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Ananda Ashram Shyamdas Tribute by TheBhaktiBeat.com

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.


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


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

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

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



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SRI Kirtan Sruti Ram Ishwari @ Bhakti Fest Midwest by TheBhaktiBeat.comProject: Full-length Studio-Recorded CD
Fundraising Goal: $13,000
Deadline: July 19, 2014 @ 11:59 p.m. PT
Contribute  Here NOW!
Ed. Note: This is part of our ongoing series on Crowdfunding Kirtan, in which fans and friends contribute money for new recording projects in exchange for “perks” ranging from free downloads to private concerts.  The trend has grown as record labels have cut back and artists have to fund projects themselves.

The Artists

Sruti Ram and Ishwari are SRI Kirtan.  Based in the heart of New York’s Bhajan Belt in Woodstock, this powerhouse pair of bhaktas already have two stellar CDs under their belt (“Fire of Devotion” and “Live Your Love”) and are rising stars in the bhakti world.  They have been mainstays for years at Omega’s Ecstatic Chant, invariably singing alongside Shyamdas, their long-time friend and collaborator.  Shyamdas, the revered Sanskrit scholar, master of Hari Katha and favorite uncle of Western kirtan, knew a good thing when he saw it — and he knew SRI Kirtan to be the real deal, authentic in their devotional service and masterful musicians who can take you deep into quiet meditation or raise you up in ecstatic dance.

Ishwari of SRI Kirtan Bhakti Fest Midwest by TheBhaktiBeat.comSruti Ram and Ishwari were part of Shyamdas’ inner satsang circle when he was home in New York, were right there next to Shyamji during every one of his famous Bhajan Boats on the Hudson River, and for his epic final performance at Bhakti Fest Midwest in 2012. They organized the first annual Shyamdas Memorial Kirtan last year to celebrate the life and lila of their friend, headlined Ananda Ashram’s Shyamdas tribute, anchored the first Ahimsa Festival at Windham Mountain last fall and will again this fall, and have claimed a coveted spot at Bhakti Fest for their own sets in the past couple of years.  Whether playing Bhakti Fest main stage or for an intimate gathering of locals in their hometown ‘hood, SRI Kirtan never fails to rock the bhav.

Sruti Ram of SRI Kirtan by TheBhaktiBeat.comTogether, this pair has several decades of musical experience under their belt, spanning an astounding range of musical genres.  Ishwari, a seasoned sound engineer and producer, explored folk, punk rock, opera (yep, opera), and electronica before settling into kirtan.  Sruti Ram, who was part of the bhakti brotherhood who traveled to India in the 1960’s to soak in the bhav of Neem Karoli Baba (along with Shyamdas, Krishna Das, Jai Uttal and others), has a background in Gregorian chant, opera (yep, opera again), and doo-wop, along with 40-odd years leading kirtan.  (He also has some pretty radical stories from rock n’ roll — ask him about Elton John stealing his platform shoes just before going onstage sometime in the 1970’s…)

The Project

This will be SRI Kirtan’s third CD, following the rockingly bhavalicious “Live Your Love” in 2010 (which Shyamdas called a “bhakti blast”), and their first foray as a duo, “Fire of Devotion.”  CD No. 3 promises to deliver deeper devotion, a reflection of the evolution of their musical partnership.  They told The Bhakti Beat in an interview: “We’ve become more comfortable in how we present our music to the public…we’ve become more moody, embracing what the chants actually feel like.”

Sruti Ram Ishwari SRI Kirtan by TheBhaktiBeat.com

That certainly is true of the title track we sampled.  It (and the CD) will be called “Daga Magi Chal,” a term from the lyrical Braj Bhasha language (“the language of Lord Krishna”) that refers to Krishna’s inimitable swagger, or the way he moves.  The song is inspired by the work of one of the Ashta Chaap poets, the 15th century bhakti poets that Shyamdas has brought to life through his translations.  It features lyrical English verses written by Ishwari combined with the original Braj Bhasha words, which seem to hold the very vibration of the Supreme Lover Krishna in their tones.  We first experienced it via speakerphone from a very rough recording, and even though we could barely hear it among the signal distortions of two cell phones on speakerphone, the frequency of love held within the words and melody cut straight to our soul and left us with goosebumps.  No exaggeration.

That track alone is enough to make this CD a must-have.  But of course there’s more, drawing from this duo’s rich array of vocal capacities.  There will be an ode to Radhe that will transport you to Vrindavan; a Hawaiian style Sita Ram chant dedicated to Ram Dass that will take you straight to Maui; a “more upbeat, more dancey” remix of “Live Your Love,” the title track from the previous CD; two Maha Mantras evoking very different moods, and their signature rockin’ version of the Hanuman Chalisa.

“Daga Maga Chal” will feature guest artists Steve Gorn on bansuri flute, Visvambhar Sheth (Mayapuris) on mridanga, Noah Hoffeld on cello, and Kyle Esposito on bass, along with SriKala Kerel Roach, Avinash and Naren Budhkar adding rhythm.  The pair has once again recruited Julie Last (Joni Mitchell, Ricki Lee Jones), who produced “Live Your Love,” to co-produce and mix the new CD.

All of which adds up to a CD in the making that you don’t want to miss.  A fall 2014 release is anticipated.  Why not take a moment right now to pre-order it — and peruse the lineup of great perks SRI Kirtan is offering in exchange for your contribution to this effort?

