterful Spanish-style strumming, but there is also cello by Yoed Nir, sitar by Timothy White, bass by Leinbach, and Uttal on guitar, banjo and the single-stringed Indian ektar.

Mad for the Banjo

Uttal’s love affair with strings goes all the way back to when he was a young preadolescent living in New York City, he told us.  That’s when he first discovered the banjo, after losing interest in his early piano lessons.  “I was completely mad for banjo,” he said.  “It was my first real love music-wise. Playing banjo was the first time that I felt sort of an inner peace…It still holds a super fondness for me.”

If you’ve ever seen Uttal pull out his banjo at a live kirtan, you know how he lights up when he gets that instrument in his hands.  “Rustic banjo” (Uttal’s words) makes appearances in two songs: “Corner” and “Jaya Jagadambe” – which happen to be two of Uttal’s self-professed favorites on the disc.  Still, it’s the Brazilian guitar that has Uttal currently enamored, and that is his favorite part of the CD.

He’s been studying it with Neto – whom he calls his “current idol” – and is completely in love with the chord progressions and distinctive style of the Brazilian interpretation of guitar, which encompasses bossa nova and samba.  “For the last bunch of years I’ve been finding such joy and challenge and, you know, yearning in studying Brazilian guitar,” he said.

He committed himself to approaching the reinterpretation of “Shiva Station” with a new perspective as an acoustic guitar player, and particularly from the Brazilian perspective. “The Brazilian harmonies are so rich and so deep.  Having spent most of my life involved with Indian music…you know, Indian music is not harmonic; it’s melodic. There are no chords in traditional Indian music. So here I was taking these melodies and wanting to put beautiful chords behind them.”

Uttal said the process was hard on a lot of levels.

Omega d3 613On a technical level, he said: “Every single song was on the absolute edge of my technical ability.  Going to the studio was hard.  I couldn’t play my own songs!”

The voice of self-doubt started “raging,” he said, reinforcing his reservations about revisiting Shiva Station.  “I started to think that I should have waited for six months and just practiced these chords.”

But “Return” presented a challenge not just for the technical aspects, but for the emotions that it raised as well.  Uttal has described the period of his life when “Shiva Station” was produced as unhappy, out of balance, and very difficult.  He told us he was at the end of a period of drug addiction and alcoholism (“the end is always the worst”) and was in a “very, very toxic relationship.”  Moreover, he was frustrated spiritually and musically, having put all of his creative energy into getting the Pagan Love Orchestra off the ground, and feeling that is was still mired in obscurity.

None of which, by the way, comes through in “Shiva Station.” Having discovered it anew because of “Return,” we have to say we didn’t find it depressing at all.  Quite the opposite in fact.  It’s a happy CD, filled with over-the-top joyousness and big-band elation.  We would never have guessed that this came from a severely depressed man in the throes of addiction and a miserable marriage.

And that, my friends, is the point….

“As we sing kirtan, as we express ourselves, there are so many emotions that come out,” Uttal said.  “The bigger the palette of emotional colors that is expressed, the more joy comes through it all.  So as we’re expressing ourselves, sadness comes out, despair comes out, a longing comes out, an incredible ecstasy comes out.  In the end you feel so happy, because nothing is withheld.”

Buy “Return to Shiva Station: Kailash Connection”
Listen to “Shiva Station”
Jai Uttal’s Website
Jai Uttal’s Facebook page


Chantlanta by TheBhaktiBeat.com


Chantlanta Church title shotThere are regional chant fests, and then there are Regional Chant Fests.  Chantlanta proved once again how to “do” a Regional Chant Fest in the best possible way that we’ve seen. Anywhere.  So far.

How’d they do it?  Well, perhaps not how you might have thought…

‘Unknown’ Bhakti Bands Take the Spotlight

For starters, there were no “big names” at all.  There was no Krishna Das headlining, in contrast to last year.  Nor were David Newman or Wah, or even the South’s favorite bhakta, Sean Johnson, on the bill, as they were two years ago.  In fact, if you didn’t live in the Southeast, you probably wouldn’t recognize any of the 7 bands who played this festival.  All home-grown, all from the region, all up-and-coming and deserving to be more widely known. The Unknown Bhakti Bands of the South, you might say.

Secondly, it wasn’t held in a typical chant fest location (if there is such a thing). It was held at a big ole Baptist church, one built early in the last century in a traditional style: big soaring sanctuary, tall stained-glass windows, wooden pews fanning out from the altar, balcony full of benches hovering overhead.  It must be said that little else about this congregation, the Druid Hills Baptist Church,  is traditional — the church was kicked out of the Southern Baptist Convention a few years ago for having a woman as a co-pastor.  There’s an experimental theatre in the basement.  Oh yeah, and kirtan.  They host kirtans regularly.  That’s kind of unconventional for a Baptist church in the South.

Then there’s the cost.  Nothing.  As in, zero, zip, zed.  FREE.  That’s right, one full day plus two half-days of mantra music and sound-healing magic for free.  We’re talking non-stop kirtan on a main stage, plus ongoing workshops and classes in two other rooms.  Plus a Friday night kirtan jam and drum circle.  Plus a Sunday afternoon mantra marathon and pot-luck.  All for free.  How often can you say that?

Did we mention the seva?  Chantlanta raised more than $7,000 for two locally based charities.  Seven thousand dollars.  That’s no small potatoes, and can make a real difference if channeled to the right charity — in this case two that will make that money go a long way to helping 1) impoverished girls in India (through The Learning Tea) and 2) rescued cows outside Atlanta (through the Sacred Cows Sanctuary).

A Leap of Faith

So, let’s review.  A group of local bhaktas in a city that’s not exactly known as a kirtan hot spot puts on a 3-day chant fest with no “headliner” — just a bunch of unknown local bhakti bands, charges NOTHING to get in, and walks away with seven thousand bucks for good local charities.  How’d they do that again?

