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Kirtan Wallah Krishna Das announced today that he will take a lengthy pause from touring in 2016 to rest and “chill.”

“This body has got to stop,” KD said in a video message published on his YouTube channel May 16, noting that he has been touring the world for 20 years nonstop, since he was 47. (See the video below.)

“Starting in 2016, I have to find a way to take some time off — maybe 6 months, maybe a year, I don’t know —  to really quiet down, because it’s not just the body but the mind,” he told fans. “It’s really time to slow down for a while.”

Rumors have been flying for months in the bhakti world about KD’s health, as bits and pieces leaked out about his plans not to tour in 2016.  In February, KD told participants at his annual retreat at Sivananda Ashram in the Bahamas that he was going to take some time off (but indicated that he would be back in Sivananda in 2016).  The Bhakti Beat has also heard from event producers who have tried to schedule Krishna Das kirtans for 2016 and were told that he will not be touring, which has fueled the rumor mill.

‘Healthful Recharging’

The announcement does little to quell rumors about the health of Western kirtan’s biggest “star,” as there was no specific information about his overall wellness in either the video message or the email newsletter in which the sabbatical was announced. The email stated that KD will take a break from touring and traveling for the purpose of “healthful recharging.”

Krishna Das spokesperson Nina Rao confirmed to The Bhakti Beat in an initial email response that KD’s “Vitals are in order, just needs rest.” (We will update this article as soon as more information is available.) In the meantime, KD’s choice of words in the video message indicated the sabbatical was not an optional choice.

“I have to take some time off, to try to rejuvenate, rest and try to get some juice back in my system,” he said, while noting that chanting with other people is “the greatest seva I can do for myself, for others and for my guru.”  The sabbatical, he said, will allow him to “have time to be quiet, take care of my body, eat good, and just breathe. I forgot what it’s like to not be planning to go somewhere, like, in a week.”

Krishna Das, photo by TheBhaktiBeat.comIt’s unclear as of yet whether Krishna Das will attend bigger retreats and festivals such as Omega’s Ecstatic Chant, where he has headlined since its inception 12 years ago, or Bhakti Fest, though he did say he “might do a couple local things around New York,” where his home is, and possibly some online programs that can be done from his home.  KD’s annual Memorial Day weekend retreat at Yogaville Ashram in Virginia will continue as planned, as will his summer tour in the Northeast United States and Southeast Canada (see full tour schedule here).  He also is making appearances this month at benefits for Nepal earthquake victims (May 16 in Princeton, NJ, in concert with GuruGanesha, with other dates to be announced) and at a benefit for tigers produced by longtime KD manager/assistant Nina Rao (May 19 in New York City).

Beginning in February or March of 2016, all dates are off.  “I’m going to kind of just chill,” KD said.

The news was accompanied by the announcement of a new 501(c)3 nonprofit foundation, the Kirtan Wallah Foundation, which is dedicated to spreading the teachings of Krishna Das’ guru, the late Neem Karoli Baba.

Clearly addressing the rumors and questions, the “Rock Star of Yoga” ended his video message with typical understatedness: “That’s the story for now. Take good care. Bye.”

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“We’re going to end on this,” Shyamdas said, as he launched us into the final powerful crest of an epic Hare Krishna chant that undulated like the waves of an ocean for 45 ecstatic minutes (two-part video below). 

It started as a slow, deep prayer before gradually rising to the inevitable full-on whirling cresendo, then ebbing again to a sweet low longing, barely a whisper, before rising up again… Over and over he led us through the peaks and valleys of the changing melodies and rhythms, inviting us all into the intimate dance with the Divine.  Soon there was no distinction between call and response, “performers” and “audience.”  All merged as one voice, one ocean of sound and devotion flowing with the joyful tears of a thousand streams.

It was, for this writer, one of those peak experiences in kirtan — the kind that just make you go, “Wow.” No exclamation point. Just “Wow.”

When it ended, after that long sweet silence where you get to do nothing other than breathe in all that bhav, he looked out at all of us and simply said: “That’s it.”  Silence broken, the crowd thundered.  Shyamdas’ kirtans always stand out, but this one was beyond outstanding, and the chanters let him know it. 

When the hoots and hollers died down, Shyamdas said this: “It’s amazing to float in the bhav — I don’t know whether I was imagining that, and it doesn’t really matter…But man, to be in such a tidal wave of bhav with everyone is …” He paused for just a moment.  “…is the way I would like to spend the rest of my life.”

“To be in such a tidal wave of bhav with everyone is the way I would like to spend the rest of my life.”

Hear Hear.

