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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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1/2 of Deva Premal & Miten + Snatam Kaur at Omega Chant, by TheBhaktiBeat.com

Miten even had Snatam Kaur collaborating on stage. She did NOT wail on the harmonica or sing the blues...but maybe next time?

Miten, the sultry, guitar-strumming, wise-cracking singer/songwriter/soul partner of Deva Premal, just seems to inspire extraordinary musical improvs wherever he goes.  At last year’s Omega Chant, he managed to coax the normally reserved Radhanath Swami onto stage for a wailing harmonica solo that had the crowd roaring.

Well, Swami-Ji apparently left his harmonica behind, so what’s a blues lover like Miten to do?  Get Shyamdas in on the act, of course.  You just knew it was going to be good when Miten called him up to the stage toward the end of Miten and Premal’s set during the Labor Day session of Omega’s Ecstatic Chant weekend. 

Nothing quite like the Radhe blues…

Later that same evening (yes, sticking around Omega for that final, fourth day of chanting IS worth it), there was an even bigger surprise.  And yes, it too involved Miten…who was kind of hiding in the dark corner for this one:

Whoa!  Krishna Das singing Bob Dylan’s famous ballad (often credited to Eric Clapton, who made it famous).  Never seen that before.  

In fact, Krishna Das told The Bhakti Beat, this was the first time he has sung Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door at a public concert, and only the second time he has sung it at all.  A week prior to Omega, KD joined his Russian friend Boris Grebenshchikov — who KD called “the Bob Dylan of Russia” and Wickepedia calls the “grandfather of Russian rock” — on stage at a private gathering for a spontaneous rendition of it.  We can’t help wondering if this signals a return to rock ‘n roll for “Ex-Rocker” Krishna Das.

Omega Moments — highlights for us from a long weekend of inspired, blissful (and decidedly more traditional than these two videos suggest) chanting, in all the deliciously diverse incarnations of the contemporary practice of kirtan.  What were yours?

Additional Coverage from The Bhakti Beat’s Big Bhavalicious Adventure to Omega Chant, Bhakti Fest West and Sat Nam Fest East:
 
Bringing Home The Bhav: Bhakti-Fried Bliss-Chaser Faces ‘The Laundry’ of Life (Video)
Wallah to Watch: Jai-Jagdeesh, Songstress & Classical Dance Artist, Dazzles at Sat Nam Fest (Videos)
‘It Is Not Dying:’ Geoffrey Gordon (1952-2012) Remembered in Bhakti Fest Tributes and Haunting Video
Photo Journals from all 3 festivals on our facebook page.
Check our YouTube channel for the latest video uploads.
 
Stay tuned to this site for more coverage coming soon! Subscribe here.

 

 

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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. 

Manose

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?

 

 

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Where’s the Bhav This Weekend? 3/30-4/1

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What’s ahead: Mike Cohen with Brenda McMorrow in Toronto; Wah! and Deepak & Breath of Life Tribe in Santa Monica; SRI Kirtan rocks the Bhajan Belt; GuruGanesha, Girish and the Kirtaniyas converge on the Bay area, and David Newman hits the Midwest.

If you like the bhav blog, please share it.  We’ll love you for it!

Five for the Bhav

Toronto Melds Kirtan with Yoga

Photo by The Bhakti Beat, Bhakti Fest '11

We have a personal beef about how some yoga conferences eschew kirtan concerts altogether, so we rejoice whenever chanting gets featured billing at a yoga gathering.  Like the Toronto Yoga Conference, where MIKE COHEN will be joined by a high-powered chorus of musicians that includes BRENDA MCMORROW, LEA LONGO, LANA SUGARMAN, KEVAN McKENZIE (drum kit) and CHRIS GARTNER (electric bass) for the weekend’s main event on Friday night 3/30.  Also at the conference, Cohen is leading a workshop on integrating kirtan into yoga practice and teaching on Saturday 3/31, which promises to “demystify” kirtan for yogis interested in expanding their repertoire.

Cohen has just announced his latest CD, Soul Contact (officially available April 2), which he says was “profoundly influenced” by his travels to holy sites in South Indian and was crafted during a two-year kirtan tour across North America.  With guest vocalists JONI ALLEN and ALLIE STRINGER (that would be DAVE STRINGER’S niece), he describes the disc as “an invitation to sing, dance, clap and play with Divine Energy within a contemporary Western context.” Here’s a sample track from it, a sublime version of the Gayatri mantra featuring Allie Stringer’s vocal magic.

by The Bhakti Beat

From Toronto, BRENDA McMORROW heads to Buffalo, NY for a concert Saturday 3/31, kicking off a new Northeast tour for the Guelph, Ontario artist, who is literally taking off as a world-class chantress.  She will hit New York, Vermont, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Indiana and Ohio before heading back to her home province.  Northeast tour details here.

