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Ananda Ashram Shyamdas Tribute by TheBhaktiBeat.com
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The First Annual Shyamdas Foundation Retreat kicks off this weekend (September 25-27) at Ananda Ashram in Monroe, N.Y. for three days of intimate song and satsang with Shyamdas’ closest friends and followers.  You should come.

 

Why? Well, because it’s the FIRST ANNUAL SHYAMDAS FOUNDATION RETREAT.  Do we need to say more? Okay, fine. This is THE retreat in honor of Shyamdas, the beloved bhakti scholar, author, kirtan wallah, respected teacher and friend to all, who left his body — along with a huge hole in the heart of the bhakti world — in January of 2013.  His inimitable spirit and legacy endure thanks in part to the Shyamdas Foundation, which is hosting this intimate retreat at the Bhajan Belt ashram that was so dear to Shyamdas’ heart.  In fact, Ananda was often the first place Shyamdas would go to share kirtan and satsang when he returned to the States after winters in India.

“One of the most important things Shyamdas imparted to us was to keep good association. Part of that is in the kirtan, but part of it is hearing the teachings.  This is an opportunity for a more intimate setting to get fully immersed in not just kirtan, but in the teachings.  There is a particular vibe at Ananda because it is an Ashram, so this has that energy with all of these people coming together to really get drenched in the nectar.” 

~ Ishwari of SRI Kirtan

Need more?  Did I mention there will be kirtan — lots of kirtan — with Shyamdas’ tribe of musician-gopis.  We’re talking Gaura Vani, Adam Bauer, Prema Hara, Steve Gorn, Nina Rao, SRI Kirtan, Devadas, Karnamrita Dasi, David Newman, Vrajdevi from Vraj, India, Arundhati and Prema from Woodstock, Yogi P from Vermont for starters…and we imagine there might be a surprise or two in store.

But wait, there’s more. Jivamukti yoga co-founder Padma Sharon Gannon herself will be leading asana practice, along with her nephew and protegé Jules Febre.  There will be stories and teachings and satsangs with Shyamdas’ dearest scholar-friends, including Radhanath Swami and David Haberman, and Vallabhdas, Shyamdas’ student/co-author and the founding director of the Shyamdas Foundation. There will be readings from Shyamdas’ books.  There will even be an “enchanted forest walk” with Gaura Vani and Vallabhdas that is sure to be…well, enchanted. We’re hoping Gaura brings his flute…

“I see this gathering at Ananda Ashram—a place Shyam loved and where I remember countless great moments shared—as a chance to continue deepening and nourishing what I love best about my experience with Shyamdas and indeed the broader Bhakti lila: meaningful time with friends and family, practicing the Bhakti yogic arts, joining hearts and voices together in the Divine Names, and enjoying the inspiring company of other seekers of love and truth. Plus, a bunch of good prasad! What’s not to love?”

~ Adam Bauer

But wait, you haven’t heard the best part of all. What makes this weekend realllllly special is the rare opportunity for satsang with one of Shyamdas’ own gurus, Shri Milan Goswami, grandson of his original Pushti Marg guru, Shri Prathameshji. These teachers are direct descendants of the 15th century bhakti philosopher Shri Vallabhacharya, the founder of the Path of Grace, who is considered by Pushti devotees to be a manifestation of Krishna and Radha, as well as a witness to the divine couple’s loving plays. Shyamdas was the first western initiate into the Pushti Marg and devoted his life to translating and sharing Vallabhacharya’s teachings.

Did you catch that?  That’s satsang with a living, breathing soul who is believed to be a direct descendent of Krishna & Radhe incarnate.

 

Go ahead, take a moment to wrap your brain around that concept.  We are.

 
Then check out this YouTube playlist of Shyamdas kirtans and teachings.


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

COMPLETE SCHEDULE OF EVENTS:

FRIDAY:
4pm Check in
5:30 pm dinner
6:30 pm  Welcome/Shyamdas video
7 pm Pushti Kirtan: Vrajdevi, Ishwari & Vallabhdas
8 pm Bhakti Satsang: Radhanath Swami w/ Gaura Vani
9:30 pm Kirtan: Prema Hara

SATURDAY:
9 am Kirtan: Nina Rao
10 am Kirtan:  Devadas
11-12:45 Jivamukti Yoga w/ Sharon Gannon and Jules Febre
11 am Kirtan Workshop: “Singing for the Beloved” w/ Karnamrita Dasi, Vallabhdas, Martin Brading
12 pm Shyamdas Foundation Roundtable w/ Vallabhdas and Board members
1:30 pm Bhakti Lecture “Life Lessons & Vedantic Love” by Prof. David Haberman
3 pm En-chanting forest walk w/ Vallabhdas, Gaura Vani et al.
3:45 pm Bhakti Satsang: Shri Milan Goswami w/ Vallabhdas
5:15 pm Dinner
6:15 pm Kirtan: Arundhati w/ Prema
7:15 pm Shyamdas Archive audio clip
7:30 pm Kirtan: SRI Kirtan
8:30 pm Kirtan: Gaura Vani
9:30 pm Kirtan: Karnamrita Dasi

SUNDAY:
9 am Indian Classical Music: Steve Gorn
10 am Kirtan: Yogi P
11-12:45 Jivamukti Yoga w/ Sharon Gannon and Jules Febre
11 am Satsang Workshop: “Find the Beloved” w/ Ishwari, Vallabhdas, Premdas
12 pm Shyamdas Foundation Roundtable w/ Vallabhdas and Board members
1:30 pm Yamunashtakam Dance: Aarati Spadea w/ Vallabhdas, Ishwari, John McDowell
1:45 pm Pushti Bhakti Satsang: Shyamdas book readings w/ Padma Sharon Gannon, Vallabhdas, Ishwari
2:45 pm Kirtan: Adam Bauer
3:45 pm Kirtan: David Newman (Durga Das) w/ Mira
5 pm Multi-musician Finale

BONUS FOR READING ALL THE WAY TO THE BOTTOM! USE CODE “BHAKTI” AND TAKE 15% OFF YOUR WEEKEND PASS OR DAY TICKETS!