Help make “Daga Magi Chal” happen by donating to this campaign now!

Please spread the word in this final week by sharing this post on social media.

Contribute to SRI Kirtan’s Indiegogo Campaign
Listen to SRI Kirtan’s Music
Visit www.srikirtan.com for more

Connect with The Bhakti Beat!

Subscribe to The Bhakti Beat
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Previous articles in this series:
Jim Beckwith
Brenda McMorrow
Sean Johnson & The Wild Lotus Band
David Newman aka Durga Das
Sheela Bringi
Like what you see here?  Help us keep The Bhakti Beat flowing!  Consider donating today, a one-time contribution or a recurring contribution — any amount is so appreciated and will help us continue to bring you the bhav.  The Bhakti Beat is a labor of love, completely self-funded by Brenda Patoine (moi), who is a freelance neuroscience writer by day.  Every little bit helps! THANK YOU! Donate Here.
Ananda Ashram Shyamdas Tribute by TheBhaktiBeat.com

One month after Shyamdas’ passing, the bhakti community is still reeling from the gash torn in its heart by the loss of the great Sanskrit scholar who had become, in recent years especially, the Western bhakti world’s favorite uncle.  From the Kumbh Mela in Allahabad India, where a moment of silence in honor of Shyamdas was observed among the millions gathered for the world’s largest spiritual convergence, to the bhaktified walls of Bhakti Yoga Shala in the heart of SoCal’s fertile kirtan country, to a little healing space over a garage  in Montpelier, Vt., near where Shyamdas lived for many years, those who knew and loved Shyamdas have gathered to honor his life and celebrate his lila.

Ananda Ashram, the Yoga Society of New York, offered up its own tribute to its patron saint of satsang on Sunday, Feb. 17.  Ananda sits in the heart of New York’s “Bhajan Belt,” near Shyamdas’ home when he was in the U.S.  The little community tucked away in a sleepy NY hamlet was “the first place he came” when he returned to the States after his winter in India, said Hari Mulukutla, a long-time friend of Shyamdas who organized the tribute in concert with Ananda’s Jennifer Schmid.  (Ananda has more recently come to fame via the Grammy nomination of Krishna Das’ Live Ananda, which was recorded at the ashram in 2007.)

Hari Mulukutla: “This was his playground, and we are all his Gopis.”

“This was his playground, and we are all his Gopis,” Mulukutla said, referring to the famous lila of Krishna and his devoted dairy maidens who would follow the sound of his flute into the forests of Vrindavan, the divine playground of the Hindu scriptures.  Shyamdas chose the Vrindavan region as his home base in India in order to “touch the dust of the dust of the dust that touched the Beloved’s feet,” he once said.

An image of Shyamdas ecstatically singing was the focal point of a high altar at the gathering.  An offering of Krishna Devi, Ananda resident and “gypsy kirtan” wallah, it was lit by tealights and nestled with flowers and Indian textiles of the type Shyam-ji often wrapped about his neck or head.  It gave the impression throughout the evening that the teacher himself was there, watching over the musicians gathered on stage and singing right along with them.

Shyamdas’ sister, Susan S. Ryan

Susan S. Ryan, Shyamdas’ sister, was presented with a traditional flower garland to place over Shyam-ji’s picture, after which she spoke briefly about her brother and the outpouring of love for him from the bhakti community.  “I always knew he was special, but now I’ve learned that he really did have a million best friends,”  Ryan said, drawing laughs from the crowd.  “And I thought I was his best friend,” she chuckled.

She said growing up with Shyamdas for a brother was full of surprises, because he “was such a rascal.”  At the same time, she said, he was “such a devoted person, devoted to his translations and to his music, but also to his family.”  She called him “sometimes mindful, sometimes manic,” but always “clear-headed.”

“He was willing to risk everything to express what he knew to be true,” Shyamdas’ sister said.

The evening proceeded with stories, poetry from Shyamdas’ translations, and of course, kirtan — in a rapid progression of 9 separate bands/artists leading two chants each.  Vallabhdas, Shyamdas-ji’s dear friend and devoted student who has collaborated on many of his books, offered up a poignant ode to his teacher and mentor, singing what might be the anthem song of Shyamdas’ life:  Beloved.  The song, from Shyamdas’ first CD, Beloved Chants, combines Shyam’s original lyrics with a traditional composition written (in the Brajabhasa language) by the 16th century Ashta-Chaap poet-saint Govinda Swami. Vallabhdas described the bard as someone whose “life was full of deep realizations, and his words carry to us the essence of pure devotion.”   (Scroll to the bottom for Govinda Swami’s words, plus Shyamdas’ translation and original lyrics for Beloved.)

At the end of the song, Vallabhdas said: “I think Shyamdas found his beloved.  We all miss him of course…but we’ll just keep singing the Beloved’s names and following in his footsteps, and we’ll get there…”

SRI Kirtan with Naren Budhkar

Bhajan Belt favorites SRI Kirtan (Sruti Ram & Ishwari) took the stage next, singing two of their favorites from their many sails on the Bhajan Boats with Shyamdas.  Sruti Ram told a humorous story about long road trips with his bhakti brother (“driving to Vermont for coffee”) and seeking his friend’s counsel about a difficult interpersonal situation (Shyam’s advice: “Delete.”), then launched into a rousing Sri Ram Jai Ram.  Ishwari took over the lead to deliver her now-classic Jai-Jagatambe Ma Durga chant — punctuated with her earth-shaking take on Carole King’s “I Feel the Earth Move Under My Feet.”

