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Awakening Bhakti
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Ever dreamed of having Jai Uttal sing the Names in your living room? How about a little kirtan lesson from Uttal himself? Or maybe you’d love to hear him retell — in his inimitable style — some epic scripture, like say…the Ramayana?  Well now’s your chance.

As part of his quest to “share my music, my heart and my experiences with people without being on the road all the time,” Jai Uttal is trying something new (to him anyway): offering an online course for fans and followers, webcast from the comfort of his own home to the comfort of yours.  It’s called “Awakening Bhakti” and you can register for it here.

We asked Uttal why this course, why now, why online? He said that traveling “has taken a bigger and bigger toll on me, physically and emotionally” in recent years, and that this course is part of his effort to create a “sustainable lifestyle” that lets him be at home with his family.

“I LOVE SINGING WITH AND FOR PEOPLE!!!” Uttal told us (in all caps, yes) in an email interview in between recording sessions for his album in-the-works, “Roots, Rock, Rama,” which he is making with long-time collaborator Ben Leinbach plus Jeff Cressman and Peter Apfelbaum, the horn section of the Pagan Love Orchestra, Uttal’s band for the Grammy-nominated 2002 album “Mondo Rama.”   Despite his obvious passion for live, up-close and personal sankirtana, Uttal says he just can’t take the travel. The online course is “a way for me to share with everyone in a deep, meaningful and relaxed way from my own home.”

‘Hang Out’ With Jai

There’s a full description of the course at www.whereismyguru.com, which is hosting it.  Uttal told The Bhakti Beat that it’s a chance “to learn about bhakti and how it can became the central core of our lives and how some of my life experiences have deepened my own relationship to this path; to hear where some of the songs come from, and stories about my Guru, Neem Karoli Baba; to receive never-before-seen videos of my live performances; to hear the entire Ramayana in five chapters; to receive audio recordings of many live kirtans, and to just hang out with me and get to know me a bit better…”

Jai Uttal at Bhakti Fest 2012 by TheBhaktiBeat.com“Awakening Bhakti” takes place over three weeks beginning March 1.  At the core are four live, interactive web-conferences with Uttal that can be downloaded and viewed at any time.

The $99 price includes everything.  Seems like a reasonable investment to bring Jai Uttal into your living room, no?  Sign up here.

Call & Response Scholarship Available

Still, not everyone has an extra 100 bucks lying around waiting and available to awaken their bhakti, we get that.  That’s why we were so happy to hear that the Call and Response Foundation is offering a scholarship to one lucky bhakta in need of some financial support.  All you have to do is write to jen@callandresponsefoundation.org before March 1 and tell her why you need the scholarship. One winner will be randomly chosen from the entries and announced on the Call and Response Foundation’s facebook page.

Do check out all the good work of the Call and Response Foundation — under the expert leadership of Jen Canfield, this non-profit organization is taking the healing power of chanting into places you wouldn’t expect, like prisons and psychiatric centers and recovery services.  Plus, they’ve just launched a new program to support and maintain community kirtans across the country. In short, they’ve got your bhakti back.

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The Bhakti Beat welcomes your support!  We are non-commercial and not-for-profit,  a free service to the bhakti community that is completely self-funded save for the loving contributions of Bhakti Beaters like you.  Your support is critical — please share the Beat with your bhakti peeps, connect with us on social media (links below), and consider a one-time or recurring donation (DONATE HERE) to help us keep this bhav boat afloat.  All contributions are used exclusively to cover the direct expenses of bringing you News, Reviews, Interviews and Videos from the kirtan and mantra-music world.  Thank you from the bottom of our bhav brain, heart and soul. In loving service...

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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Ananda Ashram Shyamdas Tribute by TheBhaktiBeat.com
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The First Annual Shyamdas Foundation Retreat kicks off this weekend (September 25-27) at Ananda Ashram in Monroe, N.Y. for three days of intimate song and satsang with Shyamdas’ closest friends and followers.  You should come.

 

Why? Well, because it’s the FIRST ANNUAL SHYAMDAS FOUNDATION RETREAT.  Do we need to say more? Okay, fine. This is THE retreat in honor of Shyamdas, the beloved bhakti scholar, author, kirtan wallah, respected teacher and friend to all, who left his body — along with a huge hole in the heart of the bhakti world — in January of 2013.  His inimitable spirit and legacy endure thanks in part to the Shyamdas Foundation, which is hosting this intimate retreat at the Bhajan Belt ashram that was so dear to Shyamdas’ heart.  In fact, Ananda was often the first place Shyamdas would go to share kirtan and satsang when he returned to the States after winters in India.

