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How does one describe the sound of a soul’s yearnings?

That’s how it feels to try to describe “Radio Nada,” the latest album from the Maine-reared, Brooklyn-ripened singer/songwriter who is known simply as Devadas. The name, given to then Andrew Labrecque by his guru, Mata Amritanandamayi Devi (aka Amma, the “Hugging Saint”), means Servant of God.

Somehow “Servant of God” seems far more fitting here than singer/songwriter, as “Radio Nada” seems to scrape a little dust off your soul with every track.

Released February 23 and now available in all the usual places (see links below), “Radio Nada” is a study in contrasts, standing out both for its striking simplicity and its unobtrusive intricacy.  It is  simultaneously stripped-down and complex. Dark yet hopeful. Its shadowy nuances reveal an understated, almost inexplicable radiance. Like light emanating from a dusty bulb.

With an even split of ancient mantras juxtaposed with inspired modern lyricism, Devadas guides us along an undulating river of slow, steady traditional chants interspersed with a Ferris wheel of English songs spun from swallowed moons and wretched roses.  If you really listen, “Radio Nada” will bend your mind, then crack open your heart. Then it will do it all over again.

“I don’t want to live forever, I’m just waiting for the sun. I have seen a million moons and I’ve swallowed every one…”

 

One of the things we love about this album is how Devadas has intermingled traditional call-and-response kirtan with original songs culled from the depths of his own seeking soul. He has resisted the overplayed urge to shoehorn English lyrics into the middle of sacred mantras and has instead effectively integrated the two forms while keeping them separate.  This lets these powerful mantras speak for themselves without being muddied up with someone’s English interpretation of them.  And it lets his fantastical dream-like poeticism shine, in all its shadowy spin-your-headiness.  This is a good thing.

We asked Devadas what compelled him to make a hybrid CD like this, which is not nearly as common as the mantra-fusion trend where English and Sanskrit try to coexist within a song.

“The songs seemed to fit together well with the traditional kirtan and I thought they might give a clearer picture of who I am and where I’m coming from, and maybe make the whole story deeper,” he said. “Not that my story’s so important; it just happens to be what I’m burning through and what I figure I ought to be showing.”

“Sleep sleep wounded child. Sun in your mouth, stars in your eyes. The world awaits like a lioness pacing, so dream dream dream.”

 

It could easily fall apart into a disjointed mumbo-jumbo of maniacal musings mingled with mantras, but somehow it all works.  Maybe it’s the steady underlying rhythm and bass that reappears track in and track out like an old friend greeting you, whether the subject is Radharani, Queen of the Gopis, or a wounded child with the sun in her mouth and stars in her eyes.  Maybe it’s the recurring soundscape of hypnotic electronica and understated guitar.  Or maybe it’s the constancy of Devadas’ haunting vocals, rife with the earnestness of a young Bob Dylan or a less raspy Tom Waits.  Something, somehow, keeps the brilliance of these disparate tracks from dissipating into the brooding dreamscape on which they appear to be built.

It’s one of those things that’s hard to put your finger on, but in the end it really doesn’t matter because you know it’s in the right spot by the way you feel afterward…

“Through darkest shadow I disappear, through smoke and dream I ride. Where all angels fear to move in the wastelands I do hide. Built up a fire and I burned it all down. Slept in a bed built under the ground. Waiting still, this weary heart…the wretched for the Rose.”

 

There’s an unmistakable darkness to this album, a ruminative mood that bleeds through on every track. Even the chants to Radharani, Narayana, and Amma, with so much potential for ecstatic abandonment and joy, are grounded in a heart-felt melancholy, a yearning that seems never quite fulfilled, a seeking not quite satisfied.  One cannot help but be affected by it.

Does “Radio Nada” represent the dark side of this urban Jedi hipster-wallah? Here’s how Devadas responded to that query: “To me, they’re songs about searching, about questioning, about falling down, trying to get back up, trying to figure things out. It’s hard to say if that’s a ‘shadow-side’… Maybe it is? To me I’m just trying to show my ‘human side’ in a truthful way.”