To close it out, Hari Mulukutla sang Sharanam, a hymn of auspiciousness from the Upanashids (Hindu scriptures) that Shyamdas often sang when closing his programs.  The evening ended with a recording of one of Shyam-ji’s followers — a Western woman named Nicole — singing a Holi devotional song to Shyamdas for the first time.  It was a sweet, simple reminder of the many lives he touched during his presence in this world and how his influence continues still.

“Hundreds of years in the future, they will still be talking about Shyamdas,” Mulukutla said.  “And it will be very hard to describe him.”

Shyamdas, we imagine, would have chuckled.

The full roster of musicians included:

Krishna Devi

Krishna Devi, who started it off with Radhe (what better for a Shyamdas tribute?) and Krishna, warming up our response with her “gypsy kirtan.”

The Rev. Kim Lesley, who, joined by Jennifer Schmid and Renee on vocals, kept the Maha Mantra flowing.

Arundhati read a poignant remembrance sharing “the ultimate lesson” Shyamdas taught her — “Take shelter of Krishna” — then sang a beautiful Arati followed by a Govinda/Hare Krishna medley.

Prema of the Woodstock sangha sang and played on her tanpura one of the hundreds (thousands?) of ancient love poems that were brought to light by Shyamdas: “Lift up the veil and meet your Beloved.”

Ned Leavitt aka Jambavan

Ned Leavitt aka Jambavan sang Sri Krishna Sharanam Mama — “Sri Krishna is my refuge” — a song much beloved by Shyamdas that he sang often.  Shyam-ji’s partner Ally Gopi was softly singing it in the car as they were raced to the hospital in India just before his physical death, she wrote in a poignant memoir for the spiritual journal Nama Rupa.

John McDowell

Naren Budhkar, who often played tabla for Shyamdas, read another of Shyam-Ji’s translated love poems to the Divine, then joined John McDowell for a drum call-and-response.  McDowell, who co-produced Shyamdas’ first CD and has played with him for many years, called Shyam a “musician’s musician” who “understood that rhythm was one of the ways to keep the bhav going.”

Supporting the music all evening were Sundar Das on flute and Avinash, Tommy Be and John McDowell on percussion.

Sri Krishna Sharanam Mama

Tommy Be, Avinash, Renee, Jennifer, and Rev Kim


From Vallabhdas: “This traditional composition in the Nata Raga, sung to Shri Krishna in the early afternoon, was written by the 16th century Ashta-Chaap poet-saint Govinda Swami. His life was full of deep realizations, and his Brajabhasa words carry to us the essence of pure devotion:”
pritama prita hi te paiye
yadyapi rupa guna, shila su-gharata
ina batana na rijhaiye
sat kula janma, karma subha lakshana
veda purana padhaiye
Govinda bina sneha sualo
rasanaa kahaju nachaiye
Shyamdas’ Translation:
The Beloved is found only through love.
Physical beauty, good virtues, fine character
and a noble home –
these possessions will never please God.
You could have a high birth,
good karmas, auspicious signs, and
have read the Vedas and Puranas.
Sings Govinda, “But, my friend!
Without love for the Beloved,
what is the point of wagging your tongue?”
Shyamdasji composed these English lyrics to go along with the song:
Find the Beloved through the beloved Name.
Even if you have good looks and virtues,
they don’t matter in this game.
If you don’t love Shri Govinda,
what are you doing with your day?

More on Shyamdas:

Swept Up in a ‘Tidal Wave of Bhav’ with Shyamdas: Epic 45-Minute Maha Mantra
Storytime in the Bhav with Shyamdas & Friends at Bhakti Fest Midwest
Feels Like ‘Yesterday:’  Classic Shyamdas in Wacky Spontaneous Improv at Omega Chant
Bhajan Boat’ Charity Cruise Circles Manhattan with a Boatful of Bhaktas
Ananda Ashram Shyamdas Tribute Photo Journal on The Bhakti Beat’s facebook page
Remembering Shyamdas Photo Journal on The Bhakti Beat’s facebook page
Shyamdas Remembered, Video Playlist on YouTube
Also see:
www.sacredwoods.net (for Shyamdas’ books and recordings. Note: many sold-out books are being reprinted)



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. 


“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



It’s been the subject of scholarly study, doomsday prophesizing and New Age philosophizing alike for…well, pretty much forever.  It’s inspired countless books,  millions of articles, a major motion picture, and more than a few good cartoons.  Whatever your beliefs are about 12.21.12 — the end of the world, the beginning of a new world, or none of the above — one thing is clear:  the occasion is being marked worldwide with consciousness-raising events focused on prayer, meditation, and yes, kirtan.  Along with more than a few end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it blow-out bashes.  

It’s no wonder: 12.21.12 is not only the much-ballyhooed date on which the Mayan calendar supposedly ends (but not really); it is also the winter solstice — the longest night of the year and the turning point for the “return of light” by way of gradually lengthening days.  Some theorists suggest the date coincides with Earth’s crossing a central nexxus in the Milky Way galaxy, signifying the end (or beginning) of an epoch in the orbit of our sun around the galaxy’s spiraling vortex.

