The Bhakti Beat @ Bhakti Fest Midwest: There was heat on the stage Saturday night at Bhakti Fest Midwest, and it wasn’t just from the fire-spinners. Backed by an all-star cast of musicians, Shyamdas lit up the late-night crowd in Madison, Wisc. – already primed after three hours with Krishna Das – with his inimitable style of Hari Katha (sacred story-telling). He masterfully weaved classic stories of Krishna and Radhe inside crescendo-building chants that went straight to the heart of the bhav and engulfed the sea of chanters in a blur of ecstatic joy. It’s a wonder the stately old weepers on Willow Island, where the main stage was situated, didn’t pull up their roots and join the lila.
Shyamdas’s talents as Sanskrit scholar, translator of sacred texts, revered teacher, and wallah extraordinaire were on brilliant display. He enthralled with stories of the passionate love affair between Krishna and Radha, slipping in bits of wisdom amidst a slowly climaxing “Radhe Krishna, Radhe Krishna, Krishna Krishna Radhe Radhe, Radhe Shyam, Radhe Shyam, Shyam Shyam Radhe Radhe” chant. Breathless.
He told of the Sadhu in India who was inching his way around a sacred mountain, bowing to Krishna in full prostration (with the body laid flat out on the ground) 1,008 times before he would take the next step on his yatra. The man was 5’2” tall, and the journey was 14 miles long.
“He was not in a hurry,” Shyamdas deadpanned with one of those killer expressions. Then, the segue. “And this is what he sang all day long…” Music up. Voices together. “Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama Hare Hare….”
He told the story of Krishna as a young boy toying with his mother about “eating dirt,” a Hindu metaphor for worshiping false gods, then busted into a 17-minute-long Gopala raga that peaked in a tidal wave of fervor on stage and off. Brilliant. (Video below.)
The stories and the chants flowed seamlessly for two hours, one deep sacred river of bhav. By the end of it the crowd of bhaktas were eating out of his hand and eager for more nectar. We’re guessing Shyam-Ji could have gone on like this for hours longer, swimming in the vibestream and taking us all along for the ride. But alas, Emcee Shiva Baum was waiting in the wing, and that was the signal to wrap it up. Sigh.
Shyamdas let us down ever so gently with the final morsel of young Krishna’s miracle-making and one last sweet round of “Gopala Gopala Devakinandana Gopala.” It ended in a whisper and a deep silence that was broken only when Shyamdas, with a look of sweet satisfaction, uttered simply: “That was exquisite.”
The crowd punctuated his sentiment with a roar. He wasn’t patting himself on the back. It was more an acknowledgement of the quality of the bhav, the delicious flow of energy from “caller” to “responders” and back, then all as one — the depth of the emotion of devotion we had all just shared. Long exhale.
Joining Shyamdas for this luscious Bhakti Fest lila were: Nina Rao on kartals, Arjun Bruggeman on tabla, Yehoshua Brill on electric guitar, Sruti Ram and Ishwari of SRI Kirtan on vocals, break-out violinist Samuel Salsbury, and Hanuman Das on sitar.
Who needs fire-spinners when you’ve got Shyamdas and this band on the stage? (No, really, we love fire-spinners…)
Here’s the video. What do you think?
See 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
Shyam Das is peerless.