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Monday Night Kirtan by TheBhaktiBeat.com
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Mondays have always been a little gentler for me because of Monday Night Kirtan.  The little weekly community kirtan* in my home ‘hood of Burlington, Vt., has been a welcome ritual for several years.  But this past Monday night it was the last place I, Vrinda, wanted to be.

(Wondering who the hell Vrinda is? Read to the end.)

A series of incidents — small and large, local and global, personal and collective — had left me in a funk: discouraged, disillusioned, disgruntled…generally feeling “dis”ed on many levels and definitely not feeling social. The introvert in me wanted to hole up in my woman-cave and try drowning out the dis-es with a very dry vodka martini.

Plus, it was snowing.

Winter had descended on Northern Vermont in the 48 hours since I had been kayaking on the lake in 60 degrees at sunset.  One more reason to sulk inside.

Alas, I had an obligation to be there.  So I forced myself off the laptop and away from the sickening newsfeeds of Standing Rock protestors being blasted with tear gas and water cannons in subfreezing temperatures, of a new tsunami warning at Fukushima, of the latest xenophobic cabinet pick by Trump, and 10,000 other bits and fragments that suck your energy straight through your eyeballs and into the World Wide Web of Propaganda, Manipulation and Fear.  I dragged a comb through my hair (not really), dabbed on some Javadhu powder in a lame attempt to mask the fact that I hadn’t showered all day (okay two days), packed my to-go altar with extra sage, and raced out the door, last-minute as usual.

But, it was snowing.

I spent the next 10 minutes scraping snow-covered ice off my car. Now I was late AND agitated. I got to Sacred Mountain Studio barely in time to throw some blankets and cushions in a semi-circle before the room filled in for the kirtan. I was all business, head down, task-focused, fairly daring anyone to engage me in conversation.  Nonetheless, this being kirtan, I was hugged. More than once.

As the room settled down and the night’s guest wallahs started to Om in, I assumed the cross-legged position on my purple cushion, scarf over splayed knees, spine straight, eyes closed, ready for lift-off from this hate-filled mundane material world. Take me away Calgon…I mean, kirtan.

Ha!

My mind refused to catch up to the present. It was still racing back and forth from one situation to the next, replaying each interaction like a stuck tape,  re-creating each perceived slight or awkward confrontation, playing its slide show loop of Images One Can’t Forget.  The group was on the third Om by the time I dropped the mental mind-f*ck long enough to tone in to the sound frequency.

The chanting started with praise to Ganesha, remover of obstacles. Immediately, up welled another round of bogus inner chit/chat about this/that followed predictably by self-flagellating loathsomeness for not dropping my over-analzying, self-conscious judgmentalist ego at the door and just sinking into the mantra. And on we went…me and my monkey mind, while the mantras played on.

Then I noticed something.  I noticed myself noticing the mantra.

Hari Ommmmm… Hari Om.

You know how a radio station fades in and out if you’re not quite in full range of the signal? The mantra was coming through in fits and starts amidst the background static in my brain of everything that was not mantra.  It was breaking through the mental orgy. I wasn’t even singing it — that’s how distracted I was — but it was breaking through. This is the power of mantra.

I felt a little inner smile for the observation, for the noticing. Then quickly as it came, I lost myself back into the static.  And I noticed that….with an inner roll of the eyes.

Then came Kali.

Oh boy, I thought with a bit of trepidation, here we go. Kali, with her bloody sword drawn and severed head in hand, poised to cut through the ego’s bottomless pit of judgment and self-conscious blather.  The head-talk flooded in:  Do people even know how powerful Kali is? Do they have any clue what they are invoking when they start calling out to Kali? Are they even remotely prepared for the kind of energy this formidable warrior goddess can whip up?  And then I was chanting it.

Kali Ma, Kali Ma, Kali Maaaaa.

Chant by chant, the layers fell away. I noticed the mind chatter subsiding as my chanting became steadier, less intermittent. The monkey mind was gradually but inevitably losing ground to the mantra. The chanting was misplacing the chatter.

By the time we got to Radhe, I was all in.

