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Awakening Bhakti

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.


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

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.


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


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

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

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



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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Kirtan Wallah Krishna Das announced today that he will take a lengthy pause from touring in 2016 to rest and “chill.”

“This body has got to stop,” KD said in a video message published on his YouTube channel May 16, noting that he has been touring the world for 20 years nonstop, since he was 47. (See the video below.)

“Starting in 2016, I have to find a way to take some time off — maybe 6 months, maybe a year, I don’t know —  to really quiet down, because it’s not just the body but the mind,” he told fans. “It’s really time to slow down for a while.”

Rumors have been flying for months in the bhakti world about KD’s health, as bits and pieces leaked out about his plans not to tour in 2016.  In February, KD told participants at his annual retreat at Sivananda Ashram in the Bahamas that he was going to take some time off (but indicated that he would be back in Sivananda in 2016).  The Bhakti Beat has also heard from event producers who have tried to schedule Krishna Das kirtans for 2016 and were told that he will not be touring, which has fueled the rumor mill.

‘Healthful Recharging’

The announcement does little to quell rumors about the health of Western kirtan’s biggest “star,” as there was no specific information about his overall wellness in either the video message or the email newsletter in which the sabbatical was announced. The email stated that KD will take a break from touring and traveling for the purpose of “healthful recharging.”

Krishna Das spokesperson Nina Rao confirmed to The Bhakti Beat in an initial email response that KD’s “Vitals are in order, just needs rest.” (We will update this article as soon as more information is available.) In the meantime, KD’s choice of words in the video message indicated the sabbatical was not an optional choice.

“I have to take some time off, to try to rejuvenate, rest and try to get some juice back in my system,” he said, while noting that chanting with other people is “the greatest seva I can do for myself, for others and for my guru.”  The sabbatical, he said, will allow him to “have time to be quiet, take care of my body, eat good, and just breathe. I forgot what it’s like to not be planning to go somewhere, like, in a week.”

Krishna Das, photo by TheBhaktiBeat.comIt’s unclear as of yet whether Krishna Das will attend bigger retreats and festivals such as Omega’s Ecstatic Chant, where he has headlined since its inception 12 years ago, or Bhakti Fest, though he did say he “might do a couple local things around New York,” where his home is, and possibly some online programs that can be done from his home.  KD’s annual Memorial Day weekend retreat at Yogaville Ashram in Virginia will continue as planned, as will his summer tour in the Northeast United States and Southeast Canada (see full tour schedule here).  He also is making appearances this month at benefits for Nepal earthquake victims (May 16 in Princeton, NJ, in concert with GuruGanesha, with other dates to be announced) and at a benefit for tigers produced by longtime KD manager/assistant Nina Rao (May 19 in New York City).

Beginning in February or March of 2016, all dates are off.  “I’m going to kind of just chill,” KD said.

The news was accompanied by the announcement of a new 501(c)3 nonprofit foundation, the Kirtan Wallah Foundation, which is dedicated to spreading the teachings of Krishna Das’ guru, the late Neem Karoli Baba.

Clearly addressing the rumors and questions, the “Rock Star of Yoga” ended his video message with typical understatedness: “That’s the story for now. Take good care. Bye.”

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

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.
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BW BrainEpidemiologists with the Centers for Disease Control have issued a national health advisory that a brain disorder first identified last year is on the rise.  At current rates, it may affect 10 million by 2020.

The previously rare condition, dubbed kirtananandanitis by its discoverer, is commonly known as “bhav brain.” It seems to be caused by prolonged periods of chanting kirtan, an obscure practice popularized in 15th century India that, like yoga, has gained a huge  following in the West. The CDC issued the alert after a team of scientists discovered evidence of the condition in every town and village.

While the highest concentrations were found in and around spiritual hot spots such as temples and ashrams, chant festivals, progressive universities and Jivamukti yoga centers, there was also startling evidence of the condition in living rooms across the nation, where people are increasingly gathering to chant in community, for free.

