Category: Higher Learning
What is Kirtan?
Kirtan is a natural way of expressing love for Divinity. It is an expressive vocal and musical form which blends the excellence of spiritual poetry with melody. Devotional music is that which promotes equipoise of mind and connection with the spiritual world. It is an aid to enable someone to attune themselves with the Infinite. The love of God is the root of the practice, even if the quality of the music is inferior. The Supreme Lord is won by the hankering and selfless love within the heart. Therefore, one who attempts to truly love God is capable of participating in kirtan.
It is a call and response form of chanting and shares roots and similarities with several major South Asian religions including Vaisnavism, Hinduism, Qwaali, Sufism, Sikhism, Christianity, Catholicism, Islam, and Buddhism. Kirtan is a folk tradition and contribution to sacred Indian music. It combines both classical Hindustani and desi (folk) music for divine praise and glorification and uses local poetic forms. These poetic forms are now international, with local kirtan artists creating new meaning using every language, every spiritual path, every spiritual teacher, on the planet in call and response form. Its objective is spiritual inspiration, and works with the emotional appeal of pure and popular music. Traditional instruments used in kirtan include the mrdanga, kartal (bell cymbals), tabla, dholak, rabab, pakhawaj, surinda,jal-tarang, and dhadh including many others not listed here. The singers who lead kirtan usually have some minimum qualifications. Afterall, kirtan is a lifelong education and requires total sadhana (practice) and sincerity.
Music is prayer, meditation, and offering. Many Indian cultures never will accept that kirtan is music and performance. Performance in India is a tradition that is separate from the daily temple kirtan and altar schedule. Most kirtans do not include classical Indian ragas or talas, although many do. Many believe that kirtan should never be a performance, but purely congregational chanting. Every kirtan is meant for participation by the audience. It is a way to connect with sacred sounds together and unite everyone to attune to a higher harmonic vibration.
The origin of Indian music goes back to the Vedic age, and defines the cultural and spiritual values of the country. The music and mantra is handed down orally from the guru (spiritual master) to the disciple. The art of music is regarded as holy, as a religious discipline, and give man self-realization, divine contemplation, and bliss. People recited musical prayers to their dieties, in the morning and in the evening. Music was a performance of great esteem, and Bhramanism (Priesthood) today is still considered to be a high and necessary path for everyone in India. To be a priest, chant kirtan, and recite devotional scriptures is held in high regard.
The practice is possible individually or in isolation, but is not encouraged. Gurus advocate the practice of kirtan in congregation. It is an indication of divine grace that people gather together to participate in this musical practice. According to the Bhagavad-Gita, there is no need for celibacy, austerity, pilgrimage, worship, or meditation in the modern age of quarrel called Kali Yuga. The chanting of the Lord’s name is the only pathway which brings forward the spiritual merit and fulfillment. It is the vehicle for getting in tune with divinity.
The meanings of kirtan are not esoteric, nor hidden. It is a musical practice that can create great emotion, and great musical ability. However, these are not the goals of kirtan. One of the main objectives of beginning a practice is a service mood, coming from the heart, and completely devoid of all notions of self. The ultimate goal is to go beyond the ideas that we are this body, this mind and ego to a relaxing selfless state.
The gurus have an insatiable thirst for kirtan. The devotee cannot survive without chanting the Holy Name. The devotee’s constant prayer is that they always remember the supreme lord twenty four hours a day. This is the main purpose to life, and the highest goal is to have uninterrupted devotional service. The devotees seek those places and people where he can drown in an ocean of love of the Lords name. When the mind is full of devotion, it bursts into the song of the Supreme Lord. Kirtan produces a state of developing a relationship with the lord by constant devotional service. Sacred music enables one to reach a state of tranquility, peace, and equipoise. The mind becomes calm, and it realizes that there is a source of peace within one’s own consciousness. Firmly it makes a direct pathway to the supreme Lord, chanting the holy names which are not any different than the Supreme Lord, merging this into a high consciousness uniting the soul with the supreme soul. The shortest and quickest means of reaching true and terminal destination of man's journey through time, after which there are no more earthly journeys to undertake, and no more human births to redeem.
Kirtan is becoming more popular day to day. Schools and classes are being created all over the world to teach vocal and instrumental forms and melodies. The performance of Kirtan all over the world has created new types of Kirtan with performance of mantras with guitars, entire rock and folk bands possessing a new a resonant melody. The merging of Indian and Western styles may over time produce entirely new forms of music. The future looks promising and surprising.