There are as many theories out there about what 12.21.12 means as you care to dig for (30.5 million Google results in .24 seconds).  One recurring theme is the idea of a kind of global metanoia, a spiritual transformation or rise in consciousness like the world hasn’t seen in say, 5,125 years (the length of this last period in the Mayan timekeeping system).  Within the “conscious community,” 12.21.12 has become, it would seem, a lightning rod for stepping up the call for global unity and action to recognize our interconnectedness and avert ecological disaster on our home planet, a fate that seems to be racing toward us with accelerating speed. 

With that in mind, we set out to find out what was happening in the bhakti community.  We didn’t have to look far…

Worldwide Events

Golden Age Global Kirtan

Quite simply, kirtan will be everywhere on 12.21.12.  From every corner of the globe, chanters will be beating their drums and raising their voices in mantra throughout the day, all day, all night.   Championed by NoCal bhakta K.d. Devi Dasi and the non-profit Kuli Mela Association, whose mission is to promote and preserve bhakti yoga philosophy, Golden Age Global Kirtan links chanters and Krishna communities worldwide for a common gathering celebrating “a shared experience of Loving Service, Bhakti Yoga.” 

It has been a volunteer, person-to-person effort, Devi Dasi said, using social networking for spiritual activism. “On a deeper level we are activating a network of real people, real hearts to be connected, not on-line this time, but in our hearts, body, mind and spirit…in COMMUNITY!” she said.  As of Wednesday, some 25 countries had signed on to participate in Global Kirtan — with groups of ‘2 or 200’ people — and the list was growing fast as the news went viral in the bhakti world.   

“This is not simply each of us in our own corner praying,” Devi Dasi said. “This is a grass-roots call out to one another, as brothers and sisters, activating our communities with unified intentions, beyond borders, countries, or organization.”   For more info and to add your kirtan to the list, visit the Kulimela Assocation’s page on facebook.

UNIFY Global Moment of Peace

This worldwide effort links events around the globe in an umbrella event being called simply, UNIFY.  Highlights are a globally synchronized “Solstice Moment of Peace” at 11:11 GMT (6:11 a.m. EST) and a “Global Unification Moment” at 20:00 GMT (3 p.m. EDT), where people will gather the world over for a silent prayer, meditation or ceremony with the intention of uniting for world peace.  From a Unify.org press release:

The hope behind the ‘Unify’ idea is that joining in with these events will demonstrate that people have more desire to participate in something positive, than to dwell on the doom and gloom of apocalyptic predictions. Unify.org is serving as a hub for these events, including helping organize meditation flash mobs in city centers to live-streaming ceremonies at Mexican archaeological sites with hundreds of thousands in attendance to coordinating an interfaith moment in Jerusalem between major world religions.

Unify.org will live-stream footage of key events on the day including festivals, ceremonies and events from Jerusalem, The Pyramids at Giza, Stonehenge and Glastonbury, Chichen Itza, Palenque, Teotihuacan, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Austin, Texas, Lake Titicaca, Cape Town, Byron Bay, Australia and even Antarctica.  For details on the movement and individual events, see www.unify.org.

Global Convergence at Great Pyramids of Giza, Egypt

Global Convergence is a 3-day adventure retreat to Giza, Egypt (and a continuing Nile River cruise afterward) that culminates with a dawn-breaking ceremony at the Great Pyramid on 12.21.12, which will be live-streamed via www.unify.org.  Details of the ceremony are sketchy on the Global Convergence website, but as far as we can tell, it will feature “a selection of the top electronic music producers and DJ’s from the west coast’s music scene” as well as world-music pioneers Arjun Baba and Fallah Fi Allah, who never fail to rock the stage at Bhakti Fest with their high-voltage brand of Sufi Qawwali music.  Presented by L.A. electronic-music producers The Do Lab; for more details, see www.globalconvergence2012.com.

Best Bhakti Bets

(If we had a teleporter and could go anywhere, we’d beam in on these first — right after Arjun Baba’s set at the Great Pyramid, that is.)

Kirtaniyas at New BrajAt the top of the list is the first-ever New Braj 24-Hour Kirtan at the community of Krishna devotees in New Braj Village in central California, near Sequoia National Park.  Spearheaded by The Kirtaniyas, the internationally beloved foursome of “Krishna kids” Vijay Krsna, Sarasvati, Rasika Dasi and Nitai Prem, this kirtan immersion will span 12 hours each day Friday and Saturday.  Rumor has it there may be a live-stream of the chanting (the next best thing to beaming there); stay tuned to The Bhakti Beat’s facebook page for up-to-the-minute updates.  Starts at 10 a.m., New Braj Village, CA.  Details here.

SRI Kirtan & World Peace in the Catskills: It will be mantras and meditation in the mountains at this weekend retreat featuring Sruti Ram and Ishwari, the Woodstock, NY duo behind SRI Kirtan, who will lead ecstatic chant as part of Friday evening’s program.  Go for the night or the whole weekend by joining the World Peace Meditation Retreat at the Ashokan Center in Olivebridge, N.Y.  Learn more.

Larisa Stow & Shakti Tribe in Phoenix: Can you say transformance? Any show with this band will transform you; Larisa Stow is passion personified, love without limits, delivering a wake-up call to anyone who will listen. Can you hear it? The Tribe takes their mantra rock to Phoenix this weekend, kicking it off with a celebration of ceremony and community with drum, flute, song and dance that they are headlining Friday night. On Saturday, Stow will lead a Mantra Playshop session, all part of the 12.21.12 festivities of the non-profit Fusion Foundation. Find out more.