Ian Boccio, Chantlanta, TheBhaktiBeat.com

Chantlanta founder Ian Boccio, at the center of the community kirtan jam.


Ian Boccio, who co-founded the first Chantlanta five years ago and continues to be the lead organizer (he also co-leads the mantra band Blue Spirit Wheel, with Stephanie Kohler), readily admits that they took a Hanuman-sized leap this year.  They let go of having a “big name” after having the big name to end all big names (Krishna Das) front and center last year.  The approach caused more than a little hand-wringing, Boccio said, but the Chantlanta organizing committee members were all in agreement.  Boccio is convinced the leap of faith paid off: the event raised more than twice the money for charity that last year’s event did.  He figures it’s because people didn’t have to shell out 35 bucks for KD, so they were more generous at the donation box.  Makes sense to us.

The other key to this event’s success was the Program Guide.  A simple, black and white booklet that Boccio had copied at Kinko’s.  It included not only a schedule of events and descriptions of the workshops and bands (complete with Sanskrit words for novices to follow along), but — and this is key — advertisements from a slew of local businesses interested in reaching a sharply targeted, conscious-living, yoga-oriented community.  The ads are primarily for local yoga studios, upcoming kirtan events, and healers like Jaguar Healing Arts and Louise Northcutt Hypnotherapy.  Between the ad sales in the program and table fees for vendors exhibiting in the Conscious Living Marketplace, Chantlanta could meet its expenses and devote all donations to its charity partners.

Building a Kirtan Nation

But really, what we love more than anything about this festival is that its primary goal is simple:  expand the local kirtan community.  It gives local chantaholics a fest of their own to gather at; it gives local bhakti bands a much bigger audience for their practice than they would ever have at a one-band show, AND it gives kirtan newbies no excuse not to come check out the scene — it’s free!  The strategy is working — Chantlanta is attracting more people each year, more national kirtan bands are putting Atlanta and the Southeast on their tour schedules, and local bands are getting bigger crowds at their regular jams throughout the year.  What’s not to love?

The event officially started Friday night, with a community kirtan jam where everyone was in the band and anyone who wanted to lead a chant did — there had to be 200 people there!  The jam was followed by a full-on drum circle that had the natives dancing and grooving.  Saturday’s kirtan line-up included Mantra Ma, LoveShine, Cat Matlock & Japa (from Asheville, N.C.), Kirtan Bandits, and a three-band “headline” evening that featured Phil McWilliams, Blue Spirit Wheel and Rahasya, three of the best regional bhakti bands we’ve experienced anywhere.  Workshops went on throughout the day, everything from Sufi chanting to sacred harp singing to an hour-long gong bath that pretty much sent us straight to the moon after a day of chanting the names.  But wait, there’s more.  On Sunday, Ian Boccio closed out the festival with 1,008 (no, that’s not a typo, it’s 1,008, not 108) repetitions of the Hanuman Mula Mantra.  More on all that and each of these bands in a follow-up post with videos, so stay tuned to this space!

Chantlanta by TheBhaktiBeat.com

Do it Yourself

Can anyone adopt this formula for their own festival?

Well sure, why not? With caveats. Atlanta is a big city, 5 million or so strong. That’s a big population to draw upon. The Chantlanta organizing committee of 11 people, along with a cast of dozens more or so, were all unpaid volunteers offering their time as seva to the cause of building the local kirtan community. The Druid Hills Baptist Church offered their space — a labyrinthine layout with places for a main stage, two workshop rooms, a vendor’s hall and a kitchen where food was served — at a cut rate, because the event was a charity fundraiser. Dozens of local businesses also donated wares or services to a Silent Auction, which boosted the money raised for charity. Expenses were kept to a minimum, but important corners were NOT cut. For example, an expert sound guy (Matthew Hufschmidt) made sure the bands sounded just right and the lighting was favorable for video and photos. This is important stuff.

So, what do you think of the Chantlanta formula?  Could this work for a kirtan fest in your home town?  How might you change things up?  We’d love to hear about other regional fests: what works, what doesn’t, what’s needed…?  Please share your thoughts in the comments!

Please visit The Bhakti Beat’s facebook page for the full Chantlanta Photo Journals.
Stay tuned to The Bhakti Beat’s YouTube page for new videos posting from Chantlanta.
Read about last year’s Chantlanta and its ‘Unknown’ Bhakti Bands.
Follow The Bhakti Beat on twitter, facebook, Google+ and YouTube

Get the Bhav!





The emerging science of positive attitudes like gratitude and appreciation leaves little doubt that giving thanks is good for you and good for those around you.  So what are you waiting for?

 Also see:  5 Ways to Keep the Gratitude Flowing  (Donna De Lory Video)

Ahh, Thanksgiving.  Time to fight traffic and travel long distances to visit relatives we may not even like and gorge ourselves on factory-farmed turkeys to commemorate our ancestors’ conquest of Native Americans before rushing out to toss our dollars into the great black hole of corporate thievery…

Whoops…no, that’s not it.  Rewind.

That’s the kind of attitude that will get you in trouble, physiologically speaking.  Frustration, resentment, anger — these are the dark emotions that thrust our bodies into a state of stress and anxiety, triggering an evolutionarily ingrained response that floods our body with powerful, even toxic, hormones, puts our brain on alert, and throws our heartbeat rhythms into disordered chaos.

Positive emotions like love, compassion, and appreciation, on the other hand, counteract the physiology of the stress response.  They send up feel-good hormones like norepinephrine.  Dopamine flows in the brain’s pleasure pathways. Heart rhythms relax into a more stable, coherent order.

Gratitude, it turns out, may be one of the most powerful ways to get that “warm-glow’ feeling.  Better yet, it seems like that warm glow may actually spread from one person to those in his near vicinity.

Image from The HeartMath Institute

What Vibes Are You Emitting?

We’ve all experienced this, right? Someone so infectiously positive that you can’t help but feel good around them? Or expressing such heartfelt gratitude that you feel compelled to thank them for thanking you?  Of course, sad or angry feelings can spread as well.  We feel the “vibes” of other people, good or bad.