Ah, authenticity.  How very refreshing…

All we can say is Bravo, Devadas.  You’ve done it again.

 

We say this because his last album, “Brooklyn Mellows,” is one of our all-time favorite kirtan CDs.  So much so that it literally got stuck in our car CD player from playing it so much.  “Brooklyn Mellows” is pure bhakti brilliance — a thoroughly delicious double-disc set that devotes an entire CD to iterations of the Hare Krishna Maha Mantra in the style of the late great vaishnava Aindra Das, who famously started the 24-hour kirtans in Vrindavan, India and published an epic series of live CDs called “Vrindavan Mellows.”

“Radio Nada” picks up where “Brooklyn Mellows” ended and dives deeper, revealing more of the humanness of the God-Servant than even he may realize.  We even detected a subtle sonic nod to the carnivalesque theme of “Brooklyn Mellows,” which featured soundbites recorded at New York’s legendary amusement park, Coney Island.  Listen carefully and you’ll hear the tinkle of the carnies’ bells embedded in “Radio Nada’s” tracks …

“Rain …it keeps falling it’s filled the canal where we used to play, tossing coins in a well. All of that’s gone now, it’s a different world changing. It’s midnight and soaking, the streets are all empty.”

 

Devadas has just launched a rare little tour in Northern California before he heads back home to the East Coast for gigs in his home ‘hood of Scarborough, Maine and other New England hot spots.  If you get a chance to sing with him live, don’t miss it: it will be some of the most moving kirtan you will experience.

But don’t take our word for it, take this for as example, recorded a few years ago at Vermantra:

See also: www.devadasmusic.com
Buy “Radio Nada” at CDBaby, Amazon, or iTunes (way better for the artist than streaming!)

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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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Photo from www.shebrings.com

The Project: Debut CD
The Goal: $17,500
The Deadline: November 16, Midnight Pacific Time
Raised as of 11/16: $12,401
The Campaign Continues Until Fully Funded — Donate Here Now!

The Artist

Sheela Bringi has all the makings of a mantra-music star being born. She grew up in a musical household rooted in the West but steeped in the sounds and traditions of the East.  Her Indian-born parents, devotees of Sai Baba and Amma, hosted weekly satsangs and Sunday gatherings where she and the other girls learned bhajans from her mother while her father taught the boys mridanga drumming.  Summers were spent visiting relatives in South India, joyfully joining “singing parties that would encompass everything from Beatles singalongs and Bollywood hits to full-fledged Carnatic ragas.” 

A star being born? (Photo by Masood Ali Khan)

As she grew up, Bringi’s informal lessons turned to formal training  with luminaries of Indian Classical music, including her bansuri teacher, the renowned Pandit G.S. Sachdev, and her mentors and teachers during her master’s degree in world music at the California Institute of the Arts, Ustaad Aashish Khan and Swapan Chaudhuri.  In the years since graduating she has made a name for herself performing and recording in the West Coast world-music scene and beyond.  Solo or in collaboration, her musicianship is flawless on the bansuri flute, harp, harmonium and vocals.   She has played with legendary tablist Karsh Kale and with acclaimed sitarist and Ravi Shankar disciplePaul Livingstone.  In the mantra-music scene, she has opened for Grammy-nominated kirtan pioneer Jai Uttal and played with Wah!, Gaura Vani and Dave Stringer.  The past year saw her teaming up with hang drum sensation Masood Ali Khan for bi-coastal tours that included a coveted spot on the line-up for Omega Institute’s Spring Ecstatic Chant weekend.

