Shakti Fest 2014 — the first of the three bhakti yoga “love fests” by the Bhakti Fest franchise — kicked off with a little pre-show Thursday night with the Kirtaniyas, the progressive Krishna Kid bhakti band that is pushing the kirtan movement into new ground.
The leader of the pack, Vijay Krsna, paused midway through the high-energy kirtan to tell a story of something that happened in Las Vegas a week or two prior (yeah, forget that old maxim that what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas — does not apply here). The band was in Vegas for Holi Festival of Colors, the spring ritual in India where people throw brightly colored powder on one another which is swiftly spreading in the U.S., with at least a dozen color festivals at last count in the States. If you’ve seen any of the videos of these festivals, you know how high the energy is…
Witnessing the exuberance of the festival in Vegas, Vijay said, he realized “Bhakti is going to a whole other level, a level beyond ourselves individually or collectively. We’ve entered a new phase of this kirtan movement.”
Sitting with a group of other devotees in Las Vegas after Holi Festival, Vijay exclaimed: “We need a bus! We need a bus so we can drive wherever we want to sing and dance and share the Names.”
A few days later, the band of wandering bhaktas was in Santa Monica leading a street kirtan on the Third Street Promenade, a pedestrian mall in the heart of the city best known for its amusement-park pier and wide sandy boardwalk-lined beaches. Less well known is Santa Monica’s rich bhakti history — Krishna devotees have long gathered on the city’s promenades to chant the mahamantra accompanied by bells and drums. (The Third Street Promenade was in fact, where this writer/bhakta first experienced the “Hare Krishnas” many years ago as they danced and chanted their way down the street.) Since 1977, the city has hosted the Festival of Chariots, a parade of elaborately decorated coaches in celebration of Lord Jagganatha, with devotees, locals and tourists alike jubilantly dancing and chanting all along the route.
Today, Santa Monica is home to a rich “California-ized” bhakti community, a city where you can get your sankirtana fix just about any night of the week. Ground zero for this community is Bhakti Yoga Shala, a shaktified refuge in the heart of the city founded by Govind Das and Radha, a kirtan couple who are mainstays on the Bhakti Fest schedule. The Shala infuses yoga classes with chanting, holds weekly kirtans, conducts kirtan trainings and workshops, and regularly hosts bhakti wallahs from out of town for roof-raising sankirtana.
So, back to the Kirtaniyas…Here they are, chanting the Names on the Third Street Promenade just like their predecessors in the Western bhakti movement, just days after putting out the intention for a bus, when one of their extended family comes forward to announce jubilantly: We have a bus!
“Give thanks to Krishna: WE HAVE A BUS!” Vijay exclaimed to the group that had gathered around the little band of bhaktas.
Recounting the story of intention-turned-to-manifestation in a matter of days with an air of awe and gratitude, Vijay reflected: “This has been the mystery of my life: Would you like to live a life of your heart’s desire? We have been vortexed into this intention of leading a life of chanting and dancing.”
At the end of the evening’s session, which began with a prayerful “Jai Guru Dev,” built expertly up to a rollicking rendition of “Sri Krishna Chaitanya” followed by a high-energy Maha Mantra/Hari Bol medley, and finished meditatively with Vijay singing “No Ordinary Name,” the charismatic young kirtaniya offered this nugget:
“It is not longer enough to ‘perform’ kirtan. We want to inspire kirtan and be inspired by kirtan.”
To which we say, HARI BOLLLLLLL!
Stay tuned for more coverage of Shakti Fest 2014, here (TheBhaktiBeat.com), there (facebook) and everywhere (twitter, Google+, YouTube, yadayada!
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