It was the trio of Krishna-Radha chants that got me up on my feet and spinning in the corner of the room, inhibitions shed. Not caring about anything or what anyone thinks for at least one blessed moment in time. Letting my freak flag fly. Feeling the world fall away with each repetition of the Name, each spin of the feet…

Tara, the Bodhisattva of compassion, brought me back to Earth, her mantra like warm milk taken before bed. Cradled in the current of Om Tare Tuttare Ture Soha, I felt at home, at peace, aware, present, content, unafraid. The monkey mind quiet at last.

This is the power of mantra.

After the kirtan ended, after the goodbye hugs, after re-folding the blankets and repacking the altar and taking out the garbage, I was dropping off a young man who lived near me, Kyle, who was fairly new to the Monday Night crew. Unprompted, he confides to me that when he had arrived at kirtan this evening he was not in a good headspace, that he wasn’t sure he even should have come.  Over the course of the night, he said, he felt his emotional state shift, leading to what he called a “huge release” toward the end.  He said he felt sure that “spirit” was in the room healing people.

I just stared at him. I felt like I was looking in the mirror…except the face looking back was that of a 20-something hipster dude with old-soul sapphire eyes and an unruly beard twisted into dreadlocks that stuck out of his chin like little goat horns.

That is the power of mantra.

 

Here’s a peek at the last chant of the night, a mashup of the Maha-Mantra and an old Gospel hymn called “Sanctuary.” The perfect cap to Thanksgiving week kirtan.

*Monday Night Kirtan in Burlington, Vt., is currently funded by the Call and Response Foundation as part of their initiative to kickstart recurring community-based gatherings that make the practice of kirtan accessible to all.  Contact them if you’d like to start your own community kirtan.

___________________

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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Editor’s Note: “I, Vrinda” is an 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, satire — 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’s pure Gemini, part wise, part wise-ass; the good the bad and the naughty all rolled up into one messy, messed-up, hopelessly imperfect, doing-the-best-she-can kinda’ gal, er, woman. 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. She/I may even occasionally try to be funny, undoubtedly with mixed results. Vrinda really just wants everyone to wake the f**k up (I warned you).   For more on Vrinda, including why she uses that name, click here on this link…oops, you’ll have to wait until I get that piece written. *sigh*

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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.

_____________________

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

Hare Krishna Hare Krishna Krishna Krishna Hare Hare
Hare Rama Hare Rama Rama Rama Hare Hare
Dear Lord, kindly engage me in your service.
 
Follow The Bhakti Beat on facebook
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Subscribe to our YouTube channel
Follow Bhakti_Beat_Brenda on Instagram
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Krishna Das by TheBhaktiBeat.comVideo interview at the bottom.

Yes, it’s true.  Krishna Das went to prison for Call and Response. The Call and Response Foundation, that is.

For the least few years, the nonprofit foundation has been arranging for kirtan wallahs to chant in prisons, psychiatric facilities, children’s hospitals, and other places where people might benefit from the healing power of mantra music.  This time, it was the Chant Master himself serving a little time in prison.

(You can support this important seva by contributing now to the Call and Response Foundation’s Prison Outreach Program.)

It was a gray, frigid Monday afternoon in northern Vermont, vexed by a drizzling rain that threatened to turn to snow. Krishna Das and his drummer, Arjun Bruggeman, arrived at the Chittenden County Regional Correctional Facility for Women early, after a double-header weekend of kirtan+ workshop that were partial benefits for Call and Response.

They were at the medium-security prison in South Burlington to fulfill the pie-in-the-sky request of an inmate named Lucinda.  Six months earlier, Lucinda had picked up a Krishna Das CD in the prison library.  Apparently, she couldn’t get enough of it, and she wondered aloud to her counselor, Philip Pezeshki, if Krishna Das would come chant with them.  Long story short, here he was.

Krishna Das Arjun Bruggeman prison VT Call and Response Foundation by TheBhaktiBeat.comThey brought nothing but a harmonium and a Naal drum.

Bruggeman’s usual tablas were left behind because  the little metal hammer that he uses to tune them was a security risk. The six of us — including C&RF director Jen Canfield and local wallahs Patrick (Yogi P) McAndrew and Jeanette Bacevius — dutifully stashed wallets and cell phones and jackets and scarves that could present a choking hazard into the lockers in the waiting room, then traded our driver’s licenses for visitor’s passes.  Krishna Das and Arjun opened up their instruments for a thorough search by a serious but pleasant enough security guard. I presented my Nikon to the guard, hoping for a miracle, but it was not to be,  so I reluctantly stuffed it into the locker with everything else.  At least he let me keep my little reporter’s notebook (after leafing through it thoroughly) and a pen to take notes. Then we all took off our shoes and filed through a metal detector, their instruments and my notebook set to the side.