Bhakti Blessings Coast-to-Coast


Venice, CA:  Rebirth of the Light Winter Solstice Movement Meditation with Shiva Rea, Dave Stringer, Global Sonic DJ Fabian Alsultany , Donna De Lory, Spring Groove, Yehoshua Brill and more. 2-10 p.m., Exhale Center for Sacred Movement, Venice, CA.  More info.

Los Angeles, CA:  Celebrating the New Age, an evening of “live yoga, live music, live food and live people” featuring multi-instrumentalist Sheela Bringi and Clinton Patterson (producer of Bringi’s debut CD in-the-works), with Leonice Shinneman, playing blues/raga/kirtan.  6:30 p.m. at Peace Yoga Gallery, Los Angeles.  Details.

Richmond, CA:  Blessings for the New Millennium,a multicultural evening of mantra, music and sacred ceremony, featuring Daniel Paul and Gina Salá, who are just finishing up their West Coast storm tour to launch their collaborative CD, Tabla Mantra. Includes Sound Healing with  Jan Cercone, Taiko drumming with Eden Aoba Taiko, and of course, tabla mantra with Paul & Salá.  Find out more.

San Rafael, CA:  Cosmic Dance Party with MC Yoga & special guests.  Described as an “Intergalactic Planetary Dance Party In Northern California to celebrate the end of the Mayan Calendar, the Winter Solstice, and anything else that makes you feel like dancing.”  That about covers it…and dance you will want to:  with Robin Livingston on deck and Amanda Devi on visuals, this threesome pumps out high-voltage, bass-heavy tracks from MC’s latest CD, Pilgrimage, that you can’t help but move to.  Get the scoop.

Vancouver, BC: Mantra, kirtan and labyrinth meditation featuring the World Peace Flame, organized by Sandra Leigh and Give Peace a Chant Kirtan Community. 7 p.m., Labyrinth at St. Paul’s Anglican Church, Vancouver, BC. Details here.

Seattle, WA: Dharma Sound is presenting kirtan at 7 p.m., Samudra Yoga, Bremerton, WA.


Rosemont, PA:  Stay Strong 2 Release Party and Winter Solstice kirtan celebration with David Newman, Mira and The Beloved.  This is the official release party for Stay Strong 2: You Can Count On Me.  The evening is a benefit for The Bridge Foundation and Global Green USA.  8 p.m., The New Leaf Club, Rosemont, PA.  Details here

Boston, MATom Lena is hosting a special Solstice edition of his regularly scheduled Kitchari Kirtan, featuring Beantown chantress Irene Solea. The evening will open with Shakti Rowan leading the KK Posse in a Solstice Ritual to welcome the new earth. 7 p.m., Cambridge, MA.  Details here.

Bedford, NY:  Satya Franche & MA Kirtan will add their “vibration to the celestial vortex” for holiday chanting and potluck gathering, beginning 7 p.m. at Transcendence at Sun Raven, Bedford, NY.  More info.

West Hartford, CT:  Celebrate the Winter Solstice with friends and family in a gathering that includes the ancient Homa Hotra fire ceremony to “let go of that which we no longer need and manifest all that we envision for ourselves in the future.”  And of course, there will be chanting and dancing.  8:30 p.m.; West Hartford Yoga.  Details here.

Bennington, VT:  DEVI presents an evening of Solstice kirtan with special guest, Bill ‘Jambavan’ Pfleging.  DEVI’s just-released CD, “The Path of Love,” will be available for purchase.  6 p.m., Karma Cat Yoga, Bennington, VT.  More info.


Minneapolis, MN:  The Midwest gets a head start on 12.21.12 with a celebration of mantra by Heartland bhaktas Sitari and Kalyana with Pavan Kumar (aka Susan Shehata, Colleen Buckman and Keith Helke), who are releasing their first self-titled CD on 12.20.  The evening includes a guided “clearing” meditation and a celebration of the return of the sun, and also features the music of Blue Soul Caravan and special guest Jill James. Long-time champions of midwestern bhav, this Minneapolis-based band (which also includes Will Kemperman) made its debut at Bhakti Fest Midwest this summer.  Details here.

Green Bay, WI:  Erika King and Be Alford team up for live music and yin yoga for a Winter Solstice Celebration at the Studio for Well-Being in Neenah, WI.  More info.

Chicago, IL:  The Bodhi Spiritual Center is hosting Birth of the Golden Age Celebration, a two-hour program including a Q & A led by Mariana Gigea on the Awakened State, a Crystal Bowl Meditation, dancing, and hands-on blessings for awakening in the tradition of  Amma Bhagavan, founder of the Oneness University. Find out more.

Your turn: tell us where you’ll be chanting on this long-anticipated day.  Will you be celebrating, praying, hiding your head in the sand…?


There’s a lot of talk these days about a “mantra revolution,” and enough action in the chant world to back up the premise.

Witness: chant festivals that attract thousands, “rock-star” wallahs, new music expanding in every direction, community kirtan rising…even mainstream media coverage of mantra music (gasp!).  Yet it’s an undeniable truth that the bulk of the action is coastal: California and the northeastern seaboard are leading the charge, with some kirtan hotspots scattered in the midwest and mountain states. 

When mantra mania hits Vermont, a state known more for maple trees and mountains than mantra music, you’ve got to believe there’s something to this movement.