Last Updated on Thursday, 30 August 2012 08:10
Category: Feature Profiles
Here is Mukti Silberfein, who is a lead organizer of the Bhakti Fests', alongside her father Sridhar Silberfein
Bhakti Fest plays out a great story: of a determined group of yogi’s with a dream of descending upon popular culture. Have you met Sridhar Silberfein, Executive Director of Bhakti Fest? Bhakti Fest incorporates the elements of yoga, devotional practices, art, transformational workshops, and kirtan music. It's an incredible series of events that has now grown to 3 yearly festivals. I had the opportunity to interview Sridhar, and ask him specific questions about his life, and his spiritual journey that brought him to creating Bhakti Fest. I also spent a week in Joshua Tree. I was happy for a reason to visit devotees, the desert in particular, and the yoga music scene in general;. The weather in Joshua Tree as it happened, was lovely, the food fantastic, scenery magnificent, and the people in general supremely courteous and hospitable. The sun was certainly bright out there, but nothing my sunglasses couldn't overcome.
Is there any spiritual significance for you living in the desert? Are you attracted to the desert for any particular reason?
Yes, I came out here to continue my practice in a very quiet way. I find the big cities are pretty much finished for deepening your sadhana. You need to go to quiet places. I chose the desert because I have an affinity for the dry quiet climate and nobody around.
Do you think the United States is still as rich in kirtan and spiritual study as in the early days, when yourself, and several others began building the scene from the ground up?
Yes, it has the potential, but I find the young people are very intimidated and scared and they’re afraid to make any moves of doing anything out of the ordinary. The government has kept a lid on all the young people through their devious ways. Young people are afraid to step up and go deeper. There’s a lot of Christian Right Wing Organizationss who have infiltrated the government and are keeping everything the same. The government, military and mega corporations don’t want anyone to expand their minds. They want people to be robotic. They want to be able to control, and they do that by passing certain laws.
However, now there’s an upswing in the ability for people to step out of that box and find yoga. Yoga is now a $30 billion dollar a year business. Kirtan is a big component. Most people who are doing yoga have not gotten into Kirtan. Kirtan’s going to be the next big movement. We started it all in the 60’s and 70’s and we maintained it with small gatherings at homes and ashrams.
Personally, I still maintain a daily practice of yoga and meditation and try to chant mantra.
That’s why I decided to put together the Bhakti Fest.
There’s some pretty meaty spiritual history worked into your life. Can you give us an idea of the breakdown of your personal spiritual journey?
I started very early in my life in my teens. I realized that at an early age, what schools and colleges were offering was not enough. Most of what is taught in the curriculums today and in the past 50 years leaves a lot of personal interpretations. Finding that there’s more to life than what our parents, teachers, and what our government tells us are very significant. I wasn’t afraid to start to go out and learn. I read and studied. I took my share of psychedelics.
In the 60’s I met my first teacher whose name was Rudi in New York City-he was the only western devotee of Bhagavan Nityananda who is from Ganeshpuri, India and was an Avadhut and he had major siddhi powers. He spent 35 years in a loincloth, and they would have to come and put a blanket over him in the wintertime. He was in a perpetual state of enlightenment. He was capable of seeing the past, present, and future at the same time. He didn’t think about body, or food. He was always in an enlightened state. He was always in that state, and you couldn’t shake him out of that state. When people came in front of him major miracles changed their lives. Things happened to them, things that were unheard of, or unforeseen. Words could not be used to describe it.
Someone had told me about this man named Rudi – he was also the biggest importer of arts and antiques from Asia. That was his business side. He also had another side was that he was able to transmit shaktipad. During the 60’s, nobody knew what that meant. Transmitting shaktipat can happen in a few ways, through direct contact with a spiritual teacher through their eyes, a hit by a divine being, a kick in the rear, or a word.
I went to visit Rudi one day and he invited me to come to one of his classes. They were small classes maybe 15-20 people. He didn’t come on as a Guru, he was a teacher. He would gaze into the eyes of each of us in the group. He would look directly into your eyes. You would have this major experience of kundalini rising. It was coming from this big, huge picture of Bhagavan Nityananda that was sitting right next to him.
Srila Bhagavan Nityananda
That’s who was transmitting the Shakti, with Rudi as the vehicle. So, I can say that I was awakened by Bhagavan Nityananda in the 60’s as a very young man, and I knew that there was so much out there. Once you see the universe, lights, colors and sounds, and you see the vastness of it. You see that it’s eternal. It goes on forever, and there is no stopping it.
So I started to study with Rudi in the mid 60”s.
I met my second teacher Swami Satchidannada. He came to America in 1968 and I studied Hatha Yoga with him (from the Sivananada lineage) and became one of his main teachers in NYC. at the well know 500 West End Ave Center That was a very interesting time for the spiritual movement in the USA.
During that period, I was by day an established Real Estate Broker and counted amongst some of my friends were Michael Lang and Arty Kornfield, the Producers of the Woodstock Festival, I was like their younger brother. I would go over there and hang out which we did a lot of, and do all the stuff the 60”s were famous for- pot, psychedelics, love etc.