The Project

With producer Clinton Patterson (Photo by Masood Ali Khan)

The seeds for Bringi’s debut album were planted in those weekly satsangs of her youth.  She told The Bhakti Beat that about a third of the CD will be based on the bhajans her mother taught her as a child, resurrected in the studio with a cast of musicians led by producer/songwriter/trumpeteer Clinton Patterson, Bringi’s long-time collaborator on PremaSoul.  The rest of the record will feature mantras “rearranged in new ways” and Bringi’s own original compositions with harp, bansuri and harmonium.  Featured musicians include Carnatic singer Aditya Prakash, Masood Ali Khan on percussion, drummer Gene Coye (Carlos & Salvador Santana, Larry Carlton), bassist Ben Shepherd (David Archuleta), and tabla player Javad Butah.  She’s particularly excited to bring in Jake Charkey, a Mumbai-based artist who plays an “unusual and rare” style of cello in the Hindustani tradition. 

This is not an album that can be easily labeled; expect a genre-bending fusion of world music with ancient Indian melodies and mantras interlaced with with harp, bansuri, voice, strings, hang drum, tabla, and more, Bringi said.  One thing is sure: it will not be your traditional call-and-response kirtan album.  “With this album,” Bringi says in her campaign video (below), “I hope to express the songs of my two traditions with one voice, to honor my heritage, break down boundaries and uplift hearts.”  Recording has already begun and the target release date for the disc is February 1.

Bringi On Crowd-Funding

Saying Thank You

The process of reaching out to friends and fans to help fund her debut CD has itself been somewhat of a spiritual practice for Bringi, who describes herself as “socially shy” and “not the type to be putting myself out there.” 

“Asking for help is a little bit challenging for me, so this campaign for me personally has been partly about pushing past fears,” she said in an interview.  “It’s been a way to push myself to open up, to receive support and to share more widely what I’m trying to do with my music.”

What’s Next?

With Masoon Ali Khan (Photo courtesy of Sheela Bringi)

As soon as the new CD hits the digital airwaves, Bringi will be embarking on a worldwide tour in concert with Masood Ali Khan, which will take the pair to India, Japan and Europe before heading back to New York in June for a repeat of their successful East Coast tour last fall.

Shorter term, Bringi and Ali Khan are performing at a charity gala in Beverly Hills, Calif., Nov. 14 that is raising money to benefit orphans and “vulnerable children” around the world (details here).  On November 15, Bringi plays for superstar yogi Shiva Rea in Rea’s popular Prana Flow Chakra Vinyasa class at Exhale Venice.

Video Message from Sheela Bringi

Sheela Bringi’s Debut Album from Sheela Bringi on Vimeo.

Links & Deets

Sheela Bringi’s Website
Sheela Bringi’s Indigogo Campaign  (CLOSED; Contribute Here Now)
Sheela Bringi on Fanbridge
Sheela Bringi’s Band Page on Facebook
PremaSoul on Facebook
 
Also see previous articles in this series:
Sean Johnson & The Wild Lotus Band
David Newman aka Durga Das
 
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The Bhakti Beat on facebook
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There’s a lot of talk these days about a “mantra revolution,” and enough action in the chant world to back up the premise.

Witness: chant festivals that attract thousands, “rock-star” wallahs, new music expanding in every direction, community kirtan rising…even mainstream media coverage of mantra music (gasp!).  Yet it’s an undeniable truth that the bulk of the action is coastal: California and the northeastern seaboard are leading the charge, with some kirtan hotspots scattered in the midwest and mountain states. 

When mantra mania hits Vermont, a state known more for maple trees and mountains than mantra music, you’ve got to believe there’s something to this movement.

Boundaries dissolving

Enter VerMantra, which for the second year now — thanks to the nonprofit Call and Response Foundation — has brought 12 hours of nonstop multi-flavored kirtan to a state that is just barely on the kirtan map.  No, there were not thousands of people in attendance, and no rock stars or divas on the bill.   Instead, there was a solid line-up of 10  great bhakti bands, each one having signed on for peanuts, driven the extra mile to be there, and bringing with them an attitude of genuine service and devotion to the spirit of the gathering. 