Boundaries dissolving

Enter VerMantra, which for the second year now — thanks to the nonprofit Call and Response Foundation — has brought 12 hours of nonstop multi-flavored kirtan to a state that is just barely on the kirtan map.  No, there were not thousands of people in attendance, and no rock stars or divas on the bill.   Instead, there was a solid line-up of 10  great bhakti bands, each one having signed on for peanuts, driven the extra mile to be there, and bringing with them an attitude of genuine service and devotion to the spirit of the gathering. 

The ingredients for Mulligan Stew, VerMantra style

You had luminaries like Gaura Vani and SRI Kirtan. You had up-and-comers like Devadas and Kirtan Soul Revival.  You had mantra warriors Keli Lalita and Adam Bauer and regional favorites Dave Russell and Tom Lena.  And you had a taste of the local talent in Yogi Patrick & the Funky Shanti, and the incomparable kirtan jam collective, the Kailash Jungle Band

‘Where this Movement is Going’

The “stage” was the center of the room, and everyone circled ’round the musicians like bees to nectar.  Collaboration and community were key:  everyone — musicians and ticket-holders alike — was in everyone’s band.  It was, by design, the kind of environment where the boundaries between performer and audience evaporate.  Where callers and responders meld together in a circular flow of rhythm and song, united as one voice calling out in joyful abandon.   The kind of environment where magic happens.

Gaura Vani: Delivering Nectar

“This is grassroots community kirtan at its best,” Gaura Vani said during his set at VerMantra, adding,  “and that is really where this movement is going.”

Brooklyn-based wallah Devadas used the analogy of a “Mulligan stew” to describe the gathering — the idea that each band, each musician, brings something unique to add to the bhakti soup.  “We come from all these places — different paths, different teachers — and we each bring our own ingredients, our own styles and perspectives.  In the end we have something like Mulligan stew that feeds us,” he said.  

For a full review of the VerMantra line-up, read:
“Making Bhakti Soup: VerMantra Serves Up ‘Mulligan Stew’ of Mantra Music” (coming soon!)

Devadas, a devotee of Mata Amritanandamayi (Amma) who has sung at her darshans in the Northeast U.S., warmed up the stew-pot early in the day with the recitation of the 1,000 Names of the Divine Mother.   He stuck around to stir the pot throughout the day, playing mridanga or hand cymbals or just singing.  Twelve hours later, he was back at stage center to serve up the feast and close out the fest.  “To play clean-up,” the other musicians teased him.

Clean up he did.

Time to savor the stew...Devadas

With an unassuming grace, Devadas effortlessly elevated the delicious mood of devotion that had been simmering for nine sets to a whole new level.  Backed by a core band of Gaura Vani (mridanga & vocals), SRI Kirtan’s Ishwari and Sruti Ram (vocals), KC Solaris (tabla), Adam Bauer (bass), Richard Davis (guitar), Rasamrta Devi Dasi (cymbals) and Louise Ross (flute), he steered us right into a slow-building bhajan learned from his guru Amma that gradually but inevitably peaked in a tidal wave of ecstatic crescendo. 

The room was an ocean of motion.

People were dancing, clapping, spinning, singing out the Names like “souls crying out for our divine home,” in Gaura Vani’s words.  The mantra seemed to take on a life of its own, letting us surf the crest of the wave just…long…enough before settling us down ever so gently on the shores of our souls, as Kahlil Gibran might say. 

And then we did it all over again.  And we soared even higher…


Radhe Govinda Bhajo, the first chant Devadas led, is a traditional melody that Amma “has been singing for a very long time,” he said.  She taught it to him and he spoon- fed it to us.  It was delicious. 

You can taste it here:


The second chant Devadas led was a complex MahaMantra melody straight from the temples of Kainchi, India, the sacred land where Neem Karoli Baba often hung out and where his ashram stands today.  But that’s another story — and video — coming soon…


At the risk of sounding hyperbolic, this was for me one of those peak experiences in kirtan that just doesn’t happen every day.  Maybe it was the fact that we’d been there for nearly 12 hours, simmering in the stew, steeping in all the flavors of bhav.  Maybe the group was really “on” after singing together all day, as the boundaries dissolved and egos melted away and the energy rose.   I don’t pretend to understand the magic that happens in kirtan.  I’d reallllly like to, but I think it’s beyond intellectual comprehension.  It defies logical explanation.

The power of mantra, as Dave Stringer has said, is not something you have to “believe in” or even understand; it is something that must be experienced.   

Simple as that.  All you have to do is sing the Names.

All that bhav and free chai too

Special thanks to director Jennifer Canfield and co-founders Susan Murphy and Ed Ritz of the Call and Response Foundation, whose programs support community kirtan events and bring mantra music to populations in need.  Please visit their website, www.callandresponsefoundation.org, and consider donating to support their efforts.  

Also see:
www.dharmaboutique.com (Adam Bauer)
www.mantralogy.com (Keli Lalita)
Yogi Patrick & the Funky Shanti
Prem Prakash



Passionate about the planet

As the Bhajan Boat forged the troubled waters of Manhattan’s East River last weekend, SRI Kirtan punctuated their set with a passionate rap against “fracking,” one of the latest threats to water quality perpetrated by Big Oil & Gas.  The very UNtraditional lyrical riff was brilliantly wrapped inside a traditional chant venerating Ganga Ma — the troubled holy river revered in India as symbolic of the Divine Mother, the source from which all life and salvation flows. 