One scientific explanation behind that phenomenon is the idea that the heart emits an electromagnetic field that extends, according to some research, out several feet from our bodies, and is about 60 times stronger than the electromagnetic energy emitted by the brain. When we are interacting with people in close proximity, our heart energy field literally encompasses their body, and vice versa.

It turns out that positive emotions like gratitude and appreciation set your heart-rate pattern in a particular way – a smooth-waved rhythm of peaks – whereas negative emotions like anger and frustration send it into an erratic, disordered rhythm.  The Institute of HeartMath , a  non-profit organization that studies “heart intelligence,” has shown how different emotional states change the pattern of this heart-rate variability.

If you put this research together – and the HearthMath Institute is pushing the envelope on this idea – you can envision how your own emotional state affects those around you.  In fact, there’s pretty good evidence that your particular heart-rate rhythm — your “heart-print,” if you will — shows up in the patterns of those around you.

The Power of Gratitude

A couple years back, Gregg Braden, an author and activist who draws on science to explain spiritual phenomena, demonstrated this vividly in a weekend workshop at the Omega Institute.  He hooked up a woman volunteer to a heart-rate monitor, a simple clip placed on her ear that measured her heartbeat and displayed it on a projection screen the whole group could see.  Then Braden gave the woman a difficult mental task, something like count backwards by 103 from 3,457, and quickly!, he ordered her.  Immediately we saw the woman’s heart-rate jump all over the place, and it just got worse as she struggled with the arithmetic.

Mercifully, he stopped her.  Then he had the 100 or so of us in the room do a simple, quick exercise.  He had us put our hands on our hearts, focus our breath there, and think about something we were truly grateful for.  The guinea-pig volunteer was wearing headphones and was not engaged in the exercise, so she didn’t know what we were doing, but her heart rate was still projected. 

After just a minute or two, we opened our eyes to see that her heart rate had gone from jagged peaks and valleys to a relatively smooth, ordered rhythm – a pattern the HeartMath people call “coherence.” 

From The Institute of HeartMath: Real-time heart rate variability (heart rhythm) pattern of an individual making an intentional shift from a self-induced state of frustration to a genuine feeling of appreciation by using the Freeze-Frame positive emotion refocusing technique….Note the immediate shift from an erratic, disordered heart rhythm pattern associated with frustration to a smooth, harmonious, wave-like (coherent) pattern as the individual generates a heartfelt feeling of appreciation. (From The Appreciative Heart: The Psychophysiology of Positive Emotions and Optimal Functioning, by Rollin McCraty and Doc Childre http://www.heartmath.org/templates/ihm/downloads/pdf/free/appreciative-heart.pdf )

This was, for me, a memorable demonstration of the power of collective positivity, via the simple act of feeling thankful. Gratitude, Braden said, is the most reliable way to bring your heart rate into a “coherent” rhythm indicative of a calm, relaxed state of mind– and to bring others right there with you.

The Key to Relationship Happiness?

This may explain some of the findings of social scientists who have studied the impact of gratitude on interpersonal relationships.  For example, last year, researchers at the University of California-Berkeley published results showing that people who feel more appreciated by their romantic partners are in turn more appreciative of their partners and more responsive to their partners’ needs.  They also are more committed and more likely to remain in their relationships over time.

Makes sense, right?  You appreciate me, and I appreciate that you appreciate me, so I appreciate you in return.  Gratitude flows both ways, and everybody’s happy.  Could it be that gratitude is the simple key to relationship happiness?

To Be an ‘A’ or a ‘B’?

Much has been written about how our emotional makeup impacts heart health, positively or negatively.  Fifty years ago, Friedman and Rosenman first described how people with the now-infamous “Type A” personality — marked by hostility, impatience, competitiveness and dominance – were more prone to cardiovascular disease and death from heart attack.  In the decades since, researchers have attempted to narrow down the Type A traits that are most problematic, and guess what?  Negative-affect traits like depression, anxiety, and anger/hostility turn out to be the most damaging pieces of the puzzle.  Psychological scientists call it “Type D” (for distressed) personality.

Positive emotional traits, conversely, have been associated with better health overall and lower risk for heart disease.  Relaxed Type B’s, social extroverts, and optimists tend to enjoy better quality of live and suffer less serious health issues.  One study published in 2010 that followed 500 men for 15 years found that the optimists in the study had a 50 percent lower risk of heart-related death than those who had a more pessimistic view of life.

It’s easy to consider how gratitude fits in with a more optimistic, positive social personality.  Who’s more likely to be grateful: someone who is angry, anxious, or depressed, or someone who is calm, content and feels blessed? Someone who sees the glass half empty or someone who sees it half full?  Which kind of person do you feel better around?

Living Brain, photographed by Bill Tanaka

What About the Brain?

As research progresses, science is beginning to tease out, gradually but inevitably, exactly how and why positive emotions impact general health and well-being.   So what about the brain?  How does something like gratitude affect the brain?

People like Candace Pert, a prominent mainstream neurobiologist whose book, Molecules of Emotion, helped put words like neuropeptide into the public vocabulary, have shed light on the neural correlates of various emotional states.  Or neuroscientist Richard Davidson, whose groundbreaking investigations in the science of meditation have helped describe what happiness looks like in the brain. Or neurosurgeon James Doty, whose research center at Stanford University investigates the neural bases of compassion and altruism and how the conscious cultivation of compassionate states can literally reshape the brain.

On the other hand, neuroscience has barely nibbled on the question of how “gratitude” — a scientifically nebulous social construct — is represented in the folds and synapses of the brain. There is some evidence from brain-imaging studies that the brain’s “reward center” lights up when we’re feeling grateful.  This is the same neural circuit that underlies primal drives like feeding and mating, you know, things that have been kind of important to the survival of the species. It’s also the circuit that is co-opted by drugs of abuse like cocaine or heroin, which push it into a hyperdrive of reward-seeking over all else.