After the set, I caught up with Shyam-Ji just off-stage.  I wanted to thank him, to ask him how he did that, what magic did it take to create that experience. Maybe I needed some kind of confirmation that we had all just experienced something truly extraordinary, I don’t know.  I had a hundred questions for him! But when I opened my mouth, all I could muster was, “Wow.”  No exclamation point.  Just, “Wow.”  (And, I imagine, a glazed-eye, stoned-on-the-bhav expression — hey, we’d been chanting day and night for 3 days at this point.)

Despite my bhakti-fried brain-deadness, Shyamdas answered my unspoken question.  I didn’t write down what he said, but it was something along the lines of: “I was just taking it where it needed to go.”  He was reading the room, taking the pulse of the space, feeling the vibe and intuitively guiding us deeper and more completely into that Place That Cannot Be Described, to blissfully drown in a churning sea of ecstatic devotion.

This is Shyamdas as we will remember him, steering the ship on a “tidal wave of bhav” deep into the ocean of devotion, sweeping us all along with him on his boat full of bhakti.

Thank you Shyamdas-Ji. 

A note about the videos: Did I mention this was a 45-minute-long Maha Mantra?  And that I recorded EVERY moment of it?  Now, I know this is the Age of Twitter and 30-second news bites…so I thought about editing this down, cutting and slashing it to a manageable, YouTube-friendly size.  But then something slapped me upside the head (Shyam?) and said, Are you crazy?  This is a work of devotional art.  How dare you mess with it?  So I present it to you as I experienced it, in all its uncut, unedited glory.  In two parts, because the Age of YouTube has a 30-minute attention span (not long enough for kirtan).  Please put aside 45 minutes to watch — really WATCH — because you don’t want to miss a single moment of Shyam-Ji’s in-the-bhav expressionism.  Clear your space because you will want to dance during parts.  Have some tissues because you may cry.  But watch it all.  You will not be sorry. 

Here’s Part 1:

 And Part 2:


 Also see:

“Remembering Shyamdas” The Bhakti Beat’s Photo Journal on facebook

Shyamdas Video Playlist on YouTube



Ram Dass, beaming from Maui

We often get asked: “What are the can’t-miss chant events of the year?”  It’s a loaded question, for sure, since everyone has their own idea about what is “can’t-miss.”  Including us.  So we’re sharing our picks for “The Big 5” chant events that are worth getting to, no matter where you’re coming from.  Here’s part 1; stay tuned to this space for the rest (subscribe here).  And tell us what your top picks are!

Omega’s Ecstatic Chant is the original.  Now moving into its second decade as the annual destination for hard-core chantaholics, its roots can be traced back to Ram Dass’s annual retreats at the Rhinebeck, N.Y. campus in the ’80’s. 

Omega Co-Founder Stephan Rechtschaffen told us that, in those days, Ram Dass would invite Krishna Das or Jai Uttal to come and chant with the gathering as evening entertainment, and it became so popular that chanting became a central aspect of the weekend. When Ram Dass could no longer attend due to his health, the chanting continued.  These days, Ram Dass beams in from Maui through the magic of interactive video, delivering his wisdom, humor and reflections of Neem Karoli Baba from a large screen.

What’s So Special About Omega? 

Radhanath Swami (ctr) with Shyamdas and Deva Premal

 Omega is different from everything else on The Big 5 list because it is chant and only chant.  It’s also the only one that is not a “festival” per se — more like a “retreat.”  Or, in Omega parlance,  a weekend workshop (The Yoga of Voice).  The program is chanting.  That’s it.  No simultaneous yoga classes across campus.  No lectures or experiential workshops to compete for your time.  Just chant, chant and chant some more. 


On the second day, there is an extraordinary all-night session that, if you are game, is pretty much guaranteed to take you so deep into the bhav that you just might, as Swami Satchidananda said, “forget everything.”  Participants fairly camp out in the Main Hall, variously dancing furiously or quietly meditating, dozing or chatting in between sets… and before you know it, dawn is rising, right in tune with the lilting flute-play of Manose and Steve Gorn.

But what makes Omega stand out for us are those completely unpredictable moments that are pure gold for the soul — like Radhanath Swami wailing on the harmonica with Deva Premal and Miten.  Or Donna De Lory joining C.C. White to sing Lokah Samastah Sukhino Bhavantu.  Or this little gem from Shyamdas, who never fails to liven things up with his stories and shenanigans:

‘The Super Bowl of Chant’

Miten, with Omega Co-Founder Stephan Rechtschaffen

Jai Uttal once famously called Omega Chant “the Super Bowl of chant fests,” maybe because only a handful of artists make it to the line-up and the competition to be on the schedule is intense.  (Each artist typically plays at least two full sets over the course of the weekend, and many play a third time at the Labor Day bonus session.)  Rechtschaffen, who makes the line-up decisions, says he is inundated with artists’ CDs and promo tapes and is always on the look-out for bands with a “unique” sound, but knows that bringing in someone “new” means someone else gets bumped, even if they’ve been on the Omega line-up for years. 