We were led through a series of security doors to a windowless, concrete-block room off a main corridor.  There was a whiteboard with a hand-written list of stress-relief strategies on one wall, and on another wall, a single poster exhorting viewers to “end the silence” about sexual abuse.  A few rows of yoga mats, folded in thirds, were set up in a semi-circle, with a row of mismatched chairs at the back.

KD and Arjun set up their instruments underneath the “End the Silence” poster.  Then KD wrote out the words to five chants on an easel.  Shree Ram Jay Ram Jay Jay Ram.  Om Na-moh Bhag a vah tay Na ma ha. Om Na-mah Shee vy ah. Jay a Jagat Ambay. Om Ay-eem Shreem Sara swa ty yay Na ma ha. 

Krishna Das prison VT by TheBhaktiBeat.comLucinda, the inmate responsible for all of us being there, came in and sat with KD for several minutes to interview him for the prison newsletter.  Soon enough, about a dozen or so inmates — most appearing to be under 30 — began filtering into the room.  They looked somewhat bewildered, even gruff, like they didn’t know what they were getting into.  Several prison staff members also came in, with serious faces.  Honestly it was hard to tell who the inmates were, until I realized they each had on a dark blue scrub shirt over their street clothes.  The chairs in the back filled up quickly, and the seats in the front, closest to where KD and Arjun were now seated cross-legged on yoga blocks, remained empty.

No, this was not going to be your average Krishna Das kirtan.

KD started by telling the group what kirtan was not.  “This is not a religious practice.  There is no blind faith required,” he said. “This is not a missionary trip.  I’m here because I was invited.”

Arjun Bruggeman at Krishna Das prison VT by TheBhaktiBeat.com(In the waiting room, KD had told me that the last time he chanted in a prison, it was with a group of 100 or so men in a maximum-security facility in the South.  “Everything was going along great,” he recalled, “until I started singing the Maha Mantra.” As soon as the prisoners heard Hare Krishna, they started scowling and fidgeting, looking at one another and shaking their heads.  Every one of them got up and walked out.  Every. Single. One. He hadn’t been back to a prison since.)

Kirtan, Krishna Das told those gathered in the cold cement room, was “a way to quiet the mind, to kind of short-circuit the stories we tell ourselves.”

“We mostly don’t get a vote about our thoughts,” he said.  “Chanting is a means of winding down the mind and training ourselves to let go of thoughts.”

He initiated the singing as he always does, with an opening prayer, which he described as “a prayer to that place within us that is looking for true love.”  After the prayer, he paused in the silence of the room, a silence that was routinely interrupted by a loud slam of the security doors in the hallway outside.  Looking out at the women prisoners in the back, he said quietly: “These mantras are sounds that have a magnetism to them.  By repeating these mantras, we bring the mind to a quiet place.  When the mind is quiet and the heart is at peace, your life can take a different course.”

Sri Ram Jai Ram Jai Jai Ram…

And so it went. Not unlike a typical Krishna Das workshop.  Talk a little. Chant a little. Talk a little more. Chant a little more.  Yet this one was verrrrry different.  We were reminded of that about halfway into the session.  KD had just finished saying something about how to “find some peace no matter what the outside world was throwing at us” when a beefy security guard pushed through the door loudly, with a list in his hand.  KD stopped talking and simply said: “Come on in.” The guard peered around the room, unsmiling, checking people off his list.  He called out a few names — not the Names that had been ringing in the room a few moments before, needless to say.  Then with a slam of the door, he was gone.

“We’re all still here,” KD joked self-consciously, with an awkward chuckle.  Then he picked up the thread, saying there were all kinds of practices — chanting among them — that one could use to “find a way to chill yourself out no matter what’s going on.”  It was an appropriate lesson for the moment, and you could feel it resonating with the folks seated in the room.