Gratitude is like cocaine to your brain?

Well, not quite. Maybe more like chocolate.  But the fact that it activates the reward center, the pleasure pathway of the brain, makes sense, doesn’t it? Gratitude is rewarding. Gratitude feels good, whether you’re the giver or the receiver.

And like the romantic partners who appreciated their partners more because their partners appreciated them, gratitude breeds more of the same.  The pleasure pathway keeps getting a “hit,” making us crave more of that feeling so we direct our behavior to getting more – just like aq junkie seeks out that next rush of cocaine.  

Dopamine is the neuro juice the good ole pleasure pathway uses to stay lubed up.  It’s the feel-good neurotransmitter, the one you get a hit of from sex, drugs and…well, maybe rock and roll, but definitely from high-caloric foods like chocolate, which we all know can be addictive. But don’t go calling dopamine the “gratitude neurotransmitter” just yet.  It’s certainly feasible that the rush we get when we offer heartfelt appreciation may be related to a little squirt of dopamine releasing deep in our mid-brain, but science still has a long way to go before anyone can point to a “thank you” part of the brain.

Could it be that they’ve been looking in the wrong place altogether?

Heart Over Head in Happiness

Richard Davidson, a scientist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison Center for Investigating Healthy Minds, has led a ground-breaking series of studies with long-time meditators in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition.  At a conference on meditation and neuroscience last fall in New York, he told the story of when he and his scientific team traveled to India to perform a series of brain scans on the monks participating in the study.  Displaying a picture of a group of the monks heartily laughing, Davidson said: “This was right after we explained, through a translator, that we were going to scan their brains as part of a study to understand happiness.”

The monks, he said, thought it was hysterical that we thought we could learn about happiness by looking at the head.  You should be looking at the heart, they told the researchers.

The monks might be encouraged to see that more and more researchers are now moving a couple feet south of the brain to try to understand how and why an attitude of gratitude benefits health and well-being, in ourselves and in those around us. 

If nothing else, it’s something to keep in mind as you’re sitting down with that family of yours and contemplating the true meaning and value behind the tradition of thanks-giving.

Happy Thanksgiving from The Bhakti Beat!

Firedancer at Bhakti Fest Midwest, by TheBhaktiBeat.com

Firedancer at Bhakti Fest Midwest, by TheBhaktiBeat.comWe really wish we had had this song for our road trip to Bhakti Fest Midwest.  The 1,000 miles would have gone by so much faster…

Just released by Count Shakti and the Shakettes, the “Shakti Shindig” hits the airwaves just in time — okay, not quite in time — for the summer bhakti festival season.  Channeling Elvis and the Beach Boys — and maybe every rock guru in between — Count Shakti’s debut track will get your asana moving, mantra-rock style.  If this doesn’t make your chakras chuckle, enlighten up!

What? Never heard of Count Shakti and the Shakettes?  Well, we confess, we hadn’t either.  So we asked, who is this mysterious band? Here’s the response we got:

The Count was born on the seventh hour of the seventh day of the seventh month of the Tibetan year of the Hyena to an Albanian aristocrat and a Nepalese sorceress. At the age of three he demonstrated a miraculous ability to make it rain Milk Duds and could recite the entire Bhagavad Gita in both Cockney rhyming slang and Murray the K “Me-a-Surrey” language. The Shakettes are his tantric consorts and possess all the major and minor siddhis, plus the psychic power to communicate with ants. The Count would like to make a video of “Shakti Shindig,” but like most aristocrats, he’s a bit strapped for cash.

Well, okay then…mystery solved.  NOT. 

Turns out Count Shakti is also known as Alan di Perna, music writer extraordinaire and sometime P.R. flack for the likes of the GuruGanesha Band — and, apparently, a lyrical genius with his tongue in his cheek.  And the Shakettes? That would be DiPerna’s wife and “multi-tracked muse” Robin di Perna. 

The brainstorm (brain cramp??) for this little gem came when GuruGanesha’s marketing team was trying to come up with a name for the band’s upcoming mega-tour with Deva Premal and Miten.  Shakti Shindig was di Perna’s suggestion…but it didn’t fly.  “Too ‘out there,’ I guess,” di Perna told The Bhakti Beat. 

GuruGanesha Singh at Bhakti Fest Midwest, by TheBhaktiBeat.com

GuruGanesha, gettin' down at Bhakti Fest Midwest

Too “out there” for GuruGanesha?? Have you seen that long-beard hippie-Sikh on stage?

Never mind.  By the time his moniker was axed, di Perna said he had already written the lyrics.  For that we thank Krishna, Buddha, Allah and Jesus too.  Not to mention dakinis in bikinis, swamis hidin’ salamis and tantrikas chasin’ chicas.

“Get your rocks off, bhakti-style.”  Om my.

Here are the full lyrics, because you don’t want to miss a bhakti beat…

Shakti Shindig (© 2013 Alan di Perna)
Grab your mala and your yoga mat
We’re goin’ on down to where it’s at.
Throw some tablas in the back of the van
We’re goin’ to a Shakti Shindig, man!
Shakti Shindig! Yeah, yeah yeah, Shakti Shindig!
Where all the yogis and yoginis will be makin’ the scene.
Shakti Shindig!
Do the Pranayama till your face turns blue
Do the Downward Dog and the Happy Baby too.
Get your mind liberated, get your body tight
This Shakti Shindig is really out of sight!
Shakti Shindig! Yeah, yeah yeah, Shakti Shindig!  etc.
Gonna get blissed, gonna do the Tantric Twist
Won’t never get pissed, ’cause we’ll give the booze a miss.
Gonna nix the meat, gonna dance in bare feet.
This Shakti Shindig is really sweet!
Well, uh, if you’re feeling tired and sick of it all
Come on down and have a ball.
Get your rocks off, Bhakti style
This Shakti Shindig is really really wild!
Shakti Shindig! Yeah, yeah yeah, Shakti Shindig!
Where all the yogis and yoginis will be makin’ the scene
All the kirtan wallahs gonna start to holler
All the meditators gonna do the Alligator
All the big Babas gonna do the Bama-lama
All the Dakinis will be dancin’ in bikinis
All the Tantrikas will be checkin’ out the chicas
All the Sikhs will be dancin’ with the freaks
All the Buddhists will be dancin’ with the nudists
All the Hindus gonna shout the blues
All the gurus and swamis will be hidin’ the salami
All the yogis and yoginis will be makin the scene….
Shakti Shindig, yeah yeah yeah Shakti Shindig (3X)
Aw, Shakti baby…. 