C.C. White was at fall Chant for the first time last year, and Dave Stringer returned after a few years’ absence.  Snatam Kaur and Wah!, both long-time Omega regulars, were noticeably absent last fall, as was David Newman (Wah! played at Omega’s smaller Spring Chant in May; Newman and Kaur both led workshop at the retreat center this summer).  Rechtschaffen openly lamented the absence of each of these favorites at fall Chant.   

The 2012 Line-Up 

KD and Arjun Bruggeman

Krishna Das, Shyamdas, Jai Uttal (with Daniel Paul) are constants on the Omega schedule.  They have been leading the Omega Chant pack since the early days and it’s hard to imagine Chant Weekend without all of them.  They can usually be counted on to be stage center during the famous closing session, when all the wallahs and musicians join together on stage for a final free-for-all.   Typically, you can find Shyamdas directing the action, Jai Uttal playfully rebelling, and Krishna Das playfully grumpy at having to be in the spotlight at such an “early” hour (it’s only 11:30 a.m. or so, after all). 

The ever-popular Deva Premal and Miten and Sikh songstress Snatam Kaur round out the top-bill headliners at this year’s Chant.

Vishal Vaid astounds

Vishal Vaid, who has trained in traditional ghazal (an ancient form of poetry in song that translates to “conversation with the divine”), astounds audiences every year (watch this for example) and seems to have a pretty solid position on the Omega roster.  The Mayapuris, the Florida-based band of “Krishna Kids” who have leaped — literally — into the international kirtan scene are back for a third year, and if previous years’ pattern holds true, will join just about everyone else’s bands as well.  

C.C. White

C.C. White is back for her second year, having solidified her return with two crowd-rousing sets last fall showcasing songs from her debut solo CD, This IS Soul Kirtan, which was “pre-released” at Omega.  Gaura Vani and bansuri flute virtuosos Manose and Steve Gorn complete the bill of musicians.  Radhanath Swami, who caused all sorts of excitement last fall when he joined Deva Premal and Miten on stage for an impromptu (and seriously wailin’) harmonica solo, will also be on hand.  We hope he brings his harmonica.

The Deets

When:  Aug. 31-Sept. 3, with a special 10-Hour Labor Day session on Sept. 3.  (If you still haven’t had enough, Krishna Das keeps the bhav flowing with a separate workshop on Tuesday, Sept. 4.)


Radhanath Swami & Donna De Lory

Where:  Omega Institute is located in Rhinebeck, NY, smack in the middle of the “Bhajan Belt,” the upstate New York region known for a confluence of kirtan.  It’s about 90 miles north of NYC and roughly the same distance from Albany.  There’s an Amtrak station nearby and a commuter train to NYC.

How Much:   This is the only bug in the ointment.  Tuition alone for Ecstatic Chant is $395.  The Labor Day session is $125, or $75 if you’re doing the weekend retreat also.  Accomodations are additional, and on-site cabins or dorms tend to be, shall we say, “rustic” (but pleasant enough).  See http://eomega.org/workshops/ecstatic-chant for details.

What Else? Rhinebeck is a quaint and boho-chic Hudson Valley town with lots of restaurants, shopping and an indie movie house.  But you may never want to leave the Omega campus, a rolling oasis with a small lake where you can kayak, hiking paths, great vegetarian meals, a wellness spa with all manner of body-work and subtle-energy treatments available, a soothing sanctuary at the top of the hill, and the charged energy of 30 years as a destination for spiritual masters and seekers of all stripes. 

So, what do you say?  Will you be going to Ecstatic Chant this year?  Why or why not?




Get the Bhav: ChantLanta (March 9-10, Atlanta)


This is the first of a new series, “Get the Bhav,” which covers kirtan festivals and retreats.  Please contact bpatoine@aol.com with information about upcoming events.

ChantLanta. Where the Bhav Is

Move over “HotLanta.”  After this weekend, the Big Peach, the City of Peace and of Trees may well have a brand new nickname: ChantLanta.

Now in its third year and bigger than ever, ChantLanta marries three big artists — WAH!, DAVID NEWMAN & MIRA, and SEAN JOHNSON & THE WILD LOTUS BAND — with EIGHT regional bhakti bands for two rockin’ days of call-and-response chanting plus yoga, sound and movement workshops throughout the day Saturday.

The music starts Friday night with three great local bands, BHAKTI MESSENGER, RAHASYA, and DHVANI, all for free.  These three alone would be enough to get us to ChantLanta, even if they may be new names to many.  BHAKTI MESSENGER, formed in 2009 by IAN BOCCIO, PHIL McWILLIAMS, BRIHASPATI and AMANDA FEINSTEIN, are Wallahs to Watch: they have opened for WAH! and SHYAMDAS, have played with other “big names” in kirtan, and have been invited to play at Bhakti Fest in September.  Check out their music and new CD, “Now,” and hear for yourself why they are on the rise.