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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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Krishna Das, Chantmaster, at Chantlanta, by TheBhaktiBeat.com
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Krishna Das, Chantmaster, at Chantlanta, by TheBhaktiBeat.comBarely a month after his 15 minutes of fame in the Grammy spotlight and fresh from a tropics tour of Costa Rica, Sivananda, Bahamas, and Florida, Krishna Das showed up fully for the headline show at Chantlanta last month — even after fighting a spring snowstorm in the Northeast to get there. Tablist Arjun Bruggeman was his sole bandmate. No Nina Rao. No Genevieve Walker on violin. No Mark Gorman on bass or David Nichtern on guitar. The band was stripped down to KD and Arjun, harmonium and tabla, the newly Grammy-nominated Yoga Rock Star and “his partner in crime,” as KD has called Bruggeman.

It was like we were in Russia or something…

Just before the kirtan started, I said as much to Bruggeman, and he offered that he actually preferred it that way — that it allowed him to be more attuned to KD’s chanting, to get deeper into the rhythms of the bhav. (These are my words, paraphrasing him.) As the night unfolded, you could feel the difference, subtly, in their interactions between and during the songs.

Krishna Das and Arjun Bruggement, Chantlanta, by TheBhaktiBeat.com

He even had Arjun Bruggeman cracking up.

Krishna Das was in a good mood.

He came onto stage to resounding applause, settled himself before his harmonium, adjusted his ear piece, squinted out at the full-house crowd jammed into the soaring sanctuary of the Druid Hills Baptist Church, and waved. “Hey y’all,” he said in his best Southern drawl (for a New Yorker). 

After his traditional invocation to grace, he looked out at us and deadpanned: “Please open your hymnals to page 108.” The crowd cracked up.

Krishna Das at Chantlanta by TheBhaktiBeat.com

"My priest won't steal."

The pared-down duo went on to deliver the Best of Krishna Das Live, commencing with Sita Ram (what else?), flowing into Om Namo Bhagavate, then to our favorite tear-jerker, My Foolish Heart /Bhaja Govinda, complete with the story of its writing (you’ve heard that one, right? The old man who was told by the traveling guru to stop wasting time and just “Bhaja Govinda” — glorify God…?). Then it was time for Durga Ma, and his classic story of when Neem Karoli Baba made him, KD, the pujari of the Durga Temple at Maharaji’s ashram after all the “real” priests were caught stealing from the donation box. Jesus was there too, Mainlining to a mass of writhing dancers, built up to with the story of the unusual statue in the secret temple high in the Himalayas where they chanted in a very esoteric language…English! The crowd cracked up.

The next day at the workshop, KD joked about how happy he was that there were so many newcomers at the concert, the kind who still laughed heartily at all of his old stories. The crowd cracked up…

Krishna Das was Still the Same. Grammy fame hadn’t gone to his head, as far as we could tell. In the Sunday workshop he was playful but prescient, wise and wise-cracking all at once, dispensing timeless bits of insight in between the notes of Hare Krishna and Hanuman’s Chalisa.  Like this one on “bringing the light” through spiritual practice: 

The audience was in love with him, including a sweet little girl in the front who kept trying to give him pictures of Neem Karoli Baba.  He answered questions till there weren’t any more, way past the allotted time, and ended the love affair with a long, sweet Chalisa, fulfilling a special request from a participant. 

KD shone like the sun, and we all sunbathed.

Krishna Das at Chantlanta by TheBhaktiBeat.com

See also:
Photo Journal: Krishna Das at Chantlanta (on The Bhakti Beat facebook page)
Southern Bhav Rising: Chantlanta Demonstrates How To Do a Regional Chant Fest (Video/Photos)
Chantlanta’s ‘Unknown’ Bhakti Bands Reveal Depth & Diversity of Southern Bhav (Part 1)
Chantlanta’s ‘Unknown’ Bhakti Bands Reveal Depth & Diversity of Southern Bhav (Part 2)
Photo Journal: Chantlanta (on The Bhakti Beat facebook page)
Chantlanta Video Playlist (on The Bhakti Beat YouTube Channel)
www.krishnadas.com
www.chantlanta.org
www.swahaproductions.com
 
And don’t miss these classics on Krishna Das from our archives:
Krishna Das, Bhakti Rock Star, Keeping It Real
Kirtan First: Krishna Das Invokes Narayana & Yardbirds at 55th Grammy Awards
Krishna Das’ ‘Live Ananda’ Earns Grammy Nomination; Kirtan Grammy Would Be a First
With Deva’s Miten, Krishna Das Does Dylan & Shyamdas Does the Blues
Bhakti Fest First: Krishna Das in the Spotlight, Reluctantly, at Midwest All-Wallah Finale
Amazing Grace by Krishna Das After Bhakti Fest Rain-Out

 

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Who needs a Grammy anyway, when you’ve got Hanuman? (Photoshop by Susie Anderson)

Mark this day in kirtan history:  Krishna Das played at the Grammys, invoking Narayana (that’s God) and the Yardbirds, the British invasion band of the 1960’s.  What could be more perfect for the Rock Star of Yoga?

Okay, so he didn’t win the coveted Grammy Award for Best New Age Album.  We’ve brooded.  We’ve pounded our fists on the ground. We’ve screamed NOOOOOOOOO! on social media.  But somehow we’ve managed to dig ourselves out of the deep dark pit of “so close!” despair to take a step back, chant an Om or two, and contemplate what this all means, win or lose.

What it means, folks, is that kirtan was at the Grammys.  ‘Nuf said, no?

Krishna Das was introduced as a “world-wide icon and the best-selling chant artist of all time” by David Alan Grier, the host of the Grammys pre-telecast.  He even called it “kirtan” in the introduction — not “yoga music” or “mantra music” or “sacred music” or any other euphemism being applied now to the ancient form of Sanskrit-language call-and-response chanting.  And not, thank Narayana, “new age music.”  Okay, so Grier couldn’t pronounce the word (he said KURR-tahn), but at least it was there.  (If you missed it, don’t despair:  the webcast version of the Grammys’ “non-mainstream” awards is available for 30 days at www.grammy.com.)  And, okay, there was that snarky remark by Grier after KD’s performance (“I’m so blissed out”).  But still….kirtan was at the Grammys.