I was also a yogi at the same time, working with balancing everything in moderation- It was at this time when Mike Lang asked me what I thought was missing from the Woodstock festival. I looked it all over and said, I felt that the Spiritual aspect was not there. O course they had all the great acts, or to be great acts, but the spiritual element was not there. They turned to me and asked what we should do. I said, let’s bring Sw. Satchidannada there to give the opening invocation. They jumped on that idea and told me to go ahead and produce that aspect. We then brought Swamigi up by helicopter, landed him backstage, and brought him onto the stage (you can actually see this moment on the Directors cut of the Woodstock movie)- when he got up there he exclaimed “oh my, the Indian country should see this now. Everyone getting together for a peaceful, loving music festival- it was amazing and at that moment standing on the stage looking out at 500,000 folks, a bell rang in my head saying- “wouldn’t it be grand to have all these folks someday chanting mantra’s and the Divine names- 40 years later Bhakti fest was born.
Swami Satchidananda at Woodstock Festival
You speak about balance-A balance in what? Your social life and your spiritual life?
Everything in moderation, drinking, substances, even sex. If it’s done in moderation everything is good for you. Go for excess and people flip out, and go over the edge and can’t bring themselves back. Most important is your intent behind everything. If it is sincere and with love and compassion, it will all work out. However, best is a vegetarian diet, with very little alcohol and very little pot smoking.
How did you meet Swami Muktananda?
My first guru came to America in 1970. His name was Swami Muktananda and he was the lineage holder after Bhagavan Nityananda. Bhagavan Nityananda is my Param Guru overall, huge master. Mentioned before how I studied with Rudi during the 60”s, and that is how I also met Sw. Muktananda for the first time
What is the meaning of Param Guru?
One who is ever present, ever in a state of enlightenment, not this, not that. All pervading.
Labor Day weekend 1970, we were all up a place called Big Indian, Upstate New York. Ram Dass was there and Hilda Charlton a great female psychic, and Sw. Venkatasananda- devotee of Swami Sivananda Ashram in Rishikesh, and maybe 60 or 70 others with us there that weekend. Those days we were able to sit in Swami Muktananda’s room and sleep on the floor by his bed. We didn’t even know how great he was at that point. That weekend he asked me and Ram Dass to organize his tour around the USA. I travelled across country with him and settled in California in 1970 after Sw. M went back to India- He kept calling me to come to India, but, I was busy establishing a family and starting the first Natural Food Store in SoCal in Topanga Cyn called The Food Chakra. We hosted him when he came back in 1974 and also in 1980, and then he left his body in 1982. After he left his body, there were a lot of troubles within the Siddha yoga organization. I decided to drop out at that point because of the drama and difficulties. As soon as I heard about his death, I flew to India to help put his body in the ground and cover his body with a huge concrete casket. It’s interesting talking about this now because his 104th birthday was last Sunday, May 4th. Great great man. When you have a living Guru and he passes there are many emotional feelings about that, it’s like the lose of a Father or Mother.
How is your physical family different from the spiritual teacher?
Your parents bring you up to the bridge and the spiritual master takes you over the bridge. Your parents can’t take you over the bridge. They can give you insights and understandings to their capabilities and knowledge, which is limited to what they’re offering from their experience. The world is open to everybody; you just have to step out. Everybody wants to hold you back and stop you from advancing.
Why do they try to stop you from advancing?
Most people are unhappy for many many reasons, mostly because they don’t have a path, and their ego takes over their life. If you’re experiencing bliss and happiness they will try to hold you back. That’s why I say to everybody, if you can’t spend time with satang and other people who have the same spiritual path, then be by yourself read, meditate, and study. Other people will come into your life who will want to associate with you.
Did you find spiritual association after Swami Muktananda?
So I knew there was another being that would come into my life that I would feel very close to, but I was waiting for a while after Swami Muktananda. He was a very big prescence.
Many years later I met Ammachi, the hugging saint, and the most famous spiritual female presence on the planet. When I first met her I met her at the Universalist church, in 1988 in Berkeley, and I found myself walking her out to her minivan outside. It was an old beat-up blue minivan. No limousine, just down to earth. There was a puddle between the sidewalk and the car, and I threw my coat down on the ground on the puddle so she wouldn’t get wet. She looked at me and said “What’s your name?” I said, “Sridhar” and she said, “We’ve been together many lifetimes”
After that, I asked her to come to LA and she started coming to LA and staying in my home for the next 17 years where we organized her tour, every time she came to Los Angeles.
My path has always been steep deeply into the Guru-Disciple relationship, for me, it is very extremely important. Many folks do not have this understanding out of fear, fear of giving something up or having to give their monies or power. The only real thing you have to give up around a real Guru is your EGO.
