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.
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)