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
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.
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
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: www.shyamdas.com www.gauravani.com www.srikirtan.com www.chantkirtan.com www.krishnadas.com www.premahara.com www.mantralogy.com