Arjun Bruggeman at Krishna Das prison VT by TheBhaktiBeat.comA couple times during the session, Krishna Das asked if anyone had questions.  It wasn’t until the end that one woman spoke up, asking him if he had always known that this is what he would do.  He told a story he has told many times — of how devastated he was when his guru Neem Karoli Baba (Maharaji) told him to go back home to America; how he had asked Maharaji: “How can I serve you in America?” and Maharaji laughed at him with a look “like he had just bitten a sour pickle;” how he, Krishna Das, was walking across the ashram’s courtyard later on and was suddenly struck by the answer: “I’ll sing for you.”  That was 1973, KD said.  It took him 21 years, until 1994, to finally start singing.

Then he told the inmates a story I had never heard.  He said he didn’t think they were even going to let him into the jail for today’s session because he was a convicted felon.  Say what?   Yep, Krishna Das told us he had been charged with money laundering after a criminal investigation involving the IRS and the FBI.  He told the group that it was an “insane story” that they would never believe.  One woman replied, “Oh yes we will,” and they all laughed.  So he related how he thought he was going to end up in prison, but instead — due to a somewhat remarkable series of graces involving the judge, prosecutor and parole officer in the case — was sentenced to six months of house arrest.  He spoke of the period as a blessing, a relief, a much-needed opportunity for rest after a grueling tour schedule.

More importantly, he said, “Being convicted freed me from the secrets of my past. Now everybody knew.  I didn’t have to hide it anymore.”

Arjun Bruggeman at Krishna Das prison VT by TheBhaktiBeat.comWhen there was only time for one more chant, Lucinda, the inmate responsible for KD being there, requested ‘Amazing Grace’ with the Maha Mantra. I held my breath, remembering KD’s story about all the men walking out when he started singing Hare Krishna.  “We cooooould,” KD replied hesitantly… “Let’s sing the third one,” he deflected, pointing to the whiteboard where the chants were written out phonetically.

Om Namah Shivayah. 

A long silence — blessedly uninterrupted by doors slamming — followed.  Then KD looked out at the women and said simply: “Take good care of yourselves, okay?”

Afterward, many of the inmates lined up to thank him, to shake his hand or receive a hug.  Most were new to chanting.  One woman, Chelsea, said she found the session to be “really inspiring and cleansing.” She told us she felt energized, and definitely wanted to chant again.  Another, Sarah, confessed that at first she thought it was “a little weird,” but by the end, felt that “it really worked. I absolutely loved it.”  Adrienne said she felt relieved:  “The stress is gone. I’m more relaxed. I hope he comes back.” A group of them milled around, smiling, chatting, not wanting to leave.  Somehow, the cold concrete room was warmer, softer…

“Come back every week!” a young blond inmate named Suzi exhorted KD.

When all the staff and inmates were gone, our little group walked back down the hallway and through the double security doors .  We gathered our belongings, traded our visitor’s passes back for licenses, and bundled up to face the frigid Vermont evening.  Outside, a cold rain was still falling, and darkness had descended.  None of us seemed to notice.

Before we disbursed, Krishna Das agreed to a short video interview outside the prison door.  I dare you to not be moved by what happens midway through it…

“Everybody’s a prisoner, sweetheart. Prisoners of our own minds.”

Support the Call and Response Foundation’s Prison Outreach Program here.

View the Photo Journals of Krishna Das’ prison visit  in Vermont 2014, and his kirtan and workshop, on The Bhakti Beat facebook page.

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Like what you see here?  Help us keep The Bhakti Beat flowing!  Consider donating today, a one-time contribution or a recurring contribution — any amount is so appreciated and will help us continue to bring you the bhav.  The Bhakti Beat is a labor of love, completely self-funded by Brenda Patoine (moi), who is a freelance neuroscience writer by day.  Every bit helps! THANK YOU! Donate Here.

 

 

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Okay, Christmas isn’t exactly a Hindu or Vaishnava holy day– we get that — but apparently it is a national holiday in Mother India, and celebrated exuberantly.  Here in the West, well, Christmas is hard to escape, no matter your religious leanings (or lack thereof).  We’re willing to bet that there are a few people out there who’ve got some kirtan junkies on their gift list, or who might (gasp!) be one themselves and need to drop some hints.  We asked around, and the Wish-List items poured in. 