What does the Guru Disciple relationship mean to you?
I spend my time with teachers and gurus, spending time with people more highly advanced than myself because that’s where I believe personal growth and surrender will take place. They force you to look at your ego. Otherwise you wallow in the Maya, or illusion.
When did you first become interested in kirtan?
Mostly when I met Swami Muktananda, and he had all Hindu kirtan every night in 1970. This was traditional Indian kirtan, and that’s when I started to immerse myself in that form. I realized that was an important part of the yoga practice. The yoga, meditation, and kirtan were all parts of it. When I asked Muktananda how important chanting was to the whole practice. He said “Sridhar, forget about yoga, or meditation. Close your eyes, sit down quietly in the room and chant the names of God and nothing else matters.
What happened during your time with Muktananda?
He spoke no English. He had a translator and would travel with a translator. He would travel with 8 or 9 people. 1974 he came to stay at my house, and there’s an interesting story about that. He was walking around the house on 7 acres in Topanga Canyon, California. He looked out into the sky and he said “Sridhar, nothing will ever happen to you here. My Guru will bless you, and this place is blessed by my Guru Nityananda.” The very next year 1975, a very big fire came through Topanga. I sent my wife and two babies out and moved stuff out of the house. I stayed there fighting the waves of fire. My neighbor next store came over to my house and 30 ft. wall of flames coming straight to us. He was crying while his house burnt down, I put my arms around him to console him. But had to run to save my own home, I had my car’s engine on 6-7 hours waiting for me in the driveway in case I had to run out. The fire dept. helicopter came and flew over and said, “Abandon, Abandon, we are no longer responsible for your place, it will burn down, save your life.” I stayed with one my friends fighting the fire and it was coming towards the house, as the 30ft wall of fire was coming to the house and I ran out on the deck the same spot on the deck that Swami Muktananda told me about his Guru blessing the house.
I looked up to the sky, and yell on top of my lungs “Baba, Baba - You said, you promised me that I was going to be blessed here and nothing bad was going to happen to me here.” I was screaming with tears in my eyes. At that exact moment, the wind came up and turned the fire away from the house and sent it downwind and the house was saved. That’s the power of the Guru Grace.
How was your spiritual upbringing?
I was raised in a traditional Judeo-Catholic. I was raised Jewish, had a bar mitzvah. I grew up on an Island. This island is called Long Beach. 1/2miles wide, 3 miles long, connected to Long Island. The title of this town is “America’s Healthiest City.” Nice place to grow up with a middle class home. We didn’t really need anything. I grew up in a dysfunctional family like everybody. That disfunctionality drew me to the spiritual path. My mother always lights candles for her mother who passed away when she was 42. My grandmother died in my mother’s arms. There is a lot of work ethic and service in my family. They don’t call it anything like what we call it today. There are old time virtues for taking care of people and your family.
Was your family instrumental in connecting you to your spiritual life?
Indirectly, I would understand some of my mother’s psychic abilities, and I would say it was not typical that I stepped out of the box early, but I was blessed in having an early realization. So I said wow, living on an island walking on the beach, warm water, spending a lot of time by myself. A lot of this is destiny, and karmic destiny comes to people spending so much time with the Guru’s in past lifetimes. If you realize about reincarnation, you must understand that this is not our first go-around. Say the average lifespan is 60 years. We’ve been together 100 lifetimes in various forms like mother’s father’s sisters and brothers, dogs, parakeets.
This is we, this is who we are. When we come back together we sense a familiarity together, feelings that we’ve met each other before, but what you really recognize is a past lifetime together for many incarnations. Not only are we working out our karmic predicament in this lifetime, which are all the actions we’ve done in this present body. We’re still working this karma out from multitudes of hundreds of other incarnations from our past lives. Even if we’re doing big work now, and a sledgehammer comes down on our head, and 300 years ago you cut off somebodies head and that karma can come back to you. It’s such an interesting take on it that there’s so much more going on that now, we’re tiny little peas in the pod. There’s such a bigger picture.
When did your first go to India?
The first time, I was a late bloomer in India. I didn’t go until the 1980 and most of my contemporaries went in the 60’s and 70’s. My Guru Sw. Muktananda, used to say to me every year in the 70’s. “When are you coming to India, Sridhar, where are you.” I always had family and business. I felt it was important to stay there and take care of my responsibilities. Then, in 1980, I finally arrived in Bombay, India. I got off the plane; I fell on the concrete and actually kissed the ground of Bombay. Imagine kissing the ground today ugh, gross. I was crying with tears in my eyes. I have been back every single year since 1980. I always add a couple more holy places and destinations. Rishikesh, Kerala, this past year, we hiked the Chardharm, which is the holiest trek for the Hindu’s in the Himalayas, Four Sacred Peaks of the Hindu religion, which are Badrinath, Kedranath, Gangotri, and Yamunotri. We climbed all four peaks. They say if you do all of these four peaks at the same time that your life is forever blessed and all of your sins are washed away.