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Concordia-Loyola, setting for Montreal Chant Fest by TheBhaktiBeat.com

Concordia-Loyola, setting for Montreal Chant Fest by TheBhaktiBeat.comMontreal has gained a reputation for its festivals over the years, but not so much for its bhakti.  Lea Longo is trying to change that. 

Lea Longo, founder of the Montreal Chant Fest, by TheBhaktiBeat.com

Lea Longo

The primary force behind the Montreal Yoga & Chant Fest, Longo has been working to build the city’s nascient kirtan community from the ground up for seven years, ever since she came home from India with kirtan fever and found no one to chant with in the city she called home.  Last weekend, the bhakti community she helped birth came out in force to reap the rewards of her efforts for two days of chanting with more than a dozen bhakti bands from the City of Saints and beyond. 

Build it and they will come. 

Set in the historic chapel of the Jesuit-founded Concordia-Loyola University, the fest was a celebration of kirtan à les Québécois — more than 80 percent of the bands were local to the Montreal metro area. 

Sahara of Anahatha Kirtan at Montreal Chant Fest by TheBhaktiBeat.com

Sahara of Anahatha

The line-up ran the gamut from local bands that were on stage at a “big kirtan” for the first time (Anahatha Kirtan and MJ Ganesh, for example)…

Patrick Bernard at Montreal Chant Fest by TheBhaktiBeat.com

Patrick Bernard

…to a veritable legend in Canada’s bhakti scene (Patrick Bernard, who has released 24 CDs over the course of his devotional life).  

Bhakti Connection @ Montreal Chant Fest by TheBhaktiBeat.com

Bhakti Connection

There were bhaktas from Ottawa (Bhakti Connection, who finished their set with a “rebirthing” line while everyone sang “You Are Welcome”)…

Surya Chandra @ Montreal Chant Fest by TheBhaktiBeat.com

Surya Chandra

…and from Halifax (Surya Chandra, a 4-piece band featuring exquisite Paraguayan harp by Maryz Thuot and esraj by John Coleman). 


Eddy Nataraj & KC Solaris @ Montreal Chant Fest by TheBhaktiBeat.com

Eddy Nataraj & KC Solaris

There were even a couple Americans (Eddy Nataraj and KC Solaris, who closed out the fest with a high-bhav set that was a nonstop rolling joyride from Ganesha to Krishna & Radhe). (Video below.)

Lea Longo @ Montreal Chant Fest by TheBhaktiBeat.com

Lea Longo

And of course, there was Lea Longo, center-stage Saturday night, surrounded by a seven-piece band and an exuberant crowd that we swear shook the rafters of the old chapel with their high-energy ecstatic dancing.  

See for yourself in this rollicking rendition of a chant to the Divine Mother. “Adishakti, Saraba Shakti, Pritam Bhavati, Kundalini Mata Shakti, Mata Shakti Namo Namo.”

If You Can’t Join ‘Em, Start ‘Em

Longo has been singing and performing all her life, but it took a trip to India for her to find her true voice.  An accomplished recording artist  who has won national singing awards in Canada and whose pop/jazz tunes have graced hit movies and television shows, she discovered mantra music on a yoga retreat in India in 2006.  Like many, she hasn’t been the same since. 

“I was really mesmerized,” she recalled recently in an interview with The Bhakti Beat.  “I was transformed, I was excited, I was confused…I was all of the above.  All I knew was whatever this mantra business was that I had learned, it was amazing, and I needed to do more of it.  I had never felt that way.”

After searching in vain for kirtans in her home ‘hood, Longo decided to start her own.  Her musical partner, guitarist Rad Crasto, signed on enthusiastically, and the two started holding kirtans once a month at a local kundalini yoga studio where Longo practiced.  At first, she said, three or four people came to their kirtans, then 10 people, then other studios began to hear about it and invited them to play.  She founded the Montreal Kirtan meet-up group a couple years ago; it now boasts more than 200 members.  These days, the duo leads kirtans every other weekend across Montreal, regularly bringing out 20-40 people to chant the names.

“We just wanted to make it accessible to everyone, so that everybody can experience this ‘new’ sort of yoga in Montreal,” Longo said. 

Lea Longo & friends @ Montreal Chant Fest by TheBhaktiBeat.comThe chant festival evolved naturally as more people fell in love with kirtan, and more people started hosting and leading kirtans.  “The vision was always to grow kirtan in Montreal,” Longo said.  With the festival, she said, “People can get introduced to kirtan and naad yoga (the yoga of sound), and to all of these kirtan artists who have come out of the woodwork in the last few years.”  

Longo partnered with Anne-Lisa Deforest, who helps coordinate Montreal’s annual Yoga Festival as well, and they were off.   They lined up a few sponsors to help cover the costs, but were mostly using their own money to pull this together.  The price was kept reasonably low — $99 for a two-day pass, with a half-price ticket offer available online right up to fest.  A small marketplace of vendors included yoga clothing, jewelry, Reiki/Massage and the yummiest cookies and veggie burgers from Prem and Sahara of Anahatha.

