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Zakir Hussain on TheBhaktiBeat.com
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Neuroscientists have found that the motor cortex of certain string musicians have exaggerated brain “maps” devoted to the left hand, a consequence of the hand’s repetitive handiwork along the fret. I suspect Zakir Hussain’s brain holds the maps for at least four very large and finely elaborated hands.

It seems impossible when listening to this tabla maestro that he doesn’t have four hands. Like a David Copperfield of drums, Hussain’s hands are in perpetual motion, often just a blur of flesh-toned ribbons that the human eye can’t quite catch up to.  His performance at the Flynn Center for the Performing Arts March 19 with bansuri flute master Rakesh Chaurasia was a magic show of divine order. Hussain coaxed and caressed and cajoled a mind-boggling array of rhythms and riffs, blips and broops, tiks and taks, from the trio of tablas that sat before him like an altar. Appropriate, given that the evening was for all intents an offering to the Rhythm Gods.

It’s as if each part of this man’s hands is its own instrument: Fingers, thumbs, palms, heels of the hand — each part works on its own yet in perfect synchronicity with the others, producing a musical stew that defies the logic of what a single musician can do. Each hand, moreover, plays a distinct role in the composition, separate but perfectly merged in rhythm and timing.

But Zakir Hussain doesn’t play his drums just with his hands: His entire body is involved, his facial expressions punctuating every note. Throwing an arm up in a flourish, cocking his head, squinting, glaring, grooving his torso with the tune, raising eyebrows, shaking his full head of wild dark hair, eyeing his flautist with an exchange that requires no words…like his hands, the movement of his body is constant, dynamic. When he goes into a prolonged solo riff, fingers all ablur, eyes ablaze, beads of sweat on his forehead, it’s as if he’s lifted off to another plane entirely, a place where he and his drums merge like impassioned lovers oblivious to the world of matter and form. Mercifully, he takes you right there with him.

It’s challenging to describe this dance among drums without dipping into the language of love and sensuality. And why not? It’s perfectly clear that Zakir Hussain is in love with his drums. This is not to be confused with any ordinary human love affair…

Zakir Hussain Rakesh Chaurasia, Flynn Theatre, March 19, photo credit TheBhaktiBeat.com

At the concert’s beginning Hussain was pensive, restrained, allowing the flute strains of Chaurasia to take the lead with a serene meditative raga, the Raga Marwa, appropriate to the pre-dusk hour of the show’s start. Tabla is typically an accompaniment, Hussain explained, a rhythmic partner who follows the lead melody. And so he offered the lead with praise to his musical compatriot Chaurasia, a nephew and protege of the great bansuri maestro Pandit Hariprasad Chaurasia. As the evening progressed, the tikka-takka of the tabla entered like a wave, starting as a mellow swell barely noticeable beneath the undulating sea of bansuri, then gradually rising to mingle with the melodies of the woodwind, and inevitably building to a crashing, whirling crescendo that leaves your head spinning as if caught in the torrent of a big breaker. Formless, fluid, ever-changing ocean of sound, sweeping you along in its waves of bhava.

The 90-minute performance included three distinct works. The somewhat “serious” (in Chaurasia’s words) Raga Marwa was followed by a light-hearted Carnatic raga known as Raga Hansadhwani, and lastly, a folk tune based on the Himalayan Raga Pahari, which evokes a melancholy mood, as of love lost. Each was punctuated by the masterful improvisation for which Hussain is famous.

The maestro’s playful side was also on display throughout the concert. He cracked subtle jokes and rocked an expressive, entertaining call-and-response riff between tabla trio and bansuri.  At one point he surreptitiously added an exaggerated scraping sound effect as he scratched the side of his face. I think most of the crowd missed the gesture altogether, but he chuckled at his own irreverence.

It is no wonder Zakir Hussein is lauded as the world’s greatest percussionist and indeed, one of the greatest musicians of our time. Widely considered to be a chief architect of the contemporary world-music movement, his contributions to the genre include a long list of historic collaborations with musicians as diverse as George Harrison, YoYo Ma, Mickey Hart, and Ravi Shankar, to name just a few. You can see his full bio on his website.

We really can’t wait till someone does a brain scan so we can get a look inside his brain…

Visit The Bhakti Beat’s facebook page to see the full album of photos from the concert.

Zakir Hussain Rakesh Chaurasia by TheBhaktiBeat.com

The concert was presented in association with the University of Vermont’s President’s Initiative for Diversity.

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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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TheBhaktiBeat.com logo for BFBREAKING NEWS — A consortium of record companies, event producers, harmonium makers, and chai brewers today announced the establishment of a nonprofit organization that will be responsible for accrediting and regulating kirtan artists from this point forward.

The announcement comes amid growing concern that the practice of call-and-response chanting can induce a rare but rapidly increasing brain disorder called kirtananandanitis, named after the wallah-scientist who discovered it three years ago. (Read our story on the discovery.) The condition, commonly known as “bhav brain,” was the subject of an alert by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control last April after cases were discovered in every town and village. Previously, kirtananandanitis was rarely seen outside of chant festivals, Krishna temples, and kirtan retreats, though there have been clusters of cases in Southern California, Burlington, Vt., and parts of Brooklyn.  Officials were alarmed by what they saw as a rapid increase in random cases of bhav brain as the practice of kirtan has spread to living rooms across the country, where people gather in community to chant for free.

A key condition of Bhakti Alliance certification will include how to recognize and address kirtananandanitis.  Kirtan wallahs will need to show proof that they have mastered the induction of bhav brain as a condition of accreditation.

The Bhakti Alliance will collect dues and certification fees to support its administrative personnel and fund a marketing campaign to promote the importance of a kirtan wallah being “BA-certified,” but will not provide guidelines for best practices, offer instruction, or enforce its principles.

“Basically, we just want your money,” said Bhakti Alliance CEO Ima Poser.

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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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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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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.”
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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.

 

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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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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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Connect with The Bhakti Beat!
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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?

 

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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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