So here it is, The Bhakti Beat’s Official 2012 Holiday Gift Guide for Chantheads, Kirtan Junkies & Mantra Revolutionaries. 

These are not just any gifts, mind you.  These are gifts that, in one way or another, embody the spirit of devotion and service that is bhakti, from handmade malas by an up-and-coming Midwestern wallah to the gift of sight for a blind child through an international non-profit foundation.  Conscious gifting that supports the bhakti community.  Way better than Walmart.

What would you add to the list?

1. The Best of the Fests

If you go to just one big kirtan event all year, Bhakti Fest had better be the one.  Nowhere else — outside of India of course — will you get this much mantra music from this many masterful musicians all in one sweet spot.  Choose from Shakti Fest in May, Bhakti Fest Midwest in July, or the One and Only Original four-day extravaganza in September.  Until Jan. 1, you can get the Holiday Deal:  Bhakti Fest West tickets for $200 (they will eventually go up to a full price of $400 each).  Or, buy two tickets for $350.  Similar deals are available for Shakti Fest.  As a bonus, if you buy a ticket by Dec. 17, you’ll be automatically entered to win a free ticket to Bhakti Fest and a free download of the live CD, Be in the Bhav, recorded at Bhakti Fest 2011.  What could be more bhavalicious than that?

Special Holiday Deal for Shakti Fest/Bhakti Fest: $50 off 2 tickets.
Buy Bhakti Fest tickets
Bhakti Fest website

 2. Mantra Malas Made with Bhakti Love

Photo Courtesy of BijouxPascale

So, maybe your kirtan buddy already has mala beads wrapped around his or her wrist.  But does she have a hand-knotted gemstone mala from BijouxPascale?  Individually crafted devotional beads infused with bhakti love by Midwest up-and-coming wallah Pascale LaPoint (of the band Kirtan Path), the malas are available in two dozen different gemstones.  Each is one of a kind.  We love this green magnasite one that stars a circular disc as the 109th “guru bead,” but there are lots more to choose from, plus necklace sets and earrings.  And you know these malas are not just a fashion accessory, right?  Japa — repeating a mantra 108 times, using the beads to count — is an ancient and very powerful meditation mode. 

**Special for Bhakti Beaters: Use code BHAKTIBEAT2012 and get 10% off your order.
BijouxPascale on etsy.com

3. Demystify the Harmonium

Got a wallah wannabe on your list?  Queens, N.Y.-based bhakti firefighter Keith Villanueva (aka Hanumanji) has created a harmonium-learning program that’s all the buzz among budding bhaktas and long-time chant-leaders alike.  At the core is Demystifying the Harmonium Workbook A-Z, a comprehensive guidebook with step-by-step instructions on how to play melodies and create chord progressions in every key.  With the purchase of the book comes membership in an exclusive group on facebook where you can access tutorial videos for more than a dozen chants and interact with others who are learning or perfecting their techniques.  Kind of like a support group for chantaholics.  Get it all for $45.

**Special for Bhakti Beaters:  Free shipping on the workbook (normally $6); contact Villanueva directly for details.
www.harmoniumworkbook.com

4. Bhakti Art from Jennifer Mazzucco 

Artwork by Jennifer Mazzucco

How about some inspiring spiritual art infused with the energy and images of India?  Devotional artist Jennifer Mazzucco — whose artwork adorns SriKalogy covers and the upcoming debut CD from Nina Rao — has just released her third self-published book of original artwork and observations on life.  Opening Up in Sweet Surrender, described as a daily journal of a recent year in Mazzucco’s bhakti-infused life, has 265 pages of her signature artistic musings and devotional doodles, fused with words, colors and images to “connect with the divinity within,” she writes.  It’s kind of like Be Here Now-meets-Sark/Juicy Life, stylistically and energetically.  Softcover: $58.95/hardcover: $77.95 (less $10 for the holidays). 

Mazzucco’s creations are also available as art prints and greeting cards at the websites below — a huge selection of sacred images on FineArtAmerica.com and a multihued collection of Ganesha block prints on etsy.com. 

Buy “Opening Up in Sweet Surrender” on blurb.com (Use code GIVE10 to get $10 off the book for holiday giving.)