RAHASYA, based in Athens, Ga., is another band to remember — and hear.  Comprised of SURDAS and VAJRA YOGINI plus keyboardist GERSHON, the group weaves Sanskrit mantras and Hebrew chants infused with southern gospel improv and heart-opening poeticism.  They have been touring throughout the Southeast in celebration of their second CD, “Covered in Song,” which released just last month.

All day Saturday 3/10, bhakti love flows from five more local bands:  FLYING MYSTICS, WOVEN TONGUES, KIRTAN BANDITS, SUNMOON PIE, and CHAITANYA KIRTAN.  In addition to nonstop chanting, workshops throughout the day cover topics such as Sufi meditation, Five Rhythms Dance, mantra chanting, and breathwork.  By the time Saturday night rolls around for the “big acts,” the energy at the Druid Hills Baptist Church, where ChantLanta unfolds, is likely be higher than…Sunday service at a Southern Baptist church??  The Saturday night line-up is the only part of the weekend that costs anything, and at $50 for three top performers, we think it’s a bargain.  UPDATE:  ChantLanta has graciously extended the discount ticket price of $35 to ALL until the day of the event, thanks to our article! 

Putting HotLanta on the Chant Map

Birthing credit for ChantLanta goes to BHAKTI MESSENGER, whose co-founder Ian Boccio said in an email that the band “threw together” the first fest in March 2010 “as a way to increase awareness of kirtan and bhakti practices” and build a kirtan community in greater Atlanta and beyond.  The strategy seems to be working:  Ian says attendance at BHAKTI MESSENGER’s kirtans has “exploded,” new bands (including DHVANI) have formed, other bands (like RAHASYA) now play regularly in Atlanta, and the city is becoming a destination for touring national artists.  “2012 looks to be a banner year for us, with WADE IMRE MORISSETTE, BHAGAVAN DAS, SHYAMDAS, and GIRISH all visiting our city in the first several months,” Ian said.

Omega Institute’s Ecstatic Chant weekends inspired him, Ian says.  “That was the first time I got the idea of what it would be like to do kirtan for days on end.”  He also found inspiration in the “Chant, Chai and Charity” events organized in Philadelphia by Steve Groff (Mira Newman’s father), and has used that as a model.  Last year’s ChantLanta festival raised $6,000 for charity, even without charging attendees a penny!  (The money came through sponsorships.)  This year, the organizers are hoping for 1,000 attendees, and proceeds benefit two local charities: 50 Cents Period and AiJalon.

Ian Boccio (Photo from ChantLanta)

These bhaktas have big plans for ChantLanta, hoping to make it “the largest and most visible kirtan event in the South.”  (They are not without competition: Sarasota, Fla.’s Rock the Bhakti weekend in January brought in SHANTALA and WAH! to join local groups PALMS TOGETHER and others, and in Houston, the Texas Yoga Conference last month hosted SEAN JOHNSON & THE WILD LOTUS BAND, DAVID NEWMAN & MIRA, SUZANNE STERLING, THE DESERT DWELLERS and Texas favorites THE BHAKTI HOUSE BAND.)

Somehow we think the South is big enough to handle all these festivals and more.  As Ian says: “We believe that if more people are chanting, there will be more peace and harmony in the world!”  Hear Hear.

ChantLanta Website Home Page


Reggae Kirtan from Jai Uttal


There was so much incredible kirtan at Omega’s Ecstatic Chant weekend that it’s hard to decide what to post first. We love this Jai Jai Ma from Jai Uttal’s first set Friday night.

Jai’s new CD, Queen of Hearts, dedicated to Radha, is now available. Have you heard it yet?


Rad Swami Blues


Lit up.

In his book The Journey Home, Radhanath Swami tells the story of standing on the banks of the Ganges and throwing his beloved blues harmonica — his last possession and final vestige of his Western life — into the sacred waters. It was a heart-wrenching moment, but something he felt compelled to do for the very reason that he knew how attached he was to that harm, and his path was one that disavowed material possessions. His days singing the blues were done.

Well, at least they were until last weekend’s Omega’s chant. With a little teasing from Miten and a lot of cajoling from the audience, Swami-Ji took to the stage at the end of Deva Premal’s set to bust out a pretty wailin’ harmony for Miten’s take on the blues classic, “You’ve Got to Move.”

The crowd went wild. And Swami-Ji lit up like a child.

It was one of those moments in kirtan that are completely unexpected and wholly unforgettable. Check it out:

What has been your most unforgettable moment in kirtan so far?