“One of the most important things Shyamdas imparted to us was to keep good association. Part of that is in the kirtan, but part of it is hearing the teachings.  This is an opportunity for a more intimate setting to get fully immersed in not just kirtan, but in the teachings.  There is a particular vibe at Ananda because it is an Ashram, so this has that energy with all of these people coming together to really get drenched in the nectar.” 

~ Ishwari of SRI Kirtan

Need more?  Did I mention there will be kirtan — lots of kirtan — with Shyamdas’ tribe of musician-gopis.  We’re talking Gaura Vani, Adam Bauer, Prema Hara, Steve Gorn, Nina Rao, SRI Kirtan, Devadas, Karnamrita Dasi, David Newman, Vrajdevi from Vraj, India, Arundhati and Prema from Woodstock, Yogi P from Vermont for starters…and we imagine there might be a surprise or two in store.

But wait, there’s more. Jivamukti yoga co-founder Padma Sharon Gannon herself will be leading asana practice, along with her nephew and protegé Jules Febre.  There will be stories and teachings and satsangs with Shyamdas’ dearest scholar-friends, including Radhanath Swami and David Haberman, and Vallabhdas, Shyamdas’ student/co-author and the founding director of the Shyamdas Foundation. There will be readings from Shyamdas’ books.  There will even be an “enchanted forest walk” with Gaura Vani and Vallabhdas that is sure to be…well, enchanted. We’re hoping Gaura brings his flute…

“I see this gathering at Ananda Ashram—a place Shyam loved and where I remember countless great moments shared—as a chance to continue deepening and nourishing what I love best about my experience with Shyamdas and indeed the broader Bhakti lila: meaningful time with friends and family, practicing the Bhakti yogic arts, joining hearts and voices together in the Divine Names, and enjoying the inspiring company of other seekers of love and truth. Plus, a bunch of good prasad! What’s not to love?”

~ Adam Bauer

But wait, you haven’t heard the best part of all. What makes this weekend realllllly special is the rare opportunity for satsang with one of Shyamdas’ own gurus, Shri Milan Goswami, grandson of his original Pushti Marg guru, Shri Prathameshji. These teachers are direct descendants of the 15th century bhakti philosopher Shri Vallabhacharya, the founder of the Path of Grace, who is considered by Pushti devotees to be a manifestation of Krishna and Radha, as well as a witness to the divine couple’s loving plays. Shyamdas was the first western initiate into the Pushti Marg and devoted his life to translating and sharing Vallabhacharya’s teachings.

Did you catch that?  That’s satsang with a living, breathing soul who is believed to be a direct descendent of Krishna & Radhe incarnate.

 

Go ahead, take a moment to wrap your brain around that concept.  We are.

 
Then check out this YouTube playlist of Shyamdas kirtans and teachings.


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Here’s the latest schedule of what’s happening (subject to change of course).  Learn more and get tickets at www.shyamdasfoundation.com

COMPLETE SCHEDULE OF EVENTS:

FRIDAY:
4pm Check in
5:30 pm dinner
6:30 pm  Welcome/Shyamdas video
7 pm Pushti Kirtan: Vrajdevi, Ishwari & Vallabhdas
8 pm Bhakti Satsang: Radhanath Swami w/ Gaura Vani
9:30 pm Kirtan: Prema Hara

SATURDAY:
9 am Kirtan: Nina Rao
10 am Kirtan:  Devadas
11-12:45 Jivamukti Yoga w/ Sharon Gannon and Jules Febre
11 am Kirtan Workshop: “Singing for the Beloved” w/ Karnamrita Dasi, Vallabhdas, Martin Brading
12 pm Shyamdas Foundation Roundtable w/ Vallabhdas and Board members
1:30 pm Bhakti Lecture “Life Lessons & Vedantic Love” by Prof. David Haberman
3 pm En-chanting forest walk w/ Vallabhdas, Gaura Vani et al.
3:45 pm Bhakti Satsang: Shri Milan Goswami w/ Vallabhdas
5:15 pm Dinner
6:15 pm Kirtan: Arundhati w/ Prema
7:15 pm Shyamdas Archive audio clip
7:30 pm Kirtan: SRI Kirtan
8:30 pm Kirtan: Gaura Vani
9:30 pm Kirtan: Karnamrita Dasi

SUNDAY:
9 am Indian Classical Music: Steve Gorn
10 am Kirtan: Yogi P
11-12:45 Jivamukti Yoga w/ Sharon Gannon and Jules Febre
11 am Satsang Workshop: “Find the Beloved” w/ Ishwari, Vallabhdas, Premdas
12 pm Shyamdas Foundation Roundtable w/ Vallabhdas and Board members
1:30 pm Yamunashtakam Dance: Aarati Spadea w/ Vallabhdas, Ishwari, John McDowell
1:45 pm Pushti Bhakti Satsang: Shyamdas book readings w/ Padma Sharon Gannon, Vallabhdas, Ishwari
2:45 pm Kirtan: Adam Bauer
3:45 pm Kirtan: David Newman (Durga Das) w/ Mira
5 pm Multi-musician Finale

BONUS FOR READING ALL THE WAY TO THE BOTTOM! USE CODE “BHAKTI” AND TAKE 15% OFF YOUR WEEKEND PASS OR DAY TICKETS!