Double-Dose at the Shala

Santa Monica’s kirtan temple strikes again this weekend .  WAH! brings her bhav to Bhakti Yoga Shala on Friday 3/30 before heading to Encinitas for a concert Saturday 3/31 and afternoon workshop on Sunday 4/1 at Jyoti Mandir. (Wah! schedule here.)  On Saturday night the Shala hosts DEEPAK RAMAPRIYAN and BREATH OF LIFE TRIBE for what is sure to be a bhakti-rocking night.  Both events are part of the pre-Bhakti Fest build-up.  Need more?  There’s more.  GOVIND DAS, Bhakti Yoga Shala’s co-founder and head bhakta, will be leading a brand new Monday Night Community Kirtan on, yeah, Monday night.  The Shala’s website has the deets for the whole weekend, and don’t forget to check out what’s coming up.

Bhakti Rock in the Bhajan Belt

Photo by Ganagaram (Patrick Finn)

Back East in the Hudson Valley’s Bhajan Belt, SRI KIRTAN (aka SRUTI RAM and ISHWARI) are back from India and at their home ‘hood studio of Euphoria Yoga in Woodstock on Saturday 3/31, rocking the local bhaktas with their inimitable blend of genre-bending bhajans.  KC SOLARIS will join on tabla.  In India, this dynamic duo opened the evening chants at the annual Festival of Flowers at RADHANATH SWAMI’s Radhagopinath temple in Mumbai, and got covered in a few million loose flower petals that rained down from the heavens.  After reading their blog post recounting the story, we’re adding the Festival of Flowers to our bucket list.  Wow.

Bhav Around the Bay

Northern California’s Bay Area gets a triple-shot of bhakti love this weekend: GURUGANESHA BAND (with special guest JAI UTTAL!), THE KIRTANIYAS and GIRISH all have gigs this weekend in Berkeley and San Francisco.

GURUGANESHA SINGH and his band of troubadours (including HANS CHRISTIAN, MICHELLE HURTADO, DANIEL PAUL, SAT KATAR SINGH and GURUSANGHAT SINGH) hit the Rudramandir Temple in Berkeley Friday night for one last California gig — and word is that JAI UTTAL will be joining the fun.  (Do you think he’ll have gotten the day-glo colors out of his hair yet, after last weekend’s Holi Fest?) The GGB has collaborated its way up the coast of Cali, playing along the way with KARNAMRITA DASI, THOMAS BARQUEE, clarinetist RAM DASS KHALSA, and more.  Saturday the band heads north for a string of concerts in Oregon and British Columbia before the West Coast leg of this national tour culminates in SAT NAM FEST in Joshua Tree April 12-14.  East Coasters will get their chance soon enough: that leg begins in Virginia May 18.  See the full tour here.

There might be some residual Holi Fest colors found at Purusha in San Francisco Friday night as well, when the KIRTANIYAS bring their Krishna love back from Utah to rock Bay bhaktas.  The Kirtaniyas — VIJAY KRSNA, SARASVATI NUGENT, RASIKA COVIN, NITAI PREMO — will be joined by Jai Uttal’s long-time vocal accompanist, PRAJNA VIEIRA (whose debut CD will be out later this Spring).  They all head to San Raphael Saturday 3/31 and Los Gatos on Sunday 4/1Details for all three shows here.

Also on Friday, GIRISH is back in NoCal and playing for yoga with ANNIKA WILLIAMS at Yoga Tree Mission in San Francisco.  We stumbled upon a yoga class at BHAKTI FEST where Girish, YVETTE OM and ALVIN YOUNG  (of the WILD LOTUS BAND) were jamming, so we understand why so many people want Girish playing at their yoga class.  (In fact you can get three days of Girish-infused yoga next weekend, 4/5-7 at the Breathe Yoga Retreat, happening at the Joshua Tree Retreat Center aka the home of Bhakti Fest and Sat Nam Fest 2012.)  On Saturday 3/31, Girish heads south for concerts in Santa Barbara, followed by Avila Beach Sunday 4/1, continuing a breathless North American Diamonds in the Sun tour.  We hope he gets to breathe at the Breathe retreat… Tour details here.

Mantras in the Midwest

More wanderlust from DAVID NEWMAN aka DURGA DAS, who is in the midwest this weekend with concerts in Chicago Friday 3/30 and Oshkosh, Wisc. Saturday 3/31. On Sunday 4/1 Newman pulls double-shift at Inner Sun Yoga in Oshkosh, presenting his Inner Fire workshop from 10-noon plus a live-music yoga jam later in the afternoon.  All details here.

And because everyone knows Midwesterners can’t get enough kirtan, three local bhakta bands in the Minnepolis area are joining forces for a mini-encore of the recent Milwaukee Kirtan FestTULSI DAS, PASCALE LAPOINT and OM BOLO reconvene the kirtan on Saturday 3/31 from noon to 4 p.m.  Details here.

Those are our top five spots for the bhav this weekend.  Where will you be chanting?

Don’t forget to post your events to The Bhakti Beat’s facebook page or tweet us with them.  Thanks!

 

 

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Rad Swami Blues

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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?

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