The ingredients for Mulligan Stew, VerMantra style

You had luminaries like Gaura Vani and SRI Kirtan. You had up-and-comers like Devadas and Kirtan Soul Revival.  You had mantra warriors Keli Lalita and Adam Bauer and regional favorites Dave Russell and Tom Lena.  And you had a taste of the local talent in Yogi Patrick & the Funky Shanti, and the incomparable kirtan jam collective, the Kailash Jungle Band

‘Where this Movement is Going’

The “stage” was the center of the room, and everyone circled ’round the musicians like bees to nectar.  Collaboration and community were key:  everyone — musicians and ticket-holders alike — was in everyone’s band.  It was, by design, the kind of environment where the boundaries between performer and audience evaporate.  Where callers and responders meld together in a circular flow of rhythm and song, united as one voice calling out in joyful abandon.   The kind of environment where magic happens.

Gaura Vani: Delivering Nectar

“This is grassroots community kirtan at its best,” Gaura Vani said during his set at VerMantra, adding,  “and that is really where this movement is going.”

Brooklyn-based wallah Devadas used the analogy of a “Mulligan stew” to describe the gathering — the idea that each band, each musician, brings something unique to add to the bhakti soup.  “We come from all these places — different paths, different teachers — and we each bring our own ingredients, our own styles and perspectives.  In the end we have something like Mulligan stew that feeds us,” he said.  

For a full review of the VerMantra line-up, read:
“Making Bhakti Soup: VerMantra Serves Up ‘Mulligan Stew’ of Mantra Music” (coming soon!)
 

Devadas, a devotee of Mata Amritanandamayi (Amma) who has sung at her darshans in the Northeast U.S., warmed up the stew-pot early in the day with the recitation of the 1,000 Names of the Divine Mother.   He stuck around to stir the pot throughout the day, playing mridanga or hand cymbals or just singing.  Twelve hours later, he was back at stage center to serve up the feast and close out the fest.  “To play clean-up,” the other musicians teased him.

Clean up he did.

Time to savor the stew...Devadas

With an unassuming grace, Devadas effortlessly elevated the delicious mood of devotion that had been simmering for nine sets to a whole new level.  Backed by a core band of Gaura Vani (mridanga & vocals), SRI Kirtan’s Ishwari and Sruti Ram (vocals), KC Solaris (tabla), Adam Bauer (bass), Richard Davis (guitar), Rasamrta Devi Dasi (cymbals) and Louise Ross (flute), he steered us right into a slow-building bhajan learned from his guru Amma that gradually but inevitably peaked in a tidal wave of ecstatic crescendo. 

The room was an ocean of motion.

People were dancing, clapping, spinning, singing out the Names like “souls crying out for our divine home,” in Gaura Vani’s words.  The mantra seemed to take on a life of its own, letting us surf the crest of the wave just…long…enough before settling us down ever so gently on the shores of our souls, as Kahlil Gibran might say. 

And then we did it all over again.  And we soared even higher…

Soaring...

Radhe Govinda Bhajo, the first chant Devadas led, is a traditional melody that Amma “has been singing for a very long time,” he said.  She taught it to him and he spoon- fed it to us.  It was delicious. 

You can taste it here:


 

The second chant Devadas led was a complex MahaMantra melody straight from the temples of Kainchi, India, the sacred land where Neem Karoli Baba often hung out and where his ashram stands today.  But that’s another story — and video — coming soon…

Toe-curling

At the risk of sounding hyperbolic, this was for me one of those peak experiences in kirtan that just doesn’t happen every day.  Maybe it was the fact that we’d been there for nearly 12 hours, simmering in the stew, steeping in all the flavors of bhav.  Maybe the group was really “on” after singing together all day, as the boundaries dissolved and egos melted away and the energy rose.   I don’t pretend to understand the magic that happens in kirtan.  I’d reallllly like to, but I think it’s beyond intellectual comprehension.  It defies logical explanation.

The power of mantra, as Dave Stringer has said, is not something you have to “believe in” or even understand; it is something that must be experienced.   

Simple as that.  All you have to do is sing the Names.