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The Bhakti Beat welcomes your support!  We are non-commercial and not-for-profit,  a free service to the bhakti community that is completely self-funded save for the loving contributions of Bhakti Beaters like you.  Your support is critical — please share the Beat with your bhakti peeps, connect with us on social media (links below), and consider a one-time or recurring donation (DONATE HERE) to help us keep this bhav boat afloat.  All contributions are used exclusively to cover the direct expenses of bringing you News, Reviews, Interviews and Videos from the kirtan and mantra-music world.  Thank you from the bottom of our bhav brain, heart and soul. In loving service...

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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Crowd Arms Raised Jazz Fest 2015
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Crowd Arms Raised Jazz Fest 2015

Wait a minute, kirtan at Jazz Fest? THE Jazz Fest?? The one going on right now in New Orleans, featuring Elton John, the Who, Lady Gaga, Jimmy Cliff, Robert Cray, Buddy Guy and a long list of luminaries from a genre-blending spectrum of rock/jazz/blues/gospel and more?

Yep, that’s the one.  You can add Sean Johnson and The Wild Lotus Band to that lineup of musical legends.

So, what’s the big deal about kirtan at a mainstream music festival like Jazz Fest?

The Bhakti Beat asked Sean Johnson this in an interview shortly after the band’s set.  He paused, contemplating the question, then offered this: “I feel like kirtan music gets put into a box by people who are not familiar with it.   People who aren’t into yoga or meditation don’t even really give it a chance; there’s a prejudgement about what it is.”

Sean Johnson Wild Lotus Band TheBhaktiBeat.comEven kirtan artists, Johnson observed, have a hard time describing what they do in words that resonate with someone who doesn’t already relate to the bhakti world. Playing a mainstream music festival, he said, “is an opportunity to put mantra music right in front of a general audience, so they can bypass their own judgments about what it might be — to really be able to experience it in their bodies rather than judging it with their minds.”

“We in this kirtan subculture create these experiences and events where we can get together and be inspired by each other, but I think there’s value in the magic of what we share that can really be a gift to the wider culture,” he continued. “Mantras in and of themselves are really powerful, so if we can create experiences that bypass the boundaries that are put around certain cultural experiences, even certain kinds of art, it becomes an opportunity for the labels to become unimportant, to no longer separate us from each other.”

Any way you look at it, a kirtan band at the epic New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Fest is, well, epic.  And this little bhakti band from NOLA has been invited back to Jazz Fest three times so far.  We’re tempted to call them a regular.

Sean Johnson Wild Lotus Band Jazz Fest TheBhaktiBeat.com

Parmita Pushman, the founder of White Swan Records and herself a pioneer in bringing mantra music to the mainstream, had this to say about the Wild Lotus Band’s Jazz Fest participation: “Jazz Fest features the colors and creativity of New Orleans; artists like Sean Johnson and the Wild Lotus Band are part of a vital new future for New Orleans. Kirtan music and yoga are bringing peace and music to people, but wherever it happens they also bring along their own musical influences and tastes which are seen in the expression of their song.”

The trio of Johnson (vocals/harmonium), Alvin Young (bass/guitar), and Gwendolyn Colman (vocals/percussion) has become somewhat of a legend in their own right, at least in the bhakti world.  Their brand of funked-up, bluesy, soul-tingling mantra music is a favorite at chant festivals and yoga retreats, where they never fail to whip the crowds into a frenzy of ecstatic free-dance.  But this band consistently delivers much more than rock-out dance mantra.  They will take you deep, lift you up, and crack you open with soulful sprinklings of bhakti poetry and tear-jerker gospel classics like their signature set closer, Fly Away.  Gets us every time.

Apparently we’re not alone.  Even at Jazz Fest — a big, boisterous, outdoor, party-scene festival with a dozen stages plus parades, pow-wows and pavilions — the band moved people to tears, Johnson told us. Performing on the first day of the two-weekend Fest, the band had their biggest crowd yet in their three years at Jazz Fest, with lots of kirtan newbies plus a dedicated group of hard-core fans, friends and family, who held the response.