It was mantra with a message, a take-no-prisoners warning not to frack with Ma’s water…


Fracking — a moniker for hydraulic fracturing — is the process of pumping millions of gallons of water, chemicals and sand into shale rock to extract natural gas.  The practice has gained favor with gas drillers as a cost-effective way to harvest vast natural gas reserves, but many questions about its safety and how it affects the water supply remain unanswered.  In New York State, regulators are still debating whether to allow fracking.  A state-wide moratorium is in effect temporarily, while environmental and health reviews continue.  Meanwhile, with the state dragging its feet, more than 100 upstate NY municipalities have banned fracking, but these local rules are also under attack:  in the first of many legal battles, a state judge recently invalidated Binghamton’s municipal ban.

‘Are You Serious?/Are You Delirious?

Don't Frack with her

Fracking has “shortsighted benefits,” says Ishwari, SRI Kirtan’s female half, because it offers access to a “cheap resource” — untolled billions of gallons of natural gas preserves.  But the process is environmentally suspect, at best.  At worst, it’s a “Molotov cocktail/right at your tap,” as the song goes.  “We can’t afford to sell out on this one,” she says, with line-in-the-sand determination.

“There is no life on earth without water.”  Only about one percent of the Earth’s water reserves are suitable for drinking, Ishwari points out.   “Fresh, drinkable water is our most precious resource.”

SRI Kirtan's Sruti Ram & Ishwari at Bhakti Fest Midwest

Ishwari and SRI Kirtan’s other half, Sruti Ram, recorded a studio version of “Don’t Frack” last year with Srikalogy’s Srikala Kerel Roach, a NY-based conscious hip-hop artist who is making his mark on the new wave of experimental kirtan-rap fusion now gaining momentum  in the “yoga-music” world.  (Hear Don’t Frack here.) 

 The Message in the Mantra

The words to SRI Kirtan’s anti-fracking rap and Ganga Ma mantra are:
Jai Jai Ganga Ma
Jai Jai Shankara
Bham bolo Mahadeva Shankara
I’m gonna get my water back,
don’t frack
Not gonna let you fracture…

It’s Undrinkable
We’re on the brink
to sell our souls
to make a buck
so we can say
we lost our minds & gave it
away to Exxon/Mobil
they made their bottom line
America, your mantra
Will leave the world behind.

Are you serious?
Are you delirious?
on CNN with a
ridiculous grin
About the gas below
What do you know?
Chemical madness in your water flow.
Molotov cocktail
right at your tap
spontaneous combustion
delivered while you nap
There is so little time, we have
So much to learn
Please don’t let our water burn!

See also:
More Coverage from the Bhajan Boat:
‘Bhajan Boat’ Charity Kirtan Cruise Circles Manhattan With a Boatful of Bhaktas (Video)
Bhajan Boat Photo Journal on The Bhakti Beat’s facebook page
Stay tuned to this space for more from the Bhajan Boat (subscribe here), and check our YouTube channel for the latest uploads.
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:
The charities: 

On the altar at Bhakti Fest. Photo courtesy of Kailash Ananda.

For all the festiveness of Bhakti Fest, the nonstop bhav was tinged with an underlayer of shock and sadness as the news spread that one of bhakti’s own had died suddenly just two days prior to the gathering in the desert.  Geoffrey Gordon, master percussionist, producer, composer, wallah and Neem Karoli Baba flame-keeper, was gone.  Gordon was one of the original bhakti brothers from the Ram Dass era who helped sow the seeds of the Western kirtan movement, drumming alongside Krishna Das, Jai Uttal, Bhagavan Das, and many others.  

It was fitting, perhaps, that so many heard the news first at Bhakti Fest, because, as Girish told the fest’s emcee, Shiva Baum: “There is only a Bhakti Fest today because of the work that Geoffrey started with Jai Uttal all those many years ago when it wasn’t widely popular yet to sing kirtan.”

We first heard the news from the Bhakti Fest Main Stage, early on Day 1.  Ben Leinbach was about to launch into a song in his set with Prajna Vieirra, when he silenced his guitar abruptly, whispered “I just thought of something…”, then put his head down, hand at forehead, as if trying to collect himself.  His voice deep with emotion, he told us of Gordon’s death and dedicated the set to his friend and collaborator.  The morning crowd hushed and people exchanged perplexed glances, heads shaking in disbelief.

Photo Courtesy of Mike Crall

Leinbach’s was the first of many heart-rending tributes to a man who — while not exactly a household name in the broader world of kirtan — was deeply loved and respected by the brotherhood of bhaktas that forms the core of modern Western kirtan.  The wallahs knew him, without exception, and their love for him poured forth.  Sruti Ram fought back tears as he dedicated the Hanuman Chalisa to Gordon during SRI Kirtan’s set.  Sean Johnson recounted how Gordon, in their last conversation, had told him how pleased he was to see the next generation of artists moving kirtan forward.  Girish moved half the crowd to tears with a poignant tribute at the end of his set on Sunday.  Krishna Das called him “a good friend for a long time” in his Sunday afternoon workship (Gordon played tabla on KD’s debut CD, One Track Heart, and they have collaborated many times since).

Jai Uttal:  ‘A Great Buddy’

Gordon and Jai Uttal. Photo courtesy of Jai Uttal.