All that bhav and free chai too

Special thanks to director Jennifer Canfield and co-founders Susan Murphy and Ed Ritz of the Call and Response Foundation, whose programs support community kirtan events and bring mantra music to populations in need.  Please visit their website, www.callandresponsefoundation.org, and consider donating to support their efforts.  

Also see:
www.devadasmusic.com
www.callandresponsefoundation.org
www.gauravani.com
www.srikirtan.com
www.tomlenamusic.com
www.facebook.com/KirtanSoulRevival
www.daverussellkirtan.com
www.dharmaboutique.com (Adam Bauer)
www.mantralogy.com (Keli Lalita)
Yogi Patrick & the Funky Shanti
Prem Prakash
 
 

 

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Ed. Note: This is the fourth in a series of blogs about our visit to Amma’s Public Program in Marlborough, Mass. on July 14, 2012.  Please also see:
Pt. 1 – The Arrival (Photos/Video Link)
Pt. 2 – Spellbound by Satsang with Amma (Quotes/Photos/Video Link)
Pt. 3 –  Devi Bhajans, Sung by the Devi (Photos/Video)

Prelude to Darshan: Fire & Flowers

After her radiant arrival and stirring satsang, Amma sang bhajans with us for over an hour, lifting her arms to the heavens, gathering energy and sending it out, laughing heartily, and crying out “Jai Ma!” throughout it all.

The final rite before darshan with Amma began was the “waving of the light” (Aarthi), a traditional ritual in which camphor is ceremoniously burned on a platter before the guru.  Pairs of devotees waved a silver platter with little brass-colored pots of smoking camphor back and forth in front of Amma as she tossed handful after handful of flower petals onto them.

By the third round, Amma’s lap was strewn with petals, and the devotees in the front had petals in their hair and all about.  Each aspect of this sacred ritual has deep symbolism; camphor leaves no trace as it burns and is symbolic of the dissipation of the devotee’s ego in order that they may become one with the Divine.

About that Hug…

When it was time for darshan to begin, Amma moved to the floor in front of the stage, where she was situated at the end of a two-lane darshan line consisting of rows of chairs.  If you’ve ever been to see Amma, you know the drill. You get a token at the beginning of the evening with an assigned letter/number combo, then you wait for it to be your turn.

I had number U-1,  which meant I was in for a long wait as they made their way, slowly, through the alphabet.  Nothing to do but sit and soak up the bhajans, which continued throughout the night by a changing cast of musicians.

Finally, around 3:30 a.m., my number came up. The hall was still quite crowded, and Amma showed no signs of slowing down or taking a break, even though she had been hugging people for over five hours nonstop. The “chair line” was moving quite fast when I entered it: no sooner did I sit down when I had to stand and move to the next chair. It was somewhat comical, like a game of musical chairs on the way to receive the Guru’s graces.

As I got closer to Amma, I could feel the frenetic energy rising, as volunteers, aides and devotees crowded around her. Others were waiting for a turn to ask her a question, or were just lingering in her energy as long as possible. At the front of the chair line, volunteers gently push you to your knees, and you inch forward the last few feet, sandwiched tightly between the person ahead of you and the one behind you. It’s what I imagine it must be like on a crowded train in India.

Then, suddenly, you are there. Kneeling before Sri Mata Devi. The frenzy of the scene around me dissipated, the noisy hall quieted to a dull hum. There was only me and Ma.  I was enveloped in her sheer white veils, smothered by her embrace, lulled by her deep whisper: “My daughter, my daughter.”

A Hug and A Kiss

And then it was over. A Hershey’s kiss was pressed into my palm as volunteers implored me to stand up quickly and make room for the next. A bit dazed, I was ushered to an area to the left of Amma, where it was possible to bask in the bhav of the Guru for a few moments longer. People were rotated through the dozen or so coveted spots rather quickly, depending on how quickly the hugs were happening. Each move of the line got you closer to Amma.