Where else do you want to go in India? And other places in the world.
I am drawn to holy lands and places of worship-I have my spiritual bucket list, and things that I’d like to see and I prefer to go on long treks. Kailas is up there on the top of my bucket list. It’s very difficult to get to, and you have to deal with the Chinese. 52 kilometers, Macchu Piccu of course, and the Pilgrims Path with are 800 kilometers walking from the Pyrenees, France across Spain.
Can you tell us some stories or sweet moments you had with your spiritual teacher and what lessons you learned with some of these great beings?
That’s a whole chapter in itself. That’s a big one because I’ve had so many, so many good teachers and lessons. For example, when I travelled with Swami Satchidannada and stayed in a home in Europe, and there was a screen door on the front door house and unconsciously I kept slamming the screen door every time I’d go in and out. He said “Sridhar, what’s the matter with you” I said “Everything is okay, why what’s the matter” He said “Why do you keep slamming the screen door every time you go in and out.” That was a lesson in being aware of the surroundings, always watching, and doing the right thing at every single moment.
I had so many lessons with Ammachi also. These beings give their teachings in a very subtle way, and you have to get out of your ego in order to hear them. One night we were coming home very late from a program at a Los Angeles hotel, driving up to Topanga 4-4:30am morning and I had a splitting headache. She was speaking with a loud voice with one of her Swami’s who sat in the front, speaking very loudly in her language discussing some important Ashram business. I had a viscous headache, and was only concerned about my own self. I said to myself in my mind “Oh, Amma you’re talking so loud and I have such a bad headache, can’t you be a little quieter.” This is what was happening in my mind. We got back to the house and up the driveway; I was just about ready to get out of the car. She taps me on the shoulder from the back seat and said “Sorry I was talking to loud and disturbing you, I had some very important business to discuss about the ashram”
This is all about respecting the Guru Disciple relationship. If you can manage to do that your life can be so much happier. In other words, your Guru understands everything that is going on in your mind. They know your past, present and future. You have to be very careful to have the most pure thoughts as possible. Otherwise you’re sure to get cut down.
I used to own a company called Desert Essence Cosmetic during that time, I ran a big business. I discovered a few important oils and brought it to the marketplace. I built a very nice bathroom for Amma, for when she came to the house to stay-I always left some of the lotions, shampoos, conditioners etc on the bathroom counter for her to use- Amma used to love it, used the lotions, and used the shampoos. I was very proud that I was making a product that a great Guru like that was enjoying.
On the way home one day driving, I said “Oh Amma, I heard you loved the products so much, maybe you will hold a bottle up of the shampoo and say how wonderful it is and we’ll do a little commercial”. I was joking like hahaha. Then bang, she never ever touched any of the products again. Never looked at it, never opened another bottle.
Even if you’re joking, you don’t joke around like that. You don’t even bring up ego stuff in the same breath as your regular world. They are all powerful teachers. Great moments from my life are lessons I've learned from spiritual teachers. When I was with Swami Muktananda in India, he would carry a stick around with him. If he tried to teach you something and you didn’t get it because of your ego was to far gone, he would gentle and sometimes not, whack your back with a stick to wake you up.
What’s been the hardest thing about organizing and coordinating spiritual masters to come to America? And the most fun, or satisfying?
Spiritual masters from India, heard about the Center for Spiritual Studies, we hosted them at our Center and in some cases sponsored their trips. Kalu Rinpoche, Swami Chitiananda, Sw. Satchinannda, Sw.Vishnu Devananda, Sw.Muktananda, Ammachi, Yogi Bhajan, the list goes on and on. To have them in the living room, serving them lunch, driving them, was a very rewarding and special time for me, and for the many devotees that lived at the Center the satisfaction came to me from all the people that happened to be turned on to who they are. That for me was the real seva (service). The most difficult thing is dealing with a lot of people around the Guru’s that think they know what they’re doing and they really don’t. Everybody has a high inflation of misunderstanding of who they are. Till you get down to the nitty gritty we don’t know anything. A student should come to the table thinking that they know nothing. That’s humility. Humility is the key to everything. In life it is all about the H word.
What is the H word?
Humility. It’s lacking in everyone’s life. Best thing to say is I don’t know, even if you do.
What do you say to people who use religion as a pretext to violence or killing?