A CDC spokesperson emphasized that there was no imminent danger associated with the increasing incidence of bhav brain.  In fact, he called it an encouraging trend, given the stress-reduction and brain-health advantages of participating in a community-oriented spiritual practice involving singing, dancing and playing musical instruments. He cautioned, however, that practitioners of kirtan tend to do a lot of hugging.

“We just thought the public should be aware that this is increasing, and if they notice these kinds of gatherings where people are chanting and dancing and generally loving one another, that there’s nothing to be concerned about,” he said.

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 (see bhakti scholar Shyamdas explain it in the video below).  Some people report experiencing a sense of divine union under the influence of kirtan.  In extreme cases, bhav brain can produce symptoms suggestive of intoxication or drug use, which might include inexplicable elation, stumbling or wandering aimlessly, or general “spaciness.”

If you or someone you know is experiencing any of these symptoms, experts suggest you immediately assume a lotus position and repeat your mantra of choice 108 times.  Do not — we repeat, do NOT — attempt to drive.

The Bhakti Beat broke this story a year ago, when Dr. Baba Bhavakirtanananda first reported the results of his multinational brain-imaging study.  Read the full story here.

Here is an explanation of the bhav from a leading scholar and practitioner of bhakti yoga, the late Shyamdas, who described what it means to be “in the bhav” during a workshop at Bhakti Fest, one of the Western kirtan world’s largest gatherings.

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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Lord-Hanuman-146Do you know the story of Hanuman and the spider? The short version goes like this: When Hanuman was building a bridge to Lanka so Ram’s army could march across the ocean and rescue Sita from the evil Ravana, Hanuman was lifting entire mountain tops and making stepping stones of them. Meanwhile, a tiny spider in his path was rolling a grain of sand to add to the bridge.  Hanuman bellowed at the spider to get out of his way, and was about to brush him aside when Ram stopped him, and stiffly reprimanded him.  Ram saw no difference between the spider’s meager offerings  and Hanuman’s mighty ones, because both were inspired by  honorable intentions.  The spider was helping in the best way he could, and though it was a mere grain of sand in an ocean, Ram accepted it as if it were mountains.

If you’re like me, you’ve had a few spider days — the kind where you feel like you’re pushing a grain of sand into an ocean. And then something comes along and tells you to keep pushing.

Inspiring Gratitude

Ed & SusanRecently, The Bhakti Beat received a generous grant from Call and Response Foundation co-founders Susan Murphy and Ed Ritz to purchase a new laptop for The Bhakti Beat.  The sorely needed upgrade enables us to better handle and process the many large video files and images from Bhakti Beat reporting and gives us livestreaming capacity.  We are deeply grateful for this gift of encouragement.

In its wake, another Bhakti Beater asked if we have a Wish List?

Well, yes, we do have a Wish List. (Well, we do now.)  Thank you for asking!

Cash donations, one-time or recurring, are always welcome!  Just click here. All monies are used to directly support The Bhakti Beat’s mission to spread the devotional love of bhakti through reporting and commentary from the mantra music world: News, Reviews, Interviews & Videos.  Directed grants are also welcome, like Ed & Susan’s gift to soup up our video processing capacity.

Gifts-in-kind are great too.  Here are some things on our Wish List right now that would help us better serve the bhakti community:

Tech Supplies

  • URGENT NEED: Wireless Router (Ours just died!)
  • Solid-state portable hard drive, 1T or more (2 needed)
  • Good compact computer speakers
  • Wide-angle lens for Nikon D3100

Travel Related

  • Frequent Flyer Miles or Airline Vouchers
  • Gas Cards
  • Hotel or Couch-Surfing Vouchers :)

Professional Services

  • Printing Services (e.g., for business cards or stickers)
  • Web Services (e.g., for website redesign/consult)
  • Technical Services (e.g., Mobile App development)

And while we’re at it…

We have a dream.  It’s called the #BhavBus.  It is an alternative-fueled camper-van with solar-powered roof panels and space for a few passengers, and its mission is to spread the bhav, reporting and livestreaming from #everytownandvillage across this big ole’ kirtan country and beyond.  Do you have one of those in your backyard waiting for a makeover? Want to help us make this program a reality? Do you want to be on the bus?  Contact me, Brenda (email: bpatoine@aol.com) to find out more.