When I reached the front of this “post-hug” line, about three feet from where Amma sat, the line stopped moving. I was graced with a close-up view of her as she continued her embraces, even while a devotee stood next to her feeding her prasad (cut fruit, in this case) and imploring her to eat. I was mesmerized to witness this extraordinary woman up close, in all her Divine Humanness, eating fruit, chatting animatedly, and hugging her beloved “children” all at once.  It was as if she had developed six arms, just like the legendary Hindu goddesses she evoked.

At that moment, she glanced in my direction. Our eyes met. Hers sparkled; mine teared up. She smiled. Then she went back to her hugging, and a gentle tap on my shoulder told me my time near Amma was up.  That glance will stay with me.

Post-Script: Venus, Jupiter & the Moon

The program ended soon afterward.  I left the cavernous, echoing hall at around 4:30 a.m., just as the night sky was giving way to the deep indigo tinge of pre-dawn. There was a crowd outside staring at the sky and chattering excitedly. I looked up to find a perfect planetary conjunction: Venus below, Jupiter above, with a sliver of the moon smack dab in the middle of them.

Wow, I thought. The planets really did line up.

 
Please also see the other articles in the series:
Pt. 1 – The Arrival (Photos/Video Link)
Pt. 2 – Spellbound at Satsang with Amma (Quotes/Photos/Video Link)
Pt. 3 – Devi Bhajans, Sung by the Devi (Video/Photos)
 
Follow us on facebook to see all the pictures from Amma’s Public Program.
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Ed. Note: This is the third in a series of blogs about our visit to Amma’s Public Program on July 14, 2012.  Please also see:

Pt. 1 – The Arrival (Photos/Video Link)
Pt. 2 – Spellbound by Satsang with Amma (Quotes/Photos/Video Link)
Pt. 4 –  A Hug, A Kiss and A Glance (Photos/Video Link)
 

After Amma’s teaching during Satsang, it was time to sing.  Amma settled in, her swamis took their positions, and more musicians appeared from the wings.  Suddenly the monstrosity of a convention hall was echoing in every corner with the joyful nectar of traditional bhajans, or devotional songs.

Amma began singing quietly, prayerfully.  Her eyes were closed and hands in her lap, or clenched in prayer at her chin.

Then suddenty, she would cry out exuberantly, lifting her arms to the sky. She had a way of bringing her hands to the crown of her head, then sweeping them up to the heavens and out to the people before her. She repeated this over and over, as if gathering up her own divine energy and sending it out to “all beings in all worlds.”

 

 

 

 

She drummed on her platform with a stick…

 

 

clanged on hand cymbals…

 

and clapped her hands in time with the musicians.

Periodically she would throw her head back and laugh heartily, or cry out “Jai Ma.”  The crowd sang and clapped and “Jai Ma-ed” right along with her.

But let’s face it, words and still images only go so far when it comes to bhajans.  Experience a little taste of Amma’s bhajan bhav live in this video by James Luce for The Bhakti Beat.


To continue reading “Blessings, Bhajans & Bear Hugs,” please see:

The fourth article in the series: Pt. 4 – A Hug, A Kiss and A Glance (Photos/Video Link)
 
Also see:
The first article in the series: Pt. 1 – The Arrival (Photos/Video Link)
The second article in the series: Pt. 2 – Spellbound at Satsang with Amma (Quotes/Photos/Video)
 
Follow us on facebook to see all the pictures from Amma’s Public Program.
Share
{ 2 comments }
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Ed. Note: This is the second in a series of blogs about our visit to Amma’s Public Program on July 14, 2012.  Please also see:
Pt. 1 – The Arrival (Photos/Video Link)
Pt. 3 – Devi Bhajans, Sung by the Devi (Photos/Video)
Pt. 4 –  A Hug, A Kiss and A Glance (Photos/Video Link)
 

 

Thankful for Amma’s grace and the planetary alignment that enabled me to capture the Devi’s arrival to “AMMA Central” in Marlborough, Mass., I rushed back into the stark trade center for the start of the program.  Inside, the padapuja was underway, a traditional Hindu ceremony worshiping the feet of a guru. Amma’s senior disciple, Swami Amritaswarupananda, bathed her feet with blessed water, anointed her arches with oil, placed blossoms between her toes, then piled loose flower petals high on her feet.  Devotees adorned her with long garlands of brilliant blooms, one after another, until she seemed to be covered in flowers, then waved burning incense and oils before her.  All the while, chanters recited the 108 names of Mother.