“Many people were crying at one point or another,” Johnson said of the band’s Friday afternoon set. “I don’t know how often that happens at a big music festival, so I was really grateful that even in that outdoor, larger-scale environment with a lot of people who were not familiar with kirtan, people had such an intimate emotional experience.”

Sean Johnson Wild Lotus Band Jazz Fest ThebhaktiBeat.comWith less than an hour to play, the NOLA native said it was challenging to find a way to make the experience as accessible and comfortable as possible to people new to kirtan.  He told the crowd that the language of bhakti might be a little different than what you’re used to, but what happens in kirtan is really not that different from what happens in the gospel tent across the field or even at the main stage.

Connecting Through Music

“I don’t want people to think that kirtan is this strange esoteric form of music from another place and time,” he said.  It’s just another way of connecting through music, he said. “The most exalted moments of a stadium rock concert are when everybody knows the song; there is this communion between the band and the crowd.  The essence of what happens in that experience is the same thing that happens in kirtan.”

Unity Sean Johnson Wild Lotus Band TheBhaktiBeat.comBased on the reports we heard, there was a whole lot of communion between band and crowd going on at Jazz Fest’s Lagniappe Stage during the Wild Lotus set.  The band led just four songs in their 50-minute set, all from their brilliant 2014 CD, “Unity,” with a little intro to each to offer some context for the mantras. (You’ve got “Unity,” right? If not, get it here.)

They opened with the exotic, rollicking tribute to the Remover of Obstacles, “Ganesha’s Belly Dance,” then moved into the CD’s title song, a mash-up of original lyrics around the theme of oneness fused with Lokah Samastah Sukhino Bhavantu, the Hindu prayer of peace for all beings. Next, their powerful, primal Kali chant, “The Way of Love,” had the crowd leaping over hedges to dance in a grassy area near the stage in what Johnson called a “little bit of a Bhakti Fest moment…but with grass.”

Then, with the revelers securely in the palm of their hands, the trio knocked it out of the park with the soulful song of hope that they wrote for the city they love in the wake of the hurricane that nearly destroyed it.  “I Will Rise Again” is a moving tribute to the band’s beloved NOLA rising from the floodwaters of Katrina.  It gives us goosebumps, and we’re pretty far removed from the Big Easy…

We imagine there wasn’t a dry eye in the crowd.

Jazz Fest photos courtesy of Bonnie Gustin Photography.

 

_____________________

The Bhakti Beat welcomes your support!  We are non-commercial and not-for-profit,  a free service to the bhakti community that is completely self-funded save for the loving contributions of Bhakti Beaters like you.  Your support is critical — please share the Beat with your bhakti peeps, connect with us on social media (links below), and consider a one-time or recurring donation (DONATE HERE) to help us keep this bhav boat afloat.  All contributions are used exclusively to cover the direct expenses of bringing you News, Reviews, Interviews and Videos from the kirtan and mantra-music world.  Thank you from the bottom of our bhav brain, heart and soul. In loving service...

Hare Krishna Hare Krishna Krishna Krishna Hare Hare
Hare Rama Hare Rama Rama Rama Hare Hare
 
Dear Lord, kindly engage me in your service.
 
Follow The Bhakti Beat on facebook
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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.

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Larisa Stow & Shakti Tribe Bhakti Fest 2014 by TheBhaktiBeat.com 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 them.  Quite possibly the tightest little shakti band in the West, they never fail to fill your cup with lovelovelove and take it right over the top — and then bring it back down to earth with something authentic and grounding like Larisa’s now-signature LOVE-IN with the crowd.

Larisa Stow, Bhakti Fest 2014, TheBhaktiBeat.comThis year’s set at Shakti Fest was no exception, as love goddess Larisa snuggled up close and personal at the front of the stage with adoring fans pouring out their affection.  She reflected it right back, singing them a heart-felt love ballad laced with advice for living fully from one who knows how. “We need to embrace all the parts of ourselves,” she said. “Even those wild parts.”  It was like group therapy in the bhav!

“How juicy can we get?” Larisa asked the crowd at one point.  “How much can we open up in this moment?”

They set the tone for their set right off the bat, with a Maha Mantra rock-out that proved why they call this music mantra rock.  Then it was time to “wake up those heartlines,” as Larisa implored the obedient bhaktas before her to put hands to hearts as she launched into an electrified ode to Tara, the Buddhist goddess of compassion who is always ready to spring into action to relieve suffering.  This was like no Om Tara you’ve heard before;  the seed mantra Om Tara Tuttare Ture Soha was fused with the English chorus “Om Tara, wake up in my life…” and driven by rich rhythmic layers of horns from the Wizard of Woodwinds Richard Hardy, bass, guitar, violin, and percussion.  Oh, just watch the video…

Then things got really juicy.