It’s been going on for 10 thousand years. The original context of religion through the eyes of Moses, Christ, the Buddha, or Mohammad was peace love, service, and compassion. This was the original doctrines. What happened over the years is that the Church and hierarchies of all of the various religions wanted to control they wanted to make the money themselves. It’s all about greed, money and control. What happens when you have greed, money and control? You have war and violence breeding. That’s what happens. We as individuals have to keep setting the example and making love a part of our everyday life, which we try to manifest at the Bhaktifests.
I understand you started Triloka record label is that true?
After the Center for Spiritual Studies started we were looking for a vehicle to put out the recordings of Krishna Das, Jai Uttal, Bhagavan Das etc. So we started the first spiritual record label with Paul Sloman and Krishna Das. We needed a record label, because most producers or record labels did not understand the genre of kirtan. Triloka started with Krishna Das. Triloka produced Krishna Das’s first CD and Jai Uttal’s first CD. The CD market is now is pretty much finished. The only people who make any money are people who produce their own, and who sell their recordings at Kirtan and festival events.
You now have all of the resources to do your own Bhakti Fest production, coordination, directing. What’s the biggest barrier you’ve been up against?
It’s always finding the great, wonderful people who are aware and who have the same vision who are into service.
At what point did you start thinking there was a full Bhakti festival in the making, and when did you make the transition to festival producer?
As I mentioned earlier the seed was planted at the Woodstock festival. It’s been growing and growing over the years. I wanted to bring together all of the modalities of yoga and all of the modalities of kirtan. Bhakti Fest was the first festival that invited the Hare Krishna’s. Other festivals never invite them and they have alienated so many people. So I invite them every year. In late 2008, I had another dream in my meditation to put together the makings of the first bhakti fest and in 2009 I took a chance and it manifested. It’s been going on ever since. We’ve been doing 2 a year, and now in 2012 we have 3 and we’d like to have 4 or 5 next year. We’d love to spread the Bhakti Fest all over the country and even take it international. Bhakti Fest moves with the energy. We’re the only festival to do a 4 day 24 hr. non-stop kirtan. There’s not much sleeping there. Energy is pulsating 24/7.
Is it a tough balancing act over there between making friends, producing the festival, chanting kirtan, and I assume, doing business for a living as well? Any advice on how producers and directors can balance all of their commitments while talking something on like a festival project?
It’s extremely difficult. You have to have a lot of patience, a lot of humility. You can’t get caught up with everybody’s wish list because everybody has their needs. Now everyone is a Kirtan Star and a Yoga teacher. We still get at least 5-submissions every week for people who want to play kirtan. We have 2 stages now and we’re going for a 3rd stage next year. It’s a very difficult balancing act, but you have to be very vigil. Have good association, and a lot of patience. Don’t overreact at every little thing that comes up. I still overreact. Just for a second, I step back, and realize okay, it’s all okay, everything is fine. Just have to do remember to do everything with love and compassion, that is the tricky part.
What is the best event you have ever put together?
I think these Bhakti festivals are the highlight of my whole life. I mean, I’ve put together great productions with Ram Dass and various Swamis’ that I mentioned and a big New Age gathering in the 70”s where 5000 people have come and I was responsible for holding the space for that. There’s nothing better than at Bhakti Fest having 3 thousand plus people on Sunday night for the closing ceremony chanting Mahamantra on the main stage. What could be better than that?
Sridhar Silberfein chanting the Mahamantra at the closing ceremony of Bhakti Fest Midwest 2012
If you could influence the bhakti movement in one way right now what would it be?
By continuing to having our festivals and bring more people into the fold and spreading the love and message out to as many people as possible.
The lineup consists of many artists. Are there any you personally invited to play the event?
Submissions go through the committee. The staff does the invites. - But through my many years associating with the main kirtan wallahs and yoga teachers, I personally invite them. We also created the second stage, in order to introduce new up and coming talent. We are open to the kirtan wallah’s that want to come to Bhaktifest. For example, I met a woman named Carrie Grossman, she’s living in the woods in a log cabin home in the middle of Massachusetts and did an album that was totally fantastic, and I loved it. I called her home personally and invited her in the middle of the night.
I try to listen to everybody’s CD’s submissions. What a blissful state that is. We tell people to send in a CD and let us check it out. We’re the only kirtan festival that goes all night. We start at on Thursday morning at 8am, and go straight through Sunday night at midnight. 4 days nonstop. Of course there have to be many groups going in the middle of the night
What kind of kirtan groups are you looking for Bhakti Fest?
I try to listen to everybody’s CD. However, I noticed that over the years there are 2 types of kirtan artists. There are those that chant to the ego and those that chant to God. We’re looking for the ones that chant to God at Bhakti Fest.
How do you manage to keep that schedule going?