Kirtan at the Grammys. (Photo by Bob Sinclair)

In fact, Krishna Das was the first performance of the special pre-telecast livestream of the less-known awards.  Right along with what he might wear (was he really going to buy a red tux?), what he would sing had been the subject of much speculation…would it be the world’s shortest Maha Mantra?  The all-time fan favorite Om Namah Shivayah?  Could he even “perform” a traditional call-and-response chant without a response choir backing him?  One could hardly expect the Grammys pre-telecast audience to jump into the role, but maybe he would bring along a whole posse of responders — who knew?  It was a well-kept secret in the kirtan world.  What would an artist whose average song is say, 15 minutes long and depends heavily on repetition from a chorus of responders, play live in a front of a kirtan-naive audience in a 5-minute time slot?

KD didn’t disappoint.  Backed up by Nina Rao, his long-time assistant and the person he credited for making the Grammy nomination happen at all; Arjun Bruggeman, his trusty tabla player; David Nichtern on guitar, and Steve Ross on vocals — along with a full-fledged orchestral Grammy House Band — the Yoga Rock Star delivered a rock-and-roll classic worthy of the Grammys, with a kirtan twist of course.  With a squeeze of the harmonium and that characteristic Ommm drone of his vocals, he launched into the original medley he created for Heart As Wide As the World (the brilliant 2011 CD that would have made so much more sense as a Grammy nomination, in our humble opinion).  In the end, it was For Your Love.

Narayana, meet the Yardbirds.  World, meet Krishna Das.

Yeah, there were sound issues.  Archit Dave, KD’s intrepid sound engineer, was apparently not in the house.  And we were watching it livestreamed — surely not our preferred way to experience KD’s debut on the world stage of the Grammys.  But still, it was kirtan at the Grammys.  Our hearts were all aflutter.  Here is the highest quality recording we’ve seen:

Afterward, there was the not-so-long wait for the actual award-granting (“Oh, yeah, there’s more!” seemed to be the collective opinion on social media).  It all happened very fast.  Before we knew it, they were announcing the nominees for Best New Age Album.  We were struggling with an internet connection that kept skipping on both laptops we had set up to ensure we didn’t miss a beat.  And scrambling to capture the announcement on video, recording from the skippy, pixelated livestream.  Before we could even hit record, the winner was announced — not the name we were looking for, needless to say.

We’d share the video with you but all you would get is a wide crowd shot as the Grammy producers searched their camera feeds for the winner (L.A.-based pianist Omar Akram) and a blood-curdling scream of NOOOOOOOO! in the background (that would be me, reeling with the shock of rejection).  We’ll spare you the ear-split.

So, there it was.  Hopes shattered in an instant.  Pacing-the-room excitement transformed to disbelief faster than you could say Ommmm.  *Sigh* So close, but yet so far…

Aided and abetted by the kirtan support group that is The Bhakti Beat community on facebook, we pulled ourselves up from the pit and saw the light.  Barriers were broken. History was made. Win or lose, Krishna Das had introduced call-and-response chanting to a world audience. A very mainstream world audience.

Kirtan was at the Grammys.

‘Baba Plaid’ at the Grammys. L-R: Krishna Das, Steve Ross, Nina Rao, Arjun Bruggeman. Photo by Amy Dewhurst

Oh, and the red tux?  Naaah.  Thankfully to fans everywhere who wouldn’t recognize him in anything else, he stuck to a Hanuman red T-shirt and a Baba Plaid button-down.  But we’re still wishing he had been interviewed on the Red Carpet, because we were dying to hear his response to the obligatory question, “Who are you wearing?”

Also see:
Kirtan in a New Age: What’s in a Grammy Category Name?
Krishna Das’ Live Ananda Earns Grammy Nomination; Kirtan Grammy Would Be a First
Watch KD’s performance at www.grammy.com (available for 30 days from the Feb. 10 webcast)
www.krishnadas.com
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This is classic Shyamdas, in all his spontaneous wit and wackiness.  The always-unpredictable closing session of Omega Ecstatic Chant had just gotten underway, with Shyamdas at the helm.  It was time to call in the troops — to get all the musicians on stage for the finale  and send the 1,000 or so chanters off with a final Radhe Shyam.

These grand all-wallah finales have become somewhat legendary at Ecstatic Chant, as they now have at Bhakti Fest and other kirtan festivals.  Where else do you get to see Krishna Das, Jai Uttal, Deva Premal, Snatam Kaur, Gaura Vani, Radhanath Swami, C.C. White, Sruti Ram and Ishwari, along with a host of world-class supporting musicians like Steve Gorn, Richard Davis and Daniel Paul, all on stage together, sharing mics and cajoling one another on with good-natured giddiness? 

It’s like the Mantra Dream Team, gathering jubilantly for one last blast of bhav — and invariably rousing the crowd to a full-on, dancing, swaying, shake-the-roof-rafters climax.

For over a decade at Omega Chant, Shyamdas has been the undisputed captain of the team, taking his place at the helm and steering his playmates in lila right up and over a tidal wave of bhav.  Every year, he would surprise with some completely unexpected twist on an old classic, effortlessly — and hysterically, at times — weaving his beloved Radhe into anything and everything.  You never knew what Shyamdas was going to come up with next.  (And neither, surely, did the musicians around him — witness the expression on Vishvambhar Sheth’s face when Shyam-ji broke out in a Radhe-fied version of “Working My Way Back to You Babe” at Omega 2011.)  Priceless!

Last fall, Shyamdas had something else up the sleeve of his old-style kurta.  As the session was getting underway and the musicians tuning up, Shyamdas leaned toward Richard Davis and whispered a question unheard by most, Davis recalled recently.  Davis, who has played guitar for Shyamdas for many years in all manner of venues, must have had a pretty good idea what was coming next when Shyam-Ji asked if he knew ‘Yesterday.’