Shakti Fest 2014 by TheBhaktiBeat.com Larisa Stow Shakti TribeWith Tara sufficiently awakened in our hearts, the Tribe turned our attention to the Goddess Who Takes No Prisoners with a powerful seed mantra to invoke Kali.  We were also treated to a brand new song based on the Sanskrit mantra Ahem Prema, which means “I Am Divine Love.”  The Tribe’s version featured Bethany Folsom’s  exquisite violin amidst original lyrics reminding us that “The universe is in my womb” and “I am the love that I seek.”

Quotes, Bhakti Fest May 2014 by thebhaktibeat.comJust when you thought you couldn’t get any more love from the Love Tribe, “Whatcha Gonna Do With All That Love?” poured forth.  The song, already a signature anthem  for this Long Beach-based band, is now immortalized on Shakti Tribe bumper stickers that were given away freely from the stage.

But they weren’t through with us yet.  They hit us with another version of the Maha Mantra that shook the ground with its high-energy must-dance vibe (trust me — I just shook my whole neighborhood blasting it in my apartment…).  If you weren’t dancing by now…well, I don’t think anyone wasn’t dancing.  The set ended, fittingly, blessedly, with the title track from their epic CD “Rock On Sat Nam,” officially sealing the Tribe’s place as the Bhaktas Most Likely to Rock Your World.

What are we gonna do with all that love?  Pass it along of course!  Larisa made us promise.

Shakti Tribe is Benj Clarke on bass, Richard Hardy on woodwinds, Bethany Folsom on violin, Keith Larsen on drums, and of course, Larisa Stow holding court center stage on harmonium and vocals. Bray Ghiglia played guitar at Shakti Fest, and Mirabai Devi held space energetically throughout the set.

Mirabai Devi, Shakti Tribe, by thebhaktibeat.com at Bhakti Fest 2014 MaySo go ahead. Pass on the love.

See the full Photo Journal from Larisa Stow & Shakti Tribe’s set here.

 Also See:
Too Much Talking from a Kirtan Wallah?  Hmm. Bhakti Quotes Worth Repeating from Shakti Fest 2014
Top 12 Bhavalicious Moments at Shakti Fest 2014 (Photos)
Shakti Fest Moments” Photo Journal on The Bhakti Beat’s facebook page
Shakti Fest Finale” Photo Journal on The Bhakti Beat’s facebook page
“Jai Uttal” Photo Journal on The Bhakti Beat’s facebook page
‘We Need a Bus!’  Kirtaniyas Kick Off Shakti Fest Kirtan and Take Bhakti to A ‘Whole Other Level’
 
Connect with The Bhakti Beat!
Subscribe to The Bhakti Beat
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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 little bit helps! THANK YOU! Donate Here.

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Shakti Fest 2014.2 006At 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 despise gushers, frankly, but there I was, gushing…)  Vijay asked if he had talked too much.  I was perplexed by the question.  He said that he had “gotten into a little trouble” for talking too much during his set.

Really?  I was dumbfounded.  I mean, I know we’re here to sing, to chant the Names, to raise our voices in unity, to dance and clap and twirl in ecstatic joy.  I’m all for that.  But really, too much talking?  Kirtan is, after all, more than just another live-music concert like you can get at any bar or nightclub on a Saturday night.  It’s the core practice of bhakti yoga, an ancient discipline of devotion and service.  There is so much joy and wisdom in the teachings of bhakti yoga! Personally, I love it when kirtan wallahs pause from the chanting to offer little bits of wisdom or profound teachings from this tradition, or simply personal reflections from their own bhakti path.  Am I alone on this? I don’t think so.

Here, in honor of the “talking” part of kirtan, are a few of our favorite quotes — at least the ones that we had the presence of mind to write down — from the bhakti feast in the High Desert at Joshua Tree:

Vijay Krsna, Kirtaniyas, Shakti Fest 2014 by TheBhaktiBeat.com“It’s no longer enough to perform kirtan.  We want to inspire kirtan.  We want to be inspired by kirtan.” Vijay Krsna of The Kirtaniyas, Thursday night’s pre-kirtan.

“We are the way heaven shows up.” Akahdahmah Jackson of Aykanna (an Aramaic word from the Lord’s Prayer meaning “as it is in heaven”), Friday afternoon.