**Special for Bhakti Beaters:  BONUS Handmade piece of artwork with every purchase:
Art Prints & Greeting Cards from Jennifer Mazzucco on FineArtAmerica.com (email Jennifer when you’ve purchased to receive the Bonus Gift)
Hand-Carved Block Prints featuring Ganesha, on reminders2bepresent on etsy.com (Bonus Gift will be given automatically)

5. Beeswax Candles from Dharma Boutique

Photo by Jonathan Sherrill

Do your friends and loved ones a favor this year and fill their stockings with beeswax candles and tea lights — or any non-paraffin based candle.  Those cheap tea lights you can get at Walmart for $3 a hundred?  Not the best thing to light up your altar or sacred space.  There’s a growing appreciation that such candles, which are typically made from the dregs of petroleum processing, emit toxic chemicals like toluene and benzene.  Right now, pure beeswax candles handmade by a small group of women in Rajasthani, India, are 20 percent off at Dharma Boutique, the import business owned and operated by bhakti bassist Adam Bauer.  And while you’re stocking up on tea lights, check out his inspiring collection of devotional objets d’art, textiles, singing bowls, jewelry, and vintage items collected on his travels to India and beyond.  Dharma Boutique supports fair trade and sources its products from family enterprises, small crafts-people and local artisans wherever possible.

**Special for Bhakti Beaters:  Free tulsi mala with purchase of $100 or more.
Pure beeswax candles from Dharma Boutique (20% off with code MAYA)
Dharma Boutique Home Page

6. Make Music Happen

Hey here’s a radical thought: buy music from the musicians who make it.  Because, let’s face it, most of these artists who are enriching our lives aren’t getting rich off their efforts.  It’s a dirty secret outside of the music industry that artists themselves get mere fractions of pennies for each “play” on sites like Spotify.  Physical CD sales are way down, and digital-download sites like iTunes and Amazon each take another cut of the profits along with music publishers.  At the same time, record labels are less likely to finance a studio recording up front, leaving the onus of CD production to artists.  Crowd-funding services like IndieGogo and Kickstarter are practically viral these days.  How can we, as consumers of this very unique niche “product,” best support the artists we love? 

Fantuzzi at Bhakti Fest 2011

There’s no simple answer, but one approach is a spin on “Buy Local.”  Go to the artist’s own website and follow their links for purchase.  Some have mechanisms for purchasing music directly from their sites, or they will direct you to the link that is most amenable to their continued survival as artists.  Take every opportunity to buy CDs directly from artists on tour.  Or, go to your favorite conscious-living store to buy them; most stores will order the CDs if they don’t have them in stock, and you’ll be demonstrating to the store owner that there is a demand for this music.  Support artists’ fund-raising drives, like the recent ones of Sean Johnson & The Wild Lotus Band and David Newman, by pre-buying CDs and other perks to help finance the recording, mixing and making of new releases.  Make your gifts of music also gifts to music. 

Start today!  These are just a few of the CD-funding drives ongoing right now in the mantra-music world:
Multi-Instrumentalist Phenom Sheela Bringi, for her Debut CD
Up-and-Coming Sikh Songstress Sirgun Kaur, for her Debut Solo Kirtan CD
Ecstatic World Music Warrior Fantuzzi, for Ease and Grace CD
Texas-Based The Bhakti House Band, for CD and “Peace Love Om” Seva Project 

7. Give Good Karma

How about giving the gift of sight to a blind person this holiday season?  Or economic opportunities for impoverished women and children?  Start a new tradition that will make a real difference in the lives of people in need by giving “Gifts of Service” from the non-profit Seva Foundation.  Seva was co-founded by Google CEO Larry Brilliant in 1978 in collaboration with Ram Dass, Wavy Gravy and others, and is a leading innovator in eye-care services and other programs that create sustainable solutions to poverty and disease in vulnerable populations around the globe.  With Seva’s Gifts of Service, you can honor a loved one by directly helping to reduce suffering in the world.  A $50 gift, for example, covers the cost of cataract surgery for one person; $100 supports the well-being of Native American women by providing health education, building community support and fostering leadership development.  You can also buy Seva merchandise like T-shirts, caps, or this sweet calendar of children around the world, and the foundation will use your donation where it is most needed.