The rest of us, I’d venture to guess, were more than a little perplexed when, moments later, the familiar and famous melody of the Beatles’ 1965 love ballad was rising from Shyam’s harmonium.  But this was no average ‘Yesterday’ cover.  Uh-uh.  This was Shyamdas in his element, his lila of unscripted, whole-hearted devotion on full display as he smiled knowingly and transformed the Fab Four’s words into a sweet improvised-on-the-spot lullaby to Radhe.

Looking out at all of us — who clearly weren’t ready to see this chant lovefest end — he deadpanned in perfect melody: “Why you have to go, I don’t know, Hari wouldn’t say. I said Radhe Shyam, now I long for Sri Radhe.”  The line brought ripples of laughter throughout the packed Main Hall, and the crowd gathered more tightly around the stage to see the master innovator in action, swarming like honeybees to collect the nectar of the lotus.  

That was yesterday. 

Today, the same line resonates differently.  It carries a bittersweet tenderness — a wholly different longing — as the kirtan and Krishna communities try to come to grips with the reality of the bhakti world without Captain Shyam steering the ship. 

*sigh*

“Why’d you have to go, Shyamdas-Ji? Hari didn’t say. Please say Radhe Shyam, one more time, say Radhe Shyam…”

Also see:

Swept Up in A ‘Tidal Wave of Bhav’ with Shyamdas: Epic 45-Minute MahaMantra (VIDEO) 

Remembering Shyamdas Photo Journal on Facebook

Shyamdas Remembered Video Playlist of Kirtans and Teachings on YouTube

 

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Grammy Nominated

Kirtan at the Grammys?  Now that would be cool.  But we’re getting ahead of ourselves…

Chantmaster Krishna Das, the legendary “rock star of yoga,” has earned a nod from the Grammy nominators for Live Ananda, which is up for Best New Age Album of the Year.  It is only the second time in history, to our knowledge, that a kirtan album has been in the running for the music industry’s top prize; the first time was in 2003, when Jai Uttal’s groundbreaking Mondo Rama was nominated in the same category.  (No, there is no “Kirtan” Grammy category, or even “Yoga Music” for that matter — yet.)

That’s right.  From here on out, KD shall be known as the Grammy-nominated chantmaster of American yoga.

Well, that is, until — and if — we can call him the Grammy-winning blahblahblah.  That would be a first for the little devotional-music niche that is call-and-response chant, itself a mere drop in the catch-all bucket of “new age” music.

Live Ananda was recorded, well, live at Ananda.  Ananda Ashram, that is, the Yoga Society of New York’s retreat and spiritual center in Monroe, N.Y., at the feet of the Catskills and the heart of the Bhajan Belt, where KD used to hold yearly workshops.  Live Ananda captures five long, sweet songs — each a KD classic from his early recordings — co-performed with an exuberant audience of chanters during a three-day retreat in 2007.  It was released in January 2012 without a lot of fanfare as far as we could tell, digitally only and only through iTunes (much to the dismay of Apple haters everywhere, and those of us who still like to have and hold an actual CD, complete with cover art and liner notes).  UPDATE: Nina Rao tells us that Live Ananda is going to be re-released this month in “hard” form — cover art, liner notes and all.

I have to confess: this was the one KD release that I did not own.  I mean, I’m as big a KD fan as you can find (bias alert!), but somehow I couldn’t get too excited about this CD.  After the brilliance of Heart as Wide as the World (2010), KD’s first studio album in 12 years (with Grammy-nominated producer David Nichtern), maybe it felt anti-climactic — I played that disc night and day for months.  Plus, I already owned — and loved — every single live recording he ever did.  That and a pesky password problem with iTunes kept me from downloading it when it came out, and I just never went back — until this morning’s announcement.   A Grammy nomination?  How come I don’t own this?!

Well, now I do.  And you’ll want it too, because, well, it’s Grammy-nominated.  That, and it’s classic KD all the way: soulful, deep, heart wide open to the world, singing for his guru and taking us right along with him to that place he goes… 

The much-anticipated Grammy nominations were announced by The Recording Academy Dec. 5 at a concert broadcast live from Nashville, Tenn., marking a count-down to the 55th Annual Grammy Awards on Feb. 10.  Nominees are selected by voting members of the Recording Industry Association of America, who can each vote in up to nine music categories.

What would KD do?

So, now that KD is officially a nominee, we can’t help but wonder if he’ll capture one of the coveted live-performance slots at Music’s Biggest Night (even if he is scheduled to be at Blue Spirit in Costa Rica at the time — that’s what satellite feeds are for, right?).  What would KD do?  Wouldn’t it be something to witness the chantmaster and his band on stage at the Grammys, leading the superstar crowd in the Hare Krishna Mahamantra, broadcast live to the world? 

Stranger things have happened at the Grammys.  Have you watched this awards show lately?  This is the night the music world’s biggest stars pull out all the stops, and sometimes go right over the top.  (What was up with that Nicki Minaj “exorcism” last year?)  With that kind of act to follow, KD might need to take a page from a memorable music video in the closet of his past (one we venture he’d prefer to forget)…something involving snake-dancing goddesses and a decidedly Christ-like KD, perhaps?

Naaah, that’s not gonna happen.  A duet with Sting for Mountain Hare Krishna has been suggested, a nod to Pilgrim Heart (1998).  Or how about a pair-up with Bob Dylan for Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door, ala KD’s surprise move at Omega Ecstatic Chant last fall — have you seen this?

Play along with us:  if Krishna Das was going to sing at the Grammys, what song would you want to hear?  Tell us in the comments! 

Links

LIVE ANANDA on Krishna Das’ website
Direct Link to LIVE ANANDA on iTunes
Krishna Das website
The 55th Annual Grammy Awards Nominations 

You Might Also Enjoy:

Krishna Das, Bhakti ‘Rock Star,’ Keeping It Real
Krishna Das In the Spotlight, Reluctantly, at Bhakti Fest Midwest All-Wallah Finale
Amazing Grace by Krishna Das After Bhakti Fest Rain-Out
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Krishna Das: On Board

How does one person in suburban California manage to raise $20,000 to fight sex trafficking in India? 