In his headline set Thursday night, Jai Uttal told the crowd that Gordon was “a very very dear friend of mine and of the bhakti community here in the United States.” He said he had first met Gordon in 1969 or ’70, when they “were both young yogi kids looking to get high.”  (“And we did,” he added with a wink, to a ripple of chuckles.)  But then, normally joyful Jai got uncharacteristically serious.  And quiet….He quickly introduced the next song — an 18-minute joyride of a Hare Krishna chant interspersed with his now-signature “Help!  I Need Somebody” Beatles-inspired chorus.  Perfect.

In an email, Uttal said “Geoffrey and I played so much music together for so many years.  He was a key member of the Pagan Love Orchestra and he also played tablas and sang with me for literally thousands of kirtans.  He was deep into the devotional path and also a committed musician, always trying to learn and grow.  He was also a great buddy.”  

“I trust that by now Geoffrey is jamming in the heavenly Kirtan band, gazing into Maharajji’s shining face, and showering love and bliss upon his family and beloveds still here on Earth,” Uttal wrote in a facebook post Sept. 6, the day of his Bhakti Fest performance.

Shiva Baum: Gordon ‘A True Bhakta’

Shiva Baum recording Girish's tribute to Gordon at Bhakti Fest.

Shiva Baum, who as the former head of A&R/Triloka Records pioneered the mantra music movement in the West and views Gordon as a “beloved uncle…friend, mentor and co-conspirator,” told us in an email:  “Geoffrey was loved by all who knew him. He was extraordinarily passionate and always on the side of the artist. He was an advocate for the “little guy” — the musicians behind the scenes who the spotlight often missed but whose contributions were essential.  His heart was massive and he was able to pull you over to the right side of the road if you ever fell astray. He was someone who truly valued friendship and knew that the value of life was love. He was a true Bhakta.”

And, Baum added:  “Perhaps most importantly, he sang one of the most beautiful versions of the Hanuman Chalisa I have to this day ever heard.  You can only sing like that if you are truly a devotee. Geoffrey was and will always be.”

Influenced Early On by George & Ravi

Gordon’s love affair with the tabla apparently begain in 1971, when according to a biography on Gordon’s website, he went to see The Concert for Bangladesh at Madison Square Garden, the epic East-meets-West event organized by George Harrison and Ravi Shankar and featuring Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton and many others.  Ravi Shankar and tabla maestros Ustad Ali Akbar Khan and Ustad Allarakha — Gordon’s future teachers — performed as the opening act. 

“This concert had a profound effect on Geoffrey,” his bio says.  “He knew there and then that he wanted to study North Indian classical music and learn to play the tabla.”  

A year later, he met Ram Dass and became a devotee of Neem Karoli Baba.  His bio details a long and rich history as a student-turned-teacher and professional percussionist for recordings in many musical genres as well as plays, films, and dance theatre.  “He wasn’t ‘just a drummer,'” says long-time friend Mohan Baba.  “He was a full-on, professional world percussionist.”  To which Baba quickly adds: “Of course, his real love was his spiritual focus, and his drumming reflected that.”

Gordon’s passion for devotional music stayed with him to the end.  He reportedly received a standing ovation for a percussion solo at a concert in Sedona the Sunday night before his death.  He was on his way home to Santa Fe that Tuesday when he suffered a massive heart attack along the way,  Mohan Baba told The Bhakti Beat.   He said Gordon was evacuated by helicopter to the nearest hospital but resuscitation attempts en route failed to revive him.

‘Turn Off and Float Downstream’

My first kirtan with Gordon leading was at Bhakti Fest just last year.  It was a morning set, and the low desert sun was already blasting its intensity onto the musicians on stage and the small crowd of early risers.  I remember the set being quietly powerful somehow, in a way I can’t readily describe — it was as if it really didn’t matter to Gordon if anyone was there, because he was singing to something deeper…

When I searched my files for the photos I was sure I had taken that day, all I found was a single three-and-a-half-minute video:

The song, Tomorrow Never Knows, was written by John Lennon.  Jai Uttal covered it, with Geoffrey Gordon on percussion, on the 2001 Grammy-nominated CD Mondo Rama by Uttal and the Pagan Love Orchestra, where it was fused with a Shiva chant.  It seems to have been a favorite of Gordon’s in his fairly new incarnation as kirtan wallah; he sang it again at his last kirtan in Sedona the Sunday morning before he died, according to Sedona kirtaneer Natesh Ramsell, who met Gordon for the first time that weekend.

Here are the words, as Gordon sings them in the video:

Relax your mind, turn off and float down stream
It is not dying, it is not dying

Lay down all thoughts, surrender to the void,
It is shining, it is shining.

That you may know the meaning of within
It is being, it is being

Om Namah Shivayah, Shivayah Namaho…

Or play the game “Existence” to the end
Of the beginning, of the beginning, of the beginning, of the beginning.

Photo Courtesy of Mohan Baba

Memorial Services Honor Gordon’s Life

A memorial service for Geoffrey Gordon was held Tuesday, Sept. 25 at Open Secret Bookstore in San Rafael, Calif., where Jai Uttal, Ben Leinbach, and dozens of other artists offered their musical tributes.  And on Sunday, Sept. 30, friends will gather at the Neem Karoli Baba Ashram in Taos, N.M., to chant and celebrate his life.  The Ashram’s page includes a link for contributions to assist in the funeral and memorial expenses and other financial needs of Gordon’s long-time wife, Sandra.

Also see: www.geoffreygordon.com

To contribute: http://www.nkbashram.org/community-geoffrey-fund


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)
With Deva’s Miten, Krishna Das Does Dylan & Shyamdas Does the Blues (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.

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