That’s why we have 2 stages, one is the main stage. The second stage goes for 12-14 hours a day, and at night time we have kirtronica dance jam that goes from 12midnite to 4am as well. That’s quite a program, and it takes serious juggling and scheduling. We also have 3 yoga halls, and a wisdom workshop hall, and a breath work hall that has to be scheduled as well.
Which organizations or people would you like to extend a personal thanks to enable the festival to come to life?
All of the charities that we deal with, we’re very grateful to them that we’re able to help raise money for them. We think about what we can do for them. That’s the way we want to look at it. What kind of service can we perform? That way we don’t need to ask anybody for anything. We raise our own monies and do our own work. Of course, just one person could do none of this. It takes a combined effort of many people.
Do you work solely with volunteer?
No, we have 40 paid staff and 120 volunteers.
A few of the incredible staff at Bhakti Fest -
Where do you think kirtan is headed in its evolution?
Kirtan is headed only upwards, deeper, and more meaningful. More people will open up to it. More people are stepping up their practice by being around it. We’ll have 10’s of thousands of people chanting kirtan. It’s not a fad. It’s been around for five thousand years. We’re only experiencing it now. Yoga and chanting is not a religion, it’s not a cult. It’s a way of life. It’s a beautiful way of life. We’re so happy about meditating, chanting the names of god. It goes on all the time in Churches, synagogues, mosques everyone sings to God in their own form.
What do you hope people walk away from Bhakti fest with?
More love. More compassion. More desire to do service. More desire to have people take care of themselves and each other. More interest in chanting the divine names. People come up to us at the end of the show and say please let it never end. Let’s have bhakti fest every day of the year and take all the love, compassion and service they got for 6 days and take it to help everyone else see what a great way to live that life.
Do you have a singular code of ethics from which you are governed?
Well, I try to maintain a level of integrity and a level of humility. Someone asks what is my favorite part of Bhakti fest? When I can get into the kitchen and scrub the pots. That was my training from India was scrubbing pots. That was my service for the Guru’s. You learn to scrub the floors and clean the pots. So humility is very big, and compassions are very strong with me, and integrity. Forgiveness. We have to continuously forgive each other. None of us are changing by somebody else. We can only change by going deeper inside of ourselves. That’s what this process is all about.
We have a saying called “Be in the Bhav”.
What comes after the BHAV?
Last Updated on Wednesday, 17 October 2012 22:39
Category: Feature Profiles
During an amazingly proactive 9 years of study and work as a student and
personal assistant to Ali Akbar Khan beginning in 1975 Daniel Paul,
metamorphosed from a young 20 something struggling for the perfect tabla
drumming and raga vocal sound to one of the foremost western tabla players of
the day. However, his first touring experience was not as a drummer, but as a
tamboura (stringed drone) accompanist with Ravi Shankar and Ali Akbar Khan in
major musical venues such as Carnegie Hall before he was 30. At that time, he
carried a deep-felt love for the folk drumming styles of Indian kirtan – especially
that of tabla tarong – and studied in India on a Fulbright scholarship for one year
in 1987-88. Having learned his tabla playing firsthand from India’s master
drummers Zakir Hussein and Swapan Chaudhuri and kirtans in Temples in India,
he brought an authentic feel to the kirtan movement. While making tabla players
wince at his impressive 16 drum tabla tarong set, he began producing his own
albums and solo orchestra tours. Soon thereafter, he delved into many years of
playing with kirtan communities on Maui, and travelling throughout the ashrams
of America performing with celloist Bob Kindler who is a Vedantist scholar and
kirtan enthusiast. He was the accompanist for Jaya Lakshmi and Lost at Last on
their first kirtronica and world fusion albums. Now, nearly twenty years later, the
importance of his tabla works – including being the main accompaniment for Jai
Uttal since 2001 and playing on the classic “Footprints”, "Kirtan! The Art and
Practice of Ecstatic Chant" and the impressive 10 hours "Jai Uttal Live- the First
Edition" as well as 3 of his own Cd's "Rhythms of Paradise" "Between Two
Worlds" , and "Elephant Prayers- A Kirtan Vocal Ensemble, remain undiminished.
He is everything anyone could hope for in a studio player and then some. As a
sideman, He adds a compelling, natural feel and disitinctiveness to whatever
album he plays on. The albums are coupled with hundreds if not thousands of
hours of kirtan performance and instruction all over the world.Friends describe
Daniel as an inspiration, a proud, likeable man whose presence is playful and
strong, and whose artistry profoundly influences those who work with him. He
was intensely trained in tabla, and classical accompaniment and brings that
engrained style onstage. By all accounts, he lives for his music and the pleasure
of playing tabla brings people to kirtans.