Enlist the kirtan troops!

That’s been a big part of the winning strategy for Srutih Asher Colbert, a Palo Alto yogi mom and hair stylist who is now within sight of meeting her ambitious fundraising goal by the end of the year.  The troops who signed on to help include none other than the Chant Master himself Krishna Das, who contributed his share of the proceeds from NYC’s Bhajan Boat charity cruise in late September (check out the video here).  That pledge alone added $3,000 to Colbert’s coffers. 

Coast-to-Coast Kirtan Fundraisers

The drive also benefited from a gathering Oct. 20 at Brooklyn Yoga School when the best known bhaktas in the borough, Nina Rao, Devadas, Ambika Cooper and friends, joined forces to lead a four-hour kirtan in support of the project.  The chants to fight sex slavery continue this weekend, back in Colbert’s home ‘hood in the San Francisco Bay Area, with Prajna Vieirra and David Estes leading the call.  Local favorites in NoCal, Vieira and Estes are among the rising stars on the national kirtan scene as well; each had a debut set at Bhakti Fest West in September,Vieira with producer/multi-instrumentalist Ben Leinbach and Estes with his band Ananda Rasa Kirtan.

"Kirtan is not about getting blissed out and escaping life..."

Both jumped at the chance to help raise money.  Vieira told us:  “As kirtan leaders, we’re here to serve the devotees in their practice and help provide the conditions for exploring the depths of love and devotion. To me, expanding that sweetness of devotional service into the world is the whole point.”

“As a woman,” she added, “sex trafficking is an issue that is very dear to my heart, and I wish I could do a thousand kirtans for it…If we have an opportunity and the means to contribute even a little bit of time, energy or resources toward the solution, it’s a great blessing. Kirtan is not about getting blissed out and escaping life’s problems. It’s a call to wake up, to broaden our capacity to love and our willingness to serve.”

Off the Mat Into the Bhav

Colbert’s funding drive is part of the Global Seva Challenge, a worldwide service project created by Off the Mat Into the World (OTM) that has raised over $2 million since 2007 for a range of international humanitarian causes.  The 2012 campaign is focused on battling sex trafficking in India through locally based empowerment and rehabilitation programs, and Colbert is one of about 200 yogis who have taken the $20,000 challenge this year; so far about half a million dollars has been raised, collectively.  (OTM is the charitable organization founded by Seane Corn, Hala Khouri and Suzanne Sterling with a mission to “use the power of yoga to inspire conscious, sustainable activism and ignite grassroots social change.”)

Suzanne Sterling: Not resting

Colbert got involved with Off the Mat at Wanderlust Festival three years ago, where the OTM session is always a favorite.  (No wonder: two years ago at Wanderlust VT, Michael Franti and his band joined Seane Corn on stage for a rockin’ 2-hour party-for-a-cause.  This summer, MC Yogi riled up the troops with a rousing rendition of “Give Love” (watch it below), then Suzanne Sterling knocked it home with a foot-stomping, soul-stirring rendition of a civil rights anthem called Ella’s song  — “We who believe in freedom cannot rest until it comes” — that flowed right into the yogi’s anthem, Om Namah Shivaya.)

A top fundraiser for OTM three years running, Colbert kept earning herself a free ticket back to Wanderlust — and doing it all over again.  When she heard that the 2012 Global Seva Challenge was directed at helping the young victims of sex trafficking in India, she signed on. 

 ‘We Live in This Little Bubble’

“I have two daughters myself — 5 and 8.  I just felt moved to try to help these girls, and inspired to show my own girls how important it is that we help people who can’t help themselves,” Colbert told The Bhakti Beat.  “We live in this little bubble.  There’s so much suffering in the world and we can do something to help other people.”

OTM works with six different charities in India that are working in local communities to rescue, rehabilitate and empower women and girls affected by the sex trade.  “They [OTM] talk to people who are already doing this work to create sustainable change, instead of just throwing money at the problem.”  The funds might be directed, for example, to build a new wing on a safe home, or to teach women self-sustaining skills. 

Nearly $2,000 was raised at a Brooklyn kirtan (Photo by Srutih Asher Colbert)

Reaching out to friends in the yoga and kirtan worlds to support the drive was natural, she said, because “those are the two things I love and practice regularly.  It’s been an amazing blessing to reach out and have people say, ‘absolutely, how can I help?'” 

People like Krishna Das.  Not bad.

Colbert first met Krishna Das at her Yoga Teacher Training at the Sivananda Ashram in the Bahamas, at a time when she “didn’t know anything about chanting and thought it was weird.”  After five straight nights of kirtan with KD, “it really clicked for me,” she said.  “I totally fell in love with chanting.  It completely changed my life from that moment forward.” 

Ten years later and $3,000 away from her goal, with bhakti yoga strongly at her side, Colbert is paying it forward, hoping to help change the lives of girls trapped in India’s sex trade, from this moment forward. 

“It’s been quite a journey,” she said. 

Links
TO DONATE to Srutih Asher Colbert’s Global Seva Challenge (Type “SR” in the first box to support her project)
Srutih Asher Colbert’s Global Seva Challenge on Facebook
Chanting for Change w/ Ananda Rasa Kirtan & Prajna Vieira, Nov 10 in San Francisco
Off the Mat Into the World
www.prajnavieira.com
www.anandarasa.com
www.chantkirtan.com (Nina Rao)
www.devadasmusic.com
www.krishnadas.com
 

 

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Shyamdas & Krishna Das on the Bhajan Boat, by TheBhaktiBeat.com

Captain Shyamdas & First Mate Krishna Das

With the Manhattan skyline as a backdrop, a few hundred people crowded the upper deck of one of NYC’s Circle Line cruisers to chant with an all-star line-up of musicians on the 2nd Annual NYC Bhajan Boat, a fundraiser presented by the Mantralogy record label.