Hypnotized by Hari

Patrick Bernard @ Montreal Chant Fest by TheBhaktiBeat.com

If there was a “headliner” at this fest, it would have to be Patrick Bernard.  While that may not exactly be a household name, even among kirtan junkies, it’s a name to remember.  His short set, accompanied solely by his musical partner Mahavirya and Alex Trifan on soft djembe, was simple, traditional call-and-response Krishna kirtan, ancient devotional melodies to Radhe and Krishna driven by the chords of the harmonium and vocal nectar of two men singing to Hari.  It was hypnotic, in a way that took you deep inside.

“I like this word, ‘hypnotic,'” Bernard said pensively after his set when I described it that way to him.  “It is good,” he said with a thick accent (graciously excusing my failed attempt to recall my high-school French), “because the goal is to boycott the mind and go beyond, to touch the spirit soul which is our real identity.”

‘The goal is to boycott the mind and…touch the spirit soul which is our real identity.”  We like that.

But really, this festival wasn’t about “headliners.”  It was about bringing together a community, about introducing new faces, to give people a chance to connect and “join forces,” as Longo put it.  To provide a place where like-minded souls “can just be.”

And speaking of boycotting the mind…here’s how Eddy Nataraj and KC Solaris went about it. 


See also: Say Bonjour to the ‘Unknown’ Bhakti Bands of the Montreal Chant Fest (Coming Soon!)

For more photos of the full line-up of bhakti bands at the Montreal, please see The Bhakti Beat’s Photo Journal on Facebook

Subscribe to The Bhakti Beat YouTube channel for more videos from Montreal Chant Fest — being updated daily!

Also see:


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Closing Out Bhakti Fest West 2012, by TheBhaktiBeat.comDo you have any of these symptoms? 

1. You wake up humming the Hanuman Chalisa.

2. You’ve exceeded your internet data allowance watching kirtan livestreams.

3. You have at least one pet — or possibly a child — named after a Hindu deity.

4. Your family whispers behind your back because every time they see you you’re quietly singing Hare Krishna Hare Krishna Krishna Krishna Hare Hare.

5. When the Jehovah’s Witness comes to your door, you try to convince them that Jesus and Krishna are the same…because, you know, Maharaji said so. 

Neem Karoli Baba by Balramdas, from ImageEvents.com, on TheBhaktiBeat.com

Photo by Balramdass, from ImageEvents.com

6. You know who Maharaji is.

7. You secretly fantasize about becoming a roadie for Krishna Das. Or Dave Stringer.  Or Girish…

8. You’ve ever been stopped for speeding with a kirtan CD blasting in your car.

9.  You dumped your boyfriend/girlfriend because they kept complaining that the only “music” you ever play is kirtan.

10. You’ve emptied your savings account buying plane tickets and weekend passes to Bhakti Fest, Omega Chant, and any other kirtan festival, retreat or event you can get to.

If any of these signs describe you, you might be a kirtan addict.  There is no cure, but don’t despair:  the treatment is simple… 

Chant more.

Whatever you do, just…

Keep Calm and Bhav On by TheBhaktiBeat.com

And follow The Bhakti Beat, of course!

Ram Dass, Jai Uttal, Shyamdas at Omega Fall Chant 2012 by TheBhaktiBeat.com

Ram Dass, Jai Uttal, Shyamdas at Omega Fall Chant 2012 by TheBhaktiBeat.comOmega’s annual Ecstatic Chant weekend would not exist without Ram Dass.  The legendary Labor Day retreat for chantaholics in the heart of New York’s Bhajan Belt has its roots in Ram Dass’ own epic gatherings at Omega dating back to the mid-1990’s.  In those days, Omega co-founder Stephan Rechtschaffen recounted to The Bhakti Beat, Ram Dass would invite Krishna Das and others to come and chant with retreatants during evening concerts as kind of an entertainment extra.  Over time, the chanting became an integral part of the weekend, occupying more and more of the retreat schedule.

When Ram Dass suffered a stroke and chose to discontinue most of his travel, the retreats continued…eventually morphing into Ecstatic Chant: The Yoga of Voice, now one of Omega’s most popular programs (among a catalog of hundreds).

In recent years, Ram Dass has joined the program live via Skype from Hawaii, his face projected onto a huge screen in Omega’s darkened, packed-to-capacity Main Hall.  Krishna Das, Radhanath Swami, Shyamdas, Jai Uttal and Rechtschaffen have taken turns leading the chat with the man many credit with jump-starting the Western fascination with India generally and the Indian saint Neem Karoli Baba (“Maharaji”) in particular.

Ram Dass Shyamdas Jai Uttal at Omega Fall Chant 2012 by TheBhaktiBeat.comThis is an excerpt from the Skype chat with Ram Dass that was jointly led by Shyamdas and Jai Uttal at last fall’s Ecstatic Chant.  (Shyamdas did most of the asking…)

Shyamdas:  What’s it like to be loved by so many thousands of people?

Ram Dass: It’s like being with Maharaji.  He gave unconditional love.  No matter how rotten you were he gave unconditional love.  YumYumYumYumYum.

SD:  What should we be doing with our lives?

RD: Remember Maharaji.  People come to me for advice, but they’re not really coming to me.  They’re coming to Maharaji…When they experience that love, they flower.  That gives me great happiness and fills my heart.  YumYumYumYumYum.

Ram Dass Shyamdas Jai Uttal at Omega Fall Chant 2012 by TheBhaktiBeat.comSD:  Great job you have.

RD:  Yes, yes it is.  I am a gardener.

SD:  How did you get that job?

RD:  I didn’t ask for it.  He [Maharaji] laid it on me.  The first time I was in India, he said: “Arshivad (blessings) for your book.” I said, “What’s Arshivad, and what book?”