Seva Foundation’s “Gifts of Service” Program

8. Win-Win Gifting

Photo courtesy of Girish Music

Love the idea of giving presents that serve a greater purpose, but still want something tangible to put under the tree for your sweetie?  We have the perfect solution:  a gorgeous Lakshmi bracelet, handmade by Long Island, N.Y., bhakta Nadine Wolff.  Every penny of the proceeds go to Wolff’s fundraising drive for Off the Mat Into the World’s Global Seva Challenge India, which supports grassroots initiatives to help rescue and rehabilitate women and children victimized by the sex-trafficking trade.  Your lucky gift recipient will be invoking the blessings of Lakshmi — the goddess of wealth, prosperity (both material and spiritual), and beauty — and you will know that you contributed to putting an end to the poverty and abuse of women and children in India.  Act fast — before Dec. 15 — to get the special price of $45, available through a collaboration with Girish Music.  ($60 after Dec. 15.)

Lakshmi Bracelet in Support of Global Seva Challenge  (Special Price of $45 till Dec. 15)

9. Spread the Bhav

Larisa Stow: Reaching Out

How about making a donation in your loved one’s name to a local, grass-roots group or artist who is doing charity work in your community? There are lots of small and mid-sized charity organizations working hard to bring the healing power of mantra music to populations in need — from children to people with mental illnesses to prisoners.  Larisa Stow & Shakti Tribe have pioneered this model in the prisons of California through their Shakti Tribe Peace Outreach.  Benjy and Heather Wertheimer have taken their Shantala sacred music into prisons in Oregon.  The Call and Response Foundation, a non-profit based in Vermont, has spearheaded chant programs at children’s and psychiatric hospitals with Dave Stringer, the Mayapuris, and Gaura Vani.  It’s another way that kirtan is being taken “out of the yoga studio,” as Gaura Vani has said.  Be part of the movement; give a gift that gives again and again.

 

Okay, your turn:  what’s on your own Bhakti Wish List?  Tell us about your favorite bhakti-inspired artist or merchant.  Which chant CD is on your must-have list? 

Hare Christmas to All One!

Namaste Santa. (Photo by Prakash Singh/Agency France-Press/Getty Images)

 

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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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In "the pit"

The return of The Hanumen — the testosterone-driven ensemble band created by John de Kadt, Benjy Wertheimer and Gaura Vani — has been one of the most anticipated events in this kirtan addict’s year.  Who could resist this combination of three exquisite musicians, each with a heart as big as Hanuman’s (and humors to match)?

We caught up with the multi-instrumentalist mantra revolutionaries at a true hotbed of revolution, Goddard College in Plainfield, Vt., near the end of their short, sweet tour up the East Coast (don’t worry, West Coasters: The Hanumen are coming your way in September).  Afterward, we got to sit down with all four of the current incarnation of this band of bhakti brothers — bassist Purusartha Dasa being the fourth  — for an interview that turned into more of sit-down comedy routine at times:

from thehanumen.com

The Hanumen played in “the pit” at Goddard — fitting, perhaps for revolutionaries whose publicity photos show them covered in mud? — an acoustically correct sound stage from which the college’s community FM station, WGDR, audiocast the concert live to the world.  (A recording of it may be forthcoming, we’re told.)

Their concert covered a lot of sacred ground in mantra music…

delicious drum poetry from John de Kadt, beginning with the dreamily invitational, “Come Dance With Me”…

 

 

 

an Alleluia solo in the 12th century Gregorian Chant tradition from Benjy Wertheimer that took our breath away…

 

 

 

Gaura Vani’s inimitable playfulfulness, sacred story-telling, and powerful call-and-response leadership…

 

 

 

and even a little dance lesson in the “Swami Shuffle” from quiet, dimunitive Purusartha Dasa.

 

The evening was packed with pleasant surprises, beautifully showcasing the master musicianship of each individually and melding them seamlessly into a smooth flow of original compositions, ancient chants, reincarnated gospel songs, and instrumental interludes.  Luscious.

This is one perfect example:

 

Check our YouTube page for the latest uploads from The Hanumen @ Goddard!

See also: 
www.thehanumen.com
www.johndekadt.com
www.benjymusic.com
www.gauravani.com

 

 

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