The four-hour joyride circumnavigated the City That Never Sleeps, passing under iconic bridges, getting up close with Lady Liberty, and offering stunning panoramas from every direction.  But for all the world-class sightseeing outside the ship, the real magic was happening right on the cramped and crowded “stage” in the bow of the boat. 

Rockin’ & Rollin’ on the River

Gaura Vani

Shyamdas, who has really pioneered the kirtan cruise, captained this showboat as he has many in the past.  He warmed us up with Radhe and got us off the Pier 83 dock with Krishna. Then Gaura Vani put some wind in our sails with his crew of kindred spirits from New York as the boat headed north up the Hudson River, culminating in a rousing Krishna-Radhe mantra by NYC bhakta Acyuta Gopi that ended way too soon.  See it here, at about 15:40 into this clip from Gaura Vani’s set, posted by Om Factory NY.)  

SRI Kirtan, the Woodstock, N.Y.-based divine duo of Sruti Ram and Ishwari, took over just as the George Washington Bridge loomed overhead, and rocked our bhakti all around the northern tip of Manhattan with their signature Chalisa and a new anti-fracking rap they played live for the first time. Kamaniya Devi and Keshavacharya Das, aka Prema Hara — who have just launched an ambitious 12-state tour — accompanied SRI Kirtan and others.

SRI Kirtan rocked the boat

Now we were rockin’ and rollin’ down the crowded East River, with Roosevelt Island and Queens on our port side, midtown Manhattan’s cityscape starboard.  Nina Rao, the first mate of Krishna Das’s organization, took the helm at her boss’s harmonium (he sang back-up) and offered up a preview of her own upcoming debut album, Antarayaami – Knower of All Hearts, a 12-track double CD that will be released this fall.  (As one might hope, the CD will be heavy on Hanuman Chalisas, including a duet with KD, Rao told us.) Sign up to receive CD news and more at www.chantkirtan.com

Excerpted in the video below is a track from the upcoming CD (“Bhajagovindam/Narayana”) that melds three traditional chants in a slow-starting, fast-finishing fusion of mantra melodies.  Don’t miss little Bodhi, nestled in Grandpa KD’s lap, tapping right along on his own mini-drum (watch how he studies Arjun Bruggeman’s hand gestures on the tabla and mimics them).

 

Lady Liberty Dancing With Shiva

Lady Liberty: serenaded by Shiva

The special guest of the day, Krishna Das, had his chance to lead kirtan as well, just as the Williamsburg Bridge dominated the view ahead.  (Bodhi kept right on drumming, this time from the lap of Devadas.)  We all did the Krishna Waltz as we passed under the three massive spans bridging the lower East River, then Shiva danced with Lady Liberty as we rounded the iconic statue of the Roman goddess of freedom — symbol of chains unbound — while chanting Om Namah Shivaya to the Hindu god of destruction and transformation. 

Captain Shyamdas, dressed in a traditional dhoti kurta and a blue Nantucket baseball cap slightly cocked to one side, returned for the final leg up the West Side to seal the journey with a kiss to Radhe.  Krishna Das sang right alongside him as the boat steamed north again, the two occasionally exchanging private laughs like schoolboys with a secret.  Pier 83 appeared far too soon, but Shyamdas promised that the next boatride would be longer — to the Caribbean perhaps.  The crowd cheered.  With a final Radhe Shyam, the boat was docked, and the crew forced us to leave (they had to shoo a lot of us out…)

Charity Cruise Trend Setting Sail

This was the Bhajan Boat’s second cruise in Manhattan, but Shyamdas has been organizing kirtan cruises on the mid-Hudson River for a few years now as benefits for Food for Life Vrindavan, a non-profit organization that feeds poor children in India.  Three other charities — Share Your Care, The Seva Foundation, and Off the Mat Into the World — also benefited from the Sept. 30 NYC cruise.

As word gets out about these charity cruises, it seems that everyone is clamoring for one of their own.  Boston wants one on the Harbor, Toronto wants one on Lake Ontario, Midwesterners want one on the Mississippi, California wants more than one…this is the beginning of a trend folks.  Look for it to grow. 

Ki JAI to that.

The Bhajan Boat back-up band, the musicians and vocalists who supported various wallahs, reads like a who’s who of East Coast kirtaneers:  Arjun Bruggeman (tabla), Steve Gorn and Sundar Das (flutes), David Nichtern and Richard Davis (guitars), Adam Bauer (bass), Devadas (cymbals), Ananta Cuffee (mrdanga), Janaki Cuffee, Acyuta Gopi, Kamaniya Devi and Keshavacharya Das (vocals), Jaya Sita Lopez (cello), and more…Who have we left out?

More photos in our Bhajan Boat Photo Journal on The Bhakti Beat’s facebook page.

Stay tuned to The Bhakti Beat’s YouTube channel for new uploads from the Bhajan Boat and more.

More links:
www.shyamdas.com
www.gauravani.com
www.srikirtan.com
www.chantkirtan.com
www.krishnadas.com
www.premahara.com
www.mantralogy.com
 
The charities: 
 
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Nina Rao, known for her Chalisa

Have you noticed a growing fascination with the Hanuman Chalisa, the 40-verse ode to the Hindu monkey-god who embodies the heart of devotional practice?  We’ve noticed it cropping up in more and more live kirtan sets, and Bhakti Fest Midwest was no exception.  Both SRI Kirtan and Brenda McMorrow offered rocking original versions of this long and fairly complicated chant during their respective sets on Saturday and Sunday.

Brenda McMorrow

Krishna Das and his long-time assistant (and chant leader in her own right) Nina Rao might take credit for helping make the Chalisa so popular.  KD’s “Flow of Grace” CD is  devoted completely to the Chalisa, with six different versions of the prayer.  The one by Nina Rao, the sweet “Nina Chalisa,” has formed the foundation for her own Chalisa chanting in her home ‘hood of Brooklyn, at KD workshops and at Bhakti Fest West in Joshua Tree.  Her morning Chalisa sessions have become a fixture, and are well-attended despite their early-morning hour.  She continued this trend in Madison, Wisc. at the Midwest fest.  Her traditional Chalisa is featured in this video from Vermantra 12-hour chant fest last fall.