SD:  Thank you for your seva and your priceless gifts.  We can only bow; we cannot repay you, but we can try…

RD:  We are all the same.  We’ve all found it; we’ve seen what it is.  Now it’s up to us…

Shyamdas wouldn’t let his friend say goodbye without a proper send-off, and he and Uttal were promptly leading the capacity crowd in a sweet little transcontinental kirtan. A thousand voices harmonized in an exuberant Radhe Govinda, flowing from the packed room in New York’s Hudson Valley straight to the heart of Ram Dass in his bungelow in Hawaii.  Short and sweet:


More on Shyamdas
Live at Ananda:  Shyamdas Tribute in Bhajan Belt Celebrates the Lila of Bhakti’s Favorite Uncle
Swept Up in a ‘Tidal Wave of Bhav’ with Shyamdas: Epic 45-Minute Maha Mantra
Storytime in the Bhav with Shyamdas & Friends at Bhakti Fest Midwest
Feels Like ‘Yesterday:’ Classic Shyamdas in Wacky Spontaneous Improv at Omega Chant
Bhajan Boat’ Charity Cruise Circles Manhattan with a Boatful of Bhaktas
Ananda Ashram Shyamdas Tribute Photo Journal on The Bhakti Beat’s facebook page
Remembering Shyamdas Photo Journal on The Bhakti Beat’s facebook page
Shyamdas Remembered, Video Playlist on YouTube
Also see:
Sunset at shakti fest by Kamaniya Devi on TheBhaktiBeat.com

Photo by Kamaniya Devi

Can we just say how much we love livestream?  We envision a day when every festival and concert, kirtans included, is streamed free to living rooms and laptops everywhere. With perfect audio.  And a strong, steady feed.  And — since we’re dreaming — professional camerawork that zooms in on the action.  While we’re at it, could we get a caption here and there identifying featured musicians? (Who was that on violin with Karnamrita Dasi anyway?)

Until that vision is reality, we’ll take what we can get.  What we got yesterday from Shakti Fest — thanks to New World Kirtan and Kitzie Stern for persevering with the technicalities — was two full sets of the bhav in Joshua Tree, Dasi and Jai Uttal, plus smatterings of choppy, wildly fluctuating audio from Saul David Raye, Deepak Ramapriyan, and David Newman’s sets earlier in the day.  By the time Dasi took the stage, it seemed like the bugs had been worked out on the stream AND video had been added.  Not only did it sound better, but we had a back-row view of the action.  We’re glad we stuck it out and kept listening…

Here’s the link for the livestream to Shakti Fest (May 17-19), which starts at 10 a.m. daily and will continue until the bitter(sweet) grand finale.

Shyamdas at Shakti Fest, by Kamaniya Devi, on TheBhaktiBeat.com

From the stage to the altar. (Photo by Kamaniya Devi)

This is, of course, the first Bhakti Fest without Shyamdas, the beloved “elder statesman of bhakti,” as emcee Shiva Baum described him last night.  Normally, Shyamdas would be steering the ship of bhav here, both behind the scenes and stage center, particularly during the legendary final set, where all the wallahs and musicans crowd the stage for a final Hare Krishna mahamantra.  (Check out the action from last fall’s finale in the video below.)  While he may not have been there in body, it was clear from listening in on the goings-on in the high desert that Shyamdas was on everyone’s minds, and in everyone’s hearts.

In every set that we caught, the artist paused to say a few words, share a personal remembrance, or dedicate a song to Shyamdas.  Jai Uttal devoted a Sri Radhe chant in what he called “a sad melody” to Shyam; Dasi closed her set with one of Shyam-ji’s favorites, The Song of Sweetness, which glorifies the nectar of Krishna’s form and love.  Govindas, one half of Govindas and Radhe and the founder of the Bhakti Yoga Shala, Santa Monica’s temple to kirtan, spoke at length between sets about his time “sitting at the feet” of Shyamdas.

The master of Hari Katha was eternally present.

Jai Uttal & friends, by Bhakti Fest, on TheBhaktiBeat.com

Jai Uttal & Friends (Photo courtesy of Bhakti Fest)

Just before Uttal played, Bhakti Fest founder Sridhar Silberfein came onstage to pay tribute to his dear friend in words and a three-minute slide show with an audio track of Shyamdas being interviewed in India just weeks before his death.  Putting it together, sifting through images and recordings of Shyamdas, “has been tearing me up emotionally every single day,” Silberfein said.  He told of the Bhakti Yatra group tour to India in January, for which Shyamdas was a very large part of the itinerary but never made it to the entourage waiting for him.

You may have heard the story before…but Silberfein added some new details.  He said Shyamdas called him just before they were slated to rendezvous saying he was suffering a breakout of shingles and wouldn’t be able to join the group of 25 or so Westerners who had traveled to India fully expecting a Shyamdas-led tour of Vrindavan, the holy city in India that Shyam so loved (and was practically the town’s adopted mayor , from what we’ve heard). Instead, Shyamdas stayed in Goa to rest and recuperate; the motorcycle accident that ended his life happened a few days later.

Altar at Shakti Fest, by Kamaniya Devi on TheBhaktiBeat.com

K.d. Devi Dasi and Prajna Vierra tending the Main Stage altar (Photo by Kamaniya Devi)

The audio on the slide show dropped out from the livestream feed so it was difficult to catch, but Shyamdas was telling a funny story involving Uttal and Krishna Das, something to do with Uttal’s assertion that KD was too “masculine to be a Gopi.” (Who can fill us in on the details?)  Whatever it was that was lost in cyberspace, it was enough to elicit lots of guffaws from the audience, as well as a good-natured comment from Uttal, who joked that Shyamdas was “hounding me even from the grave.”

Mohan Baba, Shyamdas’s friend of 40 years and one of the close satsang who was with him the night he passed, told of how Shyamdas — in his final hours of life after the accident — was “totally focused inward.”

“He didn’t say a word and was just sitting there calmly, in an intense devotional space,” Mohan said.

One of the things he loved about Shyamdas, Mohan said, was that “he was just a regular guy.  He was not a swami, not a renunciate.  He lived a householder’s life, and was totally fixated on the divine lila.”  Even though he came from a wealthy Connecticut family, “he turned his back on all that, choosing to live very simply.”

chanters showing love for gina sala by Kamaniya Devi on TheBhaktiBeat.com

During Gina Sala’s set (Photo by Kamaniya Devi)

“There’s a big lesson for all of us there,” Mohan said, “to live life as fully as you can, every day.”