“Our true nature is whole and complete.  You are infinite joy. When you realize you are one with Krishna, you realize you are whole and complete.” ~Manoj, the Deity Wallah, speaking between sets on Friday.

Larisa Stow & Shakti Tribe, Bhakti Fest May 2014, by TheBhaktiBeat.com“We need to embrace ALL the parts of ourselves — even those wild parts.” ~Larisa Stow, Larisa Stow & Shakti Tribe, Friday evening.

“It’s half English, half Sanskrit, and 100 percent ecstasy,” ~Dave Stringer, Friday night, speaking of his forthcoming collaborative CD with Donna De Lory interpreting the Radiance Sutras in mantra music.

Simrit Kaur, Bhakti Fest May 2104, by theBhaktiBeat“Sometimes I feel like I’m dangling from a thread. The mantras are all I have to hold onto.” ~Simrit, Kundalini chantress, Friday afternoon.

“You’ve got to give love in order to receive love.  With every step you take, give love, receive love.  Give love, receive love.  Give love, receive love.” ~Wah!, Saturday evening

Jai Uttal, quote, Bhakti Fest May 2014, by TheBhaktiBeat.com“Every day I wake up with the a feeling of being completely lost. How can I function in a meaningful way on this earth? The answer is that I get to sing God’s name.  Without that I’m basically a lost cause.” ~ Jai Uttal, in his “playdate” (aka workshop) Saturday afternoon.

 

“I love that silence at the end of the chant.  It’s almost as if you work the whole song to get to that point of silence.  Then it’s just you and the Divine for a moment.” ~Cooper Madison, The Gandharvas, Sunday afternoon.

“Hanuman is the embodiment of grace.  The Chalisa opens up our hearts to that channel of grace.” Govindas, of Govindas & Radha, during the Sunday morning Hanuman Chalisa session.

Kamaniya & Keshavacharya, Prema Hara, Kirtan Revolution, Bhakti Fest May 2014, by TheBhaktiBeat.com“It takes a lot of people to make a kirtan revolution.” Kamaniya Devi of Prema Hara, Sunday afternoon.

 

“Unconditional love.  It’s really the only thing we should be practicing all the time.  But it’s hard, isn’t it?  Singing is the most powerful way to unconditional love. ” ~ Masood Ali Khan, Sunday morning.

“The only way to get back home is to fall in love with God.” ~Saul David Raye, putting to song a quote from Italian musician Alex Cigolini, during Monday’s Post-Intensive.

Gina Sala, Bhakti Fest May 2014, by TheBhaktiBeat.com“Because the one I love lives inside of you, I lean as close to you as I can.” ~Gina Salá, singing one of her signature love songs during Saul David Raye’s Post-Intensive.

Quotes, Bhakti Fest May 2014 by thebhaktibeat.comSo then, the question is: Whatcha gonna do with all that love, Bhakti Beaters?

Pssst…Pass it on.

 Also See:
Top 12 Bhavalicious Moments at Shakti Fest 2014 (Photos)
Shakti Fest Moments” Photo Journal on The Bhakti Beat’s facebook page
Shakti Fest Finale” Photo Journal on The Bhakti Beat’s facebook page
“Jai Uttal” Photo Journal on The Bhakti Beat’s facebook page
‘We Need a Bus!’  Kirtaniyas Kick Off Shakti Fest Kirtan and Take Bhakti to A ‘Whole Other Level’
 
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 little bit helps! THANK YOU! Donate Here.

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Kirtan, Bhakti Fest May 2014 by TheBhaktiBeat.comNo, 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 the rainbow.  Like the vast palette of hues on Earth, there is a vast range of kirtan “moods,” from soft and prayerful to raucously ecstatic, from pared-down and traditional to full-on electrified rock-out.  Who am I to say what’s “best”?  That’s a deeply personal opinion based on what resonates with any one of us.  I know what I like, but that doesn’t mean it’s “best” for you…

And besides all that, I never met a kirtan I didn’t like, so picking a few “best” ones is nothing short of impossible for this chanthead.

Instead, I’m focusing on a few of the many moments during the course of Shakti Fest when my heart was touched deeply enough to fill this old softie cynic’s eyes with salty tears, or make me laugh out loud, or simply smile inwardly at the sweetness of it all.  So here are my top 12 bhavalicious moments from Shakti Fest, in no particular order…

1) Meeting bhakti friends for the first time and getting hugged like they were your best friends for life.  Does that ever get old?