SRI Kirtan (Sruti Ram & Ishwari)

Kirtan geeks that we are, we get pretty excited when wallahs mix the Chalisa into their sets — typically with an introductory warning that if you don’t know the words, have no fear, there’s a nice simple chorus that everyone can join in on.  Imagine our delight when this scenario occurred with not one, but two of our favorite up-and-coming kirtan wallahs at Bhakti Fest Midwest — SRI Kirtan on Saturday at high noon and Brenda McMorrow on Sunday afternoon.

Check out both shakti-shaking versions below.  Warning: the videos are long (did we mention it’s a 40-verse prayer?), but we think this is one of those chants that needs to be seen, heard and felt in its entirety.

(I have no idea why YouTube is not putting up a thumbnail on this, but I assure you, there’s a beautiful picture of Sruti Ram and Ishwari that SHOULD be coming up.  Please watch despite the blackness.)

 

See our full coverage of Bhakti Fest Midwest!

Bhakti Fest First: Krishna Das In the Spotlight, Reluctantly, at Midwest All-Wallah Finale
Hanuman Chalisa Rocks New Melodies from Brenda McMorrow and SRI Kirtan at BFMW (Videos
Bhakti Fest Break-Out Set? Wallah-to-Watch ‘Kirtan Path’ Wows ‘Em (Video)
Sridhar Silberfein: Changing the Pace of Kirtan in the West, One Bhakti Fest At a Time
Plus Photo Journals from Each Set on The Bhakti Beat on Facebook
 
And from Shakti Fest 2012 & Bhakti Fest 2011:
Jai Uttal Captures the Essence of Bhakti Fest
You Want Shakti?  Larisa Stow’s Got Shakti
Loco for Lokah and the Bhakti Dance
Bhakti Fest Seeds Planted in Woodstock in ’69
Shakti Fest On-Stage Proposal a First
Amazing Grace from Krishna Das after Bhakti Fest Rain-Out
 
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The Bhakti Beat @ Bhakti Fest Midwest:  There was heat on the stage Saturday night at Bhakti Fest Midwest, and it wasn’t just from the fire-spinners.  Backed by an all-star cast of musicians, Shyamdas lit up the late-night crowd in Madison, Wisc. – already primed after three hours with Krishna Das – with his inimitable style of Hari Katha (sacred story-telling). He masterfully weaved classic stories of Krishna and Radhe inside crescendo-building chants that went straight to the heart of the bhav and engulfed the sea of chanters in a blur of ecstatic joy.  It’s a wonder the stately old weepers on Willow Island, where the main stage was situated, didn’t pull up their roots and join the lila.

Shyamdas’s talents as Sanskrit scholar, translator of sacred texts, revered teacher, and wallah extraordinaire were on brilliant display.  He enthralled with stories of the passionate love affair between Krishna and Radha, slipping in bits of wisdom amidst a slowly climaxing “Radhe Krishna, Radhe Krishna, Krishna Krishna Radhe Radhe, Radhe Shyam, Radhe Shyam, Shyam Shyam Radhe Radhe” chant.  Breathless.

He told of the Sadhu in India who was inching his way around a sacred mountain, bowing to Krishna in full prostration (with the body laid flat out on the ground) 1,008 times before he would take the next step on his yatra. The man was 5’2” tall, and the journey was 14 miles long.

“He was not in a hurry,” Shyamdas deadpanned with one of those killer expressions. Then, the segue.  “And this is what he sang all day long…” Music up.  Voices together. “Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama Hare Hare….”

He told the story of Krishna as a young boy toying with his mother about “eating dirt,” a Hindu metaphor for worshiping false gods, then busted into a 17-minute-long Gopala raga that peaked in a tidal wave of fervor on stage and off.  Brilliant.  (Video below.)

The stories and the chants flowed seamlessly for two hours, one deep sacred river of bhav.  By the end of it the crowd of bhaktas were eating out of his hand and eager for more nectar.  We’re guessing Shyam-Ji could have gone on like this for hours longer, swimming in the vibestream and taking us all along for the ride.  But alas, Emcee Shiva Baum was waiting in the wing, and that was the signal to wrap it up.  Sigh.

Shyamdas let us down ever so gently with the final morsel of young Krishna’s miracle-making and one last sweet round of “Gopala Gopala Devakinandana Gopala.”  It ended in a whisper and a deep silence that was broken only when Shyamdas, with a look of sweet satisfaction, uttered simply: “That was exquisite.”

In the Bhav with Shyam

The crowd punctuated his sentiment with a roar.  He wasn’t patting himself on the back.  It was more an acknowledgement of the quality of the bhav, the delicious flow of energy from “caller” to “responders” and back, then all as one — the depth of the emotion of devotion we had all just shared.  Long exhale.

Joining Shyamdas for this luscious Bhakti Fest lila were: Nina Rao on kartals, Arjun Bruggeman on tabla, Yehoshua Brill on electric guitar, Sruti Ram and Ishwari of SRI Kirtan on vocals, break-out violinist Samuel Salsbury, and Hanuman Das on sitar.

Who needs fire-spinners when you’ve got Shyamdas and this band on the stage? (No, really, we love fire-spinners…)

Here’s the video.  What do you think?

See also:
The Bhakti Beat’s Photo Journal of Shyamdas’s set at Bhakti Fest Midwest
www.shyamdas.com
www.bhaktifest.com
 

See our full coverage of Bhakti Fest Midwest!