Just when you thought you might make it through this tearjerker tribute without breaking down, Shiva Baum broke down, his voice cracking as he introduced Jai Uttal’s set.

“Shyamdas is irreplaceable, and he will be with us always,” Baum said before turning it over to Uttal   “His love blankets this entire festival.”

Here’s the video from last fall’s Bhakti Fest, with Shyamdas steering the bhav in the festival-closing raucous, windblown, stage-lights-about-to-topple all-wallah finale.  Through it all, Shyamdas just kept singing to Krishna.

Watch the Livestream here.
Shakti Fest kirtan schedule
See our coverage from last year’s Shakti Fest:
You Want Shakti? Larisa Stow’s Got Shakti
Jai Uttal Captures the Essence of Bhakti Fest
Loco for Lokah & the Bhakti Dance
On-Stage Proposal a Bhakti Fest First
Bhakti Fest Seeds Planted at Woodstock in ’69

Connect with The Bhakti Beat!

Subscribe to The Bhakti Beat
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Adam Bauer VerMantra 2012 by TheBhaktiBeat.com
Adam Bauer VerMantra 2012 by TheBhaktiBeat.comProject: Full-length Studio-Recorded CD
Fundraising Goal: $25,000
Deadline: June 4, 2013 @ 11:59 p.m. PT
Contribute 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 has grown in the music business as record labels have cut back and artists have to fund projects themselves.

The Artist

No, he’s not just a go-to bass player in the East.  Re-meet Adam Bauer, kirtan wallah. Best known as the man in the back with the bass onstage with Shyamdas and many others in recent years (and with Krishna Das before that), Bauer is taking a bold “leap of faith,” in his words, and moving from the back of the band to front and center.  “This is a big move for me,” Bauer told The Bhakti Beat in an interview. “It’s been a very long, very rich journey of 10 feet.”  

Adam Bauer Neem Karoli Baba VerMantra 2012 by TheBhaktiBeat.comOn his debut CD, Shyam Lila, he’s trading his trusty 5-string bass for a harmonium with Neem Karoli Baba’s face peering out from above the keys.  Bauer started learning the harmonium about three years ago, around the time he attended one of Jai Uttal’s Kirtan Camps.  He describes leading kirtan at the camp as a “nervewracking” kind of coming-out for his voice, but one that helped him gain confidence to dive deeper, fueled by encouragement from Uttal and Daniel Paul.  He now regularly hosts living room kirtans in his Northampton, Mass. home and has begun to have his own sets at smaller festivals like Vermantra (video below), and most recently at an upstate New York Shyamdas tribute.

Adam Bauer VerMantra 2012 by TheBhaktiBeat.comHis kirtans are gentle, comtemplative — “devotionally quiet,” he says — the kind that fade away gradually and sweetly into that long deep silence that “nobody in their right mind would whoop or clap after.”  Soft, meditative, drift-away-on-the-melody kirtan prayers. That will be the vibe in Shyam Lila.

The Project

A collection of traditional chants to Radhe and Krishna done to original arrangements, Shyam Lila is “a deep bow from me to Shyamdas,” Bauer said, “an expression of my gratitude for sharing such intimate space for so long.”

He stops short of calling the new album a “tribute” to Shyamdas per se, yet it was in no small way inspired by the beloved bhakti scholar and wallah extraordinaire, who left his body in January.  “I wouldn’t be who I am in the same way without these last eight years with Shyamdas,” Bauer said.  “He was the closest I’ve ever gotten to the devotional heart of India.”

Shyamdas & Adam Bauer Omega Fall Chant 2012.by TheBhaktiBeat.comBauer had finally arranged his life around spending more time with Shyamdas in India, and was due to be with his friend and mentor just two weeks after the motorcycle accident that changed everything.  He arrived in India just in time for the traditional cremation and final rituals with Shyam’s family and closest friends, a series of events that were “very moving and very difficult, a total mind blow,” Bauer said. 

The songs of Shyam Lila came to him during the torturous weeks that followed, as Bauer wrestled with the reality of Life Without Shyamdas.  “I was trying to wrap my own head around how Shyamdas’s passing is part of God’s lila.  I was thinking, ‘You really f***ing chirped on this one’,” he snarked, instantly recognizing it as the “very human reaction.”  

‘A Deep Bow of Gratitude’ to Shyamdas

After that, Bauer said “Singing with my own voice just felt like the only thing left to do that resonated in a really strong way.” The songs fleshed themselves out over the weeks in India, as he sang them alone and in satsang with Sadhu Maharaja and friends. “These songs helped me get through that period.”

Adam Bauer Bhajan Boat by TheBhaktiBeat

Don't worry, he's still got the 5-string.

Gaura Vani, who Bauer calls his “bhakti love-bear,” will produce the CD, for which recording got underway in the wake of Omega Spring Chant, the first big kirtan event where Shyamdas would be steering the ship of bhav.  With Ehrin Hanson on tabla, John McDowell (producer of Shyamdas’s Beloved Chants) on African hand drums, and Northampton native Charlie Braun on guitar, Bauer says they laid down the bare bones of eight tracks over two days at the Art Farm, a private recording studio in New York’s Hudson Valley.  Additional instrumentation will be added to the mix as the process unfolds. Bauer is shooting for a Fall 2013 release.

Here’s a taste of Bauer’s kirtan prayer from Vermantra 2012 in Burlington, Vt…

Deets and Links

Contribute Now to Adam Bauer’s Indiegogo Crowdfunding Campaign
Adam Bauer’s Web Site
Adam Bauer on facebook
Adam Bauer on twitter

Connect with The Bhakti Beat!

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Previous articles in this series:
Brenda McMorrow
Sean Johnson & The Wild Lotus Band
David Newman aka Durga Das
Sheela Bringi
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