However you can help, grain of sand or mountain top (bhav bus?), know that it is received with deepest gratitude and is put to the highest use: to spread the love of bhakti.

Hare Krishna Hare Krishna Krishna Krishna Hare Hare
Hare Rama Hare Rama Rama Rama Hare Hare
“My dear Lord, kindly engage me in your service.”


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"I always tell people: 'live happily and die majestically.'" ~B.K.S. Iyengar (1918-2014)

“I always tell people: ‘live happily and die majestically.'” ~B.K.S. Iyengar (1918-2014)

B.K.S. Iyengar, the great yogic master who pioneered a system of yoga and is credited for helping bring yoga to the world, died Wednesday morning, August 20, in Pune, India.

Editor’s Note: “I, Vrinda” is a new, occasional first-person series on TheBhaktiBeat.com in which I, Vrinda (aka Brenda Patoine) say what I’m thinking, whether you want to hear it or not.  Call it op-ed, editorialism, commentary — hell, call it whatever you want.  Vrinda is opinionated but open, largely unfiltered, at times irreverent, and sometimes downright sassy (don’t say I didn’t warn you).  She — I mean, I — may offer two cents or more on subjects from the ironies of the yoga world to the injustices of the corporatocracy,  the ins and outs of the bhakti community or the ups and downs of internet dating. Vrinda wants everyone to just wake the f**k up (I warned you).  For more on Vrinda, including why that’s her — I mean, my — name in this case, click here on this link…but you’ll have to wait until I get that piece written.

I, Vrinda, find it a bit ironic that B.K.S Iyengar is being hailed in the popular press for sparking the “global yoga craze” when he himself embodied a yoga governed by principles that the  multi-billion dollar yoga industry has largely forgotten.  According to Iyengar’s website,  Iyengar yoga is rooted in the teachings of Patanjali, who defined yoga as a “method to silence the vibrations of the chitta,” chitta being the consciousness of mind, ego and intellect.  Could that be much further away, philosophically, than today’s “yoga craze,” where yoga is one more offering at the gym and the yoga marketers and publishers seems to be defining yoga more as a hip fitness fad sure to get you a really great butt than a way to achieve union of the Individual Self with the Universal Self?

Iyengar started doing yoga as a child suffering from crippling respiratory conditions, studying under his brother-in-law Krishnamacharya, who was legendary in his strictness, and going on to develop his own original system of yoga perhaps best known for its precision of alignment — with liberal use of props and straps to aid the practitioner in achieving that precision alignment.  His medical applications of yoga are widely respected, and despite the global spread of Iyengar yoga (with now centers in 72 countries), he never strayed far from his Patanjaliac roots.

It makes one wonder what Guruji, as Iyengar was known to his followers, might think of the headlines proclaiming him as the man behind yoga’s popularization.  His niece was quoted in the New York Times’ obituary detailing his death saying that even up to a few weeks ago, he said: “I’m satisfied with what I’ve done.”

In an interview last year with Livemint.com, Iyengar steered clear of condemning the commercialization of the 5,000-year-old practice, saying it was probably a good thing that yoga has proliferated:

“Who knows, we may be reading it wrong. It all depends on what state of mind the practitioner is in when he is doing yoga. Without knowing that, I can’t say this yoga or that is bad. I think overall the majority of people who are practicing it as a subject are following the right line. For the aberration, don’t blame yoga or the whole community of yogis,” he says.

Spoken like a true yogi.

Pranams to B.K.S. Iyengar.  A great yogi before everyone was a yogi.

What do you think B.K.S. Iyengar would think of the current incarnation of yoga as a fitness fad for the wealthy?



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!

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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!

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!

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