(We weren’t allowed to take pictures of the padapuja, but check out this video of the ritual from Amritapuri TV, the Amma organization’s broadcasting network.)

‘Compassion Is Becoming Extinct’

When it was time for satsang, Amma delivered her teaching in her native language of Malayalam, and Swami Amritaswarupananda, one of her earliest followers, translated it.  A Spanish translation was shown on monitors mounted throughout the massive hall.  Amma would speak passionately and animatedly for 10 minutes or so, then Swami would interpret, and so on for about an hour. A combination of poor sound, an echoey hall, and Swami ‘s slight accent made it difficult to discern all the words, but the overall message was a familiar one.  Amma spoke of a society reeling in chaos and heartache because of a creeping lack of compassion, kindness and respect for one another.

“Compassion is becoming extinct,” she said. “Society without compassion is like a spacecraft without a booster rocket.  We need a booster rocket of compassion.”

She implored us to turn away from negative habits and cultivate an attitude of gratitude and understanding for all beings. She urged us to not “become our emotions,” and to practice meditation to control our reactions to life’s challenges.

“Emotions are like clouds in the sky,” she said. “They are always changing from moment to moment. We are not those fluffy clouds. We are the sky they pass through.” Meditation, she said, helps us be the sky.

Amma’s message is encapsulated in the oft-repeated Hindu prayer chant that has become the motto for her humanitarian organization (Embracing the World):  “Om Lokah Samastah Sukhino Bhavantu,” which translates roughly to “May all beings everywhere be happy and free.”  Yeah, that pretty much sums it up.

7 Amma-isms to Live By

Speaking gently but firmly, with liberal sprinklings of parables, metaphors, and personal stories from her life, Amma spoke of love, intellect, ego, karma, and grace. Here are seven of our favorite quotes from the program:

“We are not individual islands, but links in a common chain.”

“Ego brings us bad karma. All of our actions should bring joy and happiness to others.”

“The intellect is like a sharp pair of scizzors cutting through the heart. Humility is more important than intellect.”

“Love gives meaning and sweetness to life.”

“We must all become lights in the lamp of the world.”

“Just like food and water, spiritual understanding is necessary for life.”

“Without grace, nothing is possible.”

When the satsang was over, Amma settled into her seat and her swamis took their places on stage around her.  Musicians appeared from the wings and joined the “band” on stage.  It was time to sing…

To continue reading “Blessings, Bhajans & Bear Hugs,” please see:
The third article in the series: Pt. 3 – Devi Bhajans, Sung by the Devi (Photos/Video)
 
Also see:
The first article in the series: Pt. 1 – The Arrival (Photos/Video Link)
The fourth article in the series: Pt. 4 –  A Hug, A Kiss and A Glance (Photos/Video Link)
View a short video of Amma singing Shyam Devi.
 
Follow us on facebook to see all the pictures from Amma’s Public Program.

 

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Amma in North America 2012 by TheBhaktiBeat.com
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Ed. Note: This is the first in a series of blogs from our evening with Amma on July 14, 2012.  Please see the links at the end for the rest of the series. 

There is something surreal about driving into “AMMA Central” at the Best Western Royal Plaza and Trade Center in Marlborough, Massachusetts.  I was there to see Mata Amritanandamayi Devi, the spiritual leader and global humanitarian known simply as Amma (aka the “Hugging Saint”).  It was the first Public Program in the last stop of her annual US tour.

The first thing you see upon arrival is a huge flashing marquee declaring “NEW ENGLAND WELCOMES AMMA.”  This somehow reminded me of the signs you see in convention towns, like “San Diego Welcomes CPAs.”