Dave Stringer set, Shakti Fest Bhakti Fest 2014 by TheBhaktiBeat.com2) The little pod of princesses who climbed up on stage to dance and prance about during Dave Stringer’s set and summarily stole the show.  And Stringer’s “let it flow” response when asked if it was okay if they stayed.  (Personally, my only problem with the adorable little girls was that they were blocking my view of Steve Postell; how could I ogle my guitar hero with a 7-year-old sweetie in the way?)

Steve Postell, Bhakti Fest May 2014, by theBhaktiBeat.com3) And since we’re on the subject, Steve Postell. Period. Because when a celebrated electric-guitar rock star from L.A. comes out to Bhakti Fest to play with every headliner plus a few others, that’s worth crowing about (and yeah, even ogling over).  Stay in the bhav, Steve, we need you here.  Please.

4) Manoj, the Deity Wallah, offering his humor-laced teachings about God and gods during the set changes. “God is not external,” he said, “He is not some old bearded guy in the clouds with an anger-management problem.”  LOL.

Vijay Krsna & Sarasvati Dasi, Kirtaniyas, @ Bhakti Fest May 2014, by TheBhaktiBeat5) Vijay Krsna welling up with tears on stage when he started to talk about his guru.  Unable to continue speaking, his beloved wife Sarasvati Dasi, with a pump of the harmonium, seamlessly stepped into the silence while her husband composed himself.  Divine union.

Wah, Bhakti fest 2014 May, by TheBhaktiBeat.com6) Wah! shimmering like the Bhakti Goddess of Love that she is in an iridescent plum-colored Gopi skirt and a big black bad-ass bass, reminding us all that if we want love, we have to give love.  “Are you loved?”  She yelled out, then answered with another question:  “Are you LOVE??”  (This simple exhortation is what unleashed the tears in me for the first time — but not the last — of the fest.)  The crowd swooned.

“You’ve got to give love in order to receive love.  With every step you take, give love, receive love. Give love, receive love. Give love, receive love…”

7) Story time with Jai Uttal during his “playdate” (his answer to a “workshop”), when he told of chanting at Maharaj-ji Neem Karoli Baba’s temple in India in the 1970’s.  Each time the chant faded to silence — even after 6 hours of chanting — Baba’s voice from a back room would chime in, yelling: “Keep singing!” and the chanters would start anew.   Jai’s playdate ended with a long, exuberant Radhe chant, which eventually slowed and faded to blessed silence.  That is, until a voice from somewhere in the back yelled out: “Keep singing!”  Wait, was that…?

Larisa Stow Shakti Tribe @ Bhakti Fest May 2014 by TheBhaktiBeat.com8) Larisa Stow, Shakti Tribe Goddess, sitting at the edge of the stage and gathering her adoring fans close around her like a mother gathers her children to her chest, palpable love flowing in all directions.  Whatcha gonna do with all that love?

9) Cooper Madison, extolling the virtues of the space between the chants.  “I love that silence at the end of the chant,” he said from the helm of his new bhakti band, the Gandharvas.  “It’s almost as if you work the whole song just to get to that point of silence.  Then it’s just you and the Divine for a moment.”  mmmmmm, yes.

Saul David Raye, Bhakti Fest May 2104, by TheBhaktiBeat.com10) Saul David Raye, pumping a harmonium with a bumper sticker on it that proclaimed LOVE WINS, staying gracefully composed and present despite the sound problems that plagued his set (and others).  His mike was out for a good half of his set, cutting in and out loudly much of the rest of the time.  He never lost his focus, never once lashed out in annoyance at the sound guys who seemed to be taking their sweet time getting the problem fixed.  He just kept singing and smiling and pumping the harmonium we could barely hear.  Yep, Love Wins.

Jaya Lakshmi & Ananda @ Bhakti Fest May 2014, by TheBhaktiBeat.com11) This scene, from Jaya Lakshmi and Ananda’s luminescent love-feast of a set:

12) Gina Salá raising her hoarse-from-the-desert voice (she was on stage a lot) one final time during sivasana at Saul David Raye’s Post-Intensive to lull us all into sweet oblivion with a little diddy that went like this:

“I Love You, I Love You, I Love You….Just as You Are.”

And with that little love song came the tears again for this bhakti-fried chanter.  Could there be a more perfect way to end this Shakti love Fest than a reminder that we are all love? Just as we are.

Now there’s something to take home with you…

OK, your turn.  What was your favorite part of Shakti Fest?  Or of any Bhakti Fest you’ve ever been to… The Bhakti Beat wants to know!

Jai Jai Shri Radheeeeeeeeee!