Bhakti Fest First: Krishna Das In the Spotlight, Reluctantly, at Midwest All-Wallah Finale
Hanuman Chalisa Rocks New Melodies from Brenda McMorrow and SRI Kirtan at BFMW (Videos
Bhakti Fest Break-Out Set? Wallah-to-Watch ‘Kirtan Path’ Wows ‘Em (Video)
Sridhar Silberfein: Changing the Pace of Kirtan in the West, One Bhakti Fest At a Time
Plus Photo Journals from Each Set on The Bhakti Beat on Facebook
 
And from Shakti Fest 2012 & Bhakti Fest 2011:
Jai Uttal Captures the Essence of Bhakti Fest
You Want Shakti?  Larisa Stow’s Got Shakti
Loco for Lokah and the Bhakti Dance
Bhakti Fest Seeds Planted in Woodstock in ’69
Shakti Fest On-Stage Proposal a First
Amazing Grace from Krishna Das after Bhakti Fest Rain-Out
 

 

 

 

 

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Where’s the Bhav This Weekend? Mar. 2-4

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What’s in store:  Wah! returns East, Shantala storms the Northwest, Ragani rocks Milwaukee, KD opens hearts in Orlando and C.C. White stirs souls in Santa Monica.  Lots of great kirtan out there this weekend; here are our top five picks for weekend bhav.  Where will you be chanting?

Top Five Weekend Bhav

SHANTALA in PORTLAND (3/3), SEATTLE (3/4), VANCOUVER (3/5)

BENJY and HEATHER WERTHEIMER, aka SHANTALA, are barnstorming the Northwest this weekend with a CD Release Tour celebrating their latest, Jaya, which everyone has been raving about.  First up is their home ‘hood of Portland, Ore. on Friday 3/3, where they’ll be joined by bansuri flute master STEVE GORN, bass and two-string guitar virtuoso SEAN FRENETTE and vocalist LINDSEY STORMO for a kirtan benefiting Living Yoga and the Oregon Food Bank.  Saturday the gang heads north to Seattle to hook up with GINA SALA to raise money for Yoga Behind Bars with a concert at the Seattle Unity Church.  On Sunday 3/5, it’s off to Vancouver, BC for a CD release party at St. Mark’s Trinity Church.  SHANTALA live never fails to be an experience in master musicianship and deep, reverent devotion, and with this band of stellar musicians backing them, this tour is not be missed.

WAH! AT INTEGRAL YOGA, NYC (3/3)

Fresh from the release of her newest CD, Loops N Grooves, WAH! heads back East for a concert Friday 3/2 at Integral Yoga in New York City.  The long-awaited new CD– more than two years in the making — takes the electronic grooves and dance beats we fell in love with on Love Holding Love up another notch.  Wah’s signature soaring vocals are punctuated throughout with luscious loops and live beatboxing from the amazing “human drum kit” MIKE HAZZIA.  Have you seen this guy?  Vocal percussion at its funkiest!

Next weekend Wah! heads South for CHANTLANTA, the first big two-day kirtan fest in Atlanta, where she’ll be joined by DAVID NEWMAN & MIRA and SEAN JOHNSON & THE WILD LOTUS BAND as well as regional Wallahs to Watch BHAKTI MESSENGER, RAHASYA, and lots more.

KRISHNA DAS RETREAT (3/3-5) AND CONCERTS (3/4 & 3/5), ORLANDO, FLA.

Chant Master KRISHNA DAS, just back from a long weekend retreat at the beautiful Sivananda Ashram in the Bahamas, is jumping right into an urban retreat at the Hindu Temple in Orlando, Fla. Friday night 3/3 to Sunday 3/5.  As part of the retreat, NINA RAO will be leading chanting of the Hanuman Chalisa, the 40-verse prayer to the  “monkey god” who embodies grace and devotion, and GENEVIEVE WALKER, KD’s masterful violinist, will be leading asana classes daily.  Kirtan concerts Friday and Saturday nights have been opened to non-retreatants.  Retreating with KD is an opportunity to get up close and personal with a bhakti “rock star” who is still keeping it real.  KD’s new venture with SiriusXM, KRISHNA DAS YOGA RADIO, launched March 1, bringing kirtan (even if they don’t call it that by name) to a national audience of radio listeners for the first time.  You can try Sirius out for free for 30 days and support this groundbreaking new channel!

Photo by Dale Buegel

RAGANI FIRST FRIDAY KIRTAN (3/2), MILWAUKEE, WISC.

Midwest kirtan is not just alive and well, but thriving, in large part due to the charismatic chantress RAGANI, who has been leading call-and-response chanting for some 30 years.  First-Friday Kirtan with Ragani is practically an institution in Wisconsin, regularly attracting 400 or more people and counting among the largest and longest-running ongoing chant communities in the U.S.  No wonder BHAKTI FEST is setting up camp in Wisconsin this July, and no wonder they’ve signed Ragani as a headliner.  Friday night’s kirtan with Ragani is at the Unitarian Universalist Church West in Brookfield.  Ragani is a local celebrity in greater Milwaukee, and her wry humor is legendary.  Watch her pass a few right over the heads of her hosts in this segment from a local morning TV show that aired just last week (and give a really nice explanation of kirtan as well — all in under five minutes!).  For more depth (lots more) about Ragani’s world, check out her interview with Josh Polich, whose new Three Teas Podcast covers kirtan and lots more.

C.C. WHITE AT BHAKTI YOGA SHALA, SANTA MONICA, CALIF. (3/5)

Photo by The Bhakti Beat

C.C. WHITE rocks the Shala (Bhakti Yoga Shala, that is) Sunday 3/5 in Santa Monica, Calif.  The Deva of Soul Kirtan is the special guest of spiritual guide HOWARD WILLS, who is leading a series of gatherings on The Art of Well-Being and Higher Consciousness” as part of a California mini-tour.  On March 16th, the pair regroup for a session at Golden Bridge Yoga in L.A.   Word is that C.C. is working on a version of My Sweet Lord, the 1970 classic recorded by GEORGE HARRISON in praise of Krishna, which blended Christian Allelujahs with the traditional Sanskrit Hare Krishna Mahamantra.  The release date has not been announced, but stay tuned to C.C.’s YouTube channel for video of the recording with her and a few close friends.

Don’t forget to send events to bpatoine@aol.com, post them to The Bhakti Beat’s Facebook page., or Tweet us!

THANK YOU FOR SHARING THE BHAKTI BEAT WHEREVER YOU SOCIALIZE, ONLINE & OFF!

 

 

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