The trade center itself  is a cavernous industrial space with concrete floors, bright flourescent lighting and stark white-tile walls reminiscent of a train-station bathroom.  It felt a bit incongruous with the spirit of satsang (spiritual discourse) and darshan (blessing) from a woman revered as an avatar of the Divine Mother herself.

The Amma Phenomenon

Whether or not you buy into that belief, to sit with Amma in satsang, to sing age-old bhajans (devotional songs) along with her and to witness her darshan — hugging 1,000+ people of all ages, colors, and religious backgrounds for hours on end and straight through the night — is to witness a contemporary Spiritual Phenomenon, unfolding before your eyes.  It’s hard not to be spellbound by it all.

This was only my second time being hugged by Amma, a plump brown-skinned South Indian woman with smiling eyes and the compassionate, nurturing nature of everyone’s favorite aunt.  I have to admit, the first time I went to see her — last year in Marlborough, for Devi Bhava, the extravagant ritual that caps off each of her multi-day tour stops — I went mostly out of an innate fascination with this kind of “spiritual spectacle” (no disrespect meant).  It’s the same curiosity that has drawn me to events like John of God at Omega or even Deepak Chopra conferences; the sense that something’s happening here — the seeds of societal transformation perhaps? — that seems really important yet is unknown to the vast majority of society.  I had gone to Devi Bhava with my reporter’s cap on, determined to objectively review this “Amma Phenomenon” and see for myself what all the fuss was about.  (That story is coming soon…)

That was last year, almost to the day.  This time around, I went with a lens cap as well as my reporter’s cap, packing a press pass from the Amma organization and my new Nikon D3100 SLR with a 300 mm zoom (almost a real camera!).  My goal:  immerse in the bhav of Amma’s blessings, and come out with a few good photos, maybe even a little video.  I was particularly excited to experience Amma singing bhajans, something she didn’t do at the Devi Bhava I attended.

Graced by the Goddess

Clear on what I could and could not shoot (press operate under specific restrictions), I headed outside to try to catch Amma’s arrival to the center.  With no time to spare, I situated myself at the far end of the red carpet that had been stretched between the parking lot and the side door to the hall, and proceeded to set up my shot through the viewfinder.

Instantly, a staff person approached me.  He greeted me cordially (“Om Namah Shivaya”), inspected my (way-too-small) press-pass/nametag, and politely asked who had “authorized” me.  (Anyone holding a camera at an Amma event gets scrutinized — I was approached two dozen more times over the next couple hours). The staffer scurried back to the orange-robed swamis — Amma’s senior disciples — and a discreet conversation ensued as I watched, somewhat trepidatiously, from the other end of the carpet.  After some consultation among the group, I was given a decidedly unenthusiastic thumbs-up, but with a smile that assured me all was okay.  Whew.

A moment later, Amma pulled up in a white sedan.

The planets aligned and the crowd parted just long enough for me to snap a few clear shots of her coming down the red carpet, radiant in a gown of pure white, arms outstretched to touch the hands of the devotees who reached for her from both sides.  She looked straight at me and smiled, gracing me with The Perfect Shot — and taking my objective reporter’s breath away.

 

I put my camera down as she neared and reached my hand out to meet hers.  An indefinable warmth settled over me, a feeling that all really was okay…

Amma in North America 2012 by TheBhaktiBeat.comBut I didn’t have time to bask in it for long.  Inside, the padapuja was underway…

Read Pt. 2 of the series:  Spellbound by Satsang With Amma
Read Pt. 3 of the series:  Devi Bhajans, Sung by the Devi (Video)
Read Pt. 4 of the series:  A Hug, A Kiss & A Glance
View a short video of Amma singing Shyam Devi.
 
Follow us on facebook to see all the pictures from Amma’s Public Program.
 
Also see:
www.amma.org
www.amritapuri.org
www.embracingtheworld.org

 

 

 

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