K.d. Devi Dasi @ Bhakti Fest May 2104, by TheBhaktiBeat.com

Also See:
Shakti Fest Moments” Photo Journal on The Bhakti Beat’s facebook page
Shakti Fest Finale” Photo Journal on The Bhakti Beat’s facebook page
‘We Need a Bus!’  Kirtaniyas Kick Off Shakti Fest Kirtan and Take Bhakti to A ‘Whole Other Level’
 
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 little bit helps! THANK YOU! Donate Here.

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Kirtaniyas Kirtan by TheBhaktiBeat.com @ Bhakti Fest May 2014Shakti 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 the high-energy kirtan to tell a story of something that happened in Las Vegas a week or two prior (yeah, forget that old maxim that what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas — does not apply here).  The band was in Vegas for Holi Festival of Colors, the spring ritual in India where people throw brightly colored powder on one another which is swiftly spreading in the U.S., with at least a dozen color festivals at last count in the States.  If you’ve seen any of the videos of these festivals, you know how high the energy is…

Vijay Krsna, Kirtaniyas, Bhakti Fest 2014 by TheBhaktiBeat.comWitnessing the exuberance of the festival in Vegas, Vijay said, he realized “Bhakti is going to a whole other level, a level beyond ourselves individually or collectively.  We’ve entered a new phase of this kirtan movement.”

Sitting with a group of other devotees in Las Vegas after Holi Festival, Vijay exclaimed: “We need a bus!  We need a bus so we can drive wherever we want to sing and dance and share the Names.”

A few days later, the band of wandering bhaktas was in Santa Monica leading a street kirtan on the Third Street Promenade, a pedestrian mall in the heart of the city best known for its amusement-park pier and wide sandy boardwalk-lined beaches.  Less well known is Santa Monica’s rich bhakti history — Krishna devotees have long gathered on the city’s promenades to chant the mahamantra accompanied by bells and drums.  (The Third Street Promenade was in fact, where this writer/bhakta first experienced the “Hare Krishnas” many years ago as they danced and chanted their way down the street.)  Since 1977, the city has hosted the Festival of Chariots, a parade of elaborately decorated coaches in celebration of Lord Jagganatha, with devotees, locals and tourists alike jubilantly dancing and chanting all along the route.

Today, Santa Monica is home to a rich “California-ized” bhakti community, a city where you can get your sankirtana fix just about any night of the week.  Ground zero for this community is Bhakti Yoga Shala, a shaktified refuge in the heart of the city founded by Govind Das and Radha, a kirtan couple who are mainstays on the Bhakti Fest schedule. The Shala infuses yoga classes with chanting, holds weekly kirtans, conducts kirtan trainings and workshops, and regularly hosts bhakti wallahs from out of town for roof-raising sankirtana.

Nitai, Kirtaniyas, Bhakti Fest May 2014 by TheBhaktiBeat.comSo, back to the Kirtaniyas…Here they are, chanting the Names on the Third Street Promenade just like their predecessors in the Western bhakti movement, just days after putting out the intention for a bus, when one of their extended family comes forward to announce jubilantly: We have a bus!

“Give thanks to Krishna: WE HAVE A BUS!” Vijay exclaimed to the group that had gathered around the little band of bhaktas.

Recounting the story of intention-turned-to-manifestation in a matter of days with an air of awe and gratitude, Vijay reflected: “This has been the mystery of my life: Would you like to live a life of your heart’s desire?  We have been vortexed into this intention of leading a life of chanting and dancing.”

At the end of the evening’s session, which began with a prayerful “Jai Guru Dev,” built expertly up to a rollicking rendition of “Sri Krishna Chaitanya” followed by a high-energy Maha Mantra/Hari Bol medley, and finished meditatively with Vijay singing “No Ordinary Name,”  the charismatic young kirtaniya offered this nugget:

“It is not longer enough to ‘perform’ kirtan.  We want to inspire kirtan and be inspired by kirtan.”

To which we say, HARI BOLLLLLLL!

Kirtaniyas at Bhakti Fest May 2014, by TheBhaktiBeat.com

Stay tuned for more coverage of Shakti Fest 2014, here (TheBhaktiBeat.com), there (facebook) and everywhere (twitter, Google+, YouTube, yadayada!

Connect with The Bhakti Beat!

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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 Sruti Ramananda 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”

The Bhakti Beat needs your support!  We are non-commercial and not-for-profit,  a free service to the bhakti community that is completely self-funded save for the loving contributions of Bhakti Beaters like you.  Your support is critical — please share the Beat with your bhakti peeps, connect with us on social media (links below), and consider a one-time or recurring donation (DONATE HERE) to help us keep this bhav boat afloat.  Thank you from the bottom of our bhav brain. In loving service...

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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Chantlanta by TheBhaktiBeat.com
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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.
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