Daniel Paul is one of the most gifted tabla players in America. I met him at a
house party on Maui where he was accompanying Jaya Lakshmi and Ananda on
their latest Altar of Love tour. Then a few days later, I saw him at a Cafe where
he's accompanying with Snatam Kaur for several Awaken the Kundalini
workshops, and afterward performed live with her at a community church where
Oprah surprised the crowd with a visit. He lives in Haiku, HI and invites me over
to Colleens for breakfast at 8:30am, which is his daily morning routine. We went
to his home in the Hawaiian jungle. The grounds are covered in tropical fruit
trees and landscaped plants, and the view over the valley is a beautiful sight. His
house was designed by some kind of geometrist designer. His bedroom is a
dodecahedron pyramid, and his practice space is a quadrilateral shaped room
scattered with tabla drums and tuning equipment. He’s producing an album of
tabla vocals and drumming that he’s nearly finished recording. Currently, He’s
planning on touring with Guru Ganesha Singh and Jai Uttal for several months in
the Spring of this year, and is looking forward to connecting with many artists this
year for both performances and recordings.
When I was a teenager I was a musician but I was rejecting western commercial
music, although I was very involved in composing songs, working with a couple
of musicians from high school. It was at a time when my generation was
rebelling against the 50’s culture, and conservatism. I grew up outside of New
York City, and I hit the road hitchhiking when I was 15 or 16 around 1967ish,
hitchhiking around the country and down to Mexico. I was hitch hiking in Berkeley
with a sign that said north and I had fallen asleep against a signpost and a guy
taps me on the shoulder and says wake up I’m going north. When we got to
Davis he said hey there’s a festival here you might like this, and it was the Whole
Earth Festival, Ram Dass was the main speaker, and Zakir Hussein was playing
there. That was in 72 or 73. I ended up seeing Zakir by pure chance. I saw him
live in concert and I was smitten.
I knew I wanted to study with him but I thought it would be too difficult to to get to
study with him, that you had to be smart, and that I wasn’t. For two years, I
wandered around and finally I met someone who said that you only need to pay
tuition and he’ll teach you. So I immediately went there without even asking and I
got there, and they were on vacation for two months (laughs).
That was in Marin, in Fairfax, CA. I was 19 and I studied at the Ali Akbar college
with Zakir Hussein and Ali Akbar Khan. I worked at the college as much as I
could, helping out, arranging concerts and doing things being helpful. About 3
years in, Ali Akbar Khan asked me to do some things for him and I became his
personal assistant, and I continued my studies, and was part of his East West
Orchestra for a full 9 years.
Ali Akbar composed all of the material for the orchestra which was a kind of
fusion. At first, I was a vocalist in the orchestra and they needed singers. I grew
up as a choir singer, had little folk rock jazz bands with my friends. They put me
in the choir because I knew how to sing and I had to learn everything by ear
because I didn’t know how to read music. After 3 years, I became good enough
at the tabla and became the tabla player for the orchestra. I also studied with
Jnan Prakash Gosh and Swapan Chaudhuri who’s still the maestro tabla player
at both the Ali Akbar College of Music in San Rafael, Ca., and at CalArts near LA.
I also got to play in Swapan’s tabla orchestra for many years.
My first trip was when I was 27 or 28 with Zakir Hussein, Ali Akbar, Ravi Shankar
and Alla Rakha. We did a stadium tour over three months and Ali Akbar took me
with him travelling and performing everywhere in some of the most amazing
situations! He was always very good to me, but in India he was especially fun to
be with but more importantly I finally started to really understand the full power
and majesty of who he was and how he was respected over there!
Before I ever went to Ali Akbar Khan, I had become interested in kirtan. I first
began to learn kirtan at the Gainsville Hare Krishna Temple and other temples.
So I kind of came back to kirtan after I studied at Ali Akbar Khan School.
What did you feel was the most important to learn with Ali Akbar Khan?
Ali Akbar Khan always said you have to be in tune you have to be in rhythm. We
had to memorize all of the compositions and that school piles it on, and
memorize from the previous week to play them for your teacher the next week,
and you had to be in tune, in rhythm, and correct. I used to assist him in class by
accompanying on tabla and I would also teach back up classes and intro classes.
Did you learn how to play tabla and sing at the same time?
The first 3 years I studied vocals seriously, waking up at 4 am singing and playing
tablas. I went after vocal for those first 3 years, and it was so hard. I was working
for Ali Akbar Khan and things started to get busy and so I asked him if I focused
on tabla would that be okay. He said yes, but he wanted me to play tabla for all of
his vocal classes. In those classes, he makes up his compositions as he goes
along. He’s not teaching out of a book. The lines repeat over and over and I
would naturally try to sing the line over and over with everyone else. He didn’t
mind as long as I didn’t make a mistake in the drum accompaniment, which
sometimes I would do. He used to smoke cigarettes back in those days, and if I
would make a mistake on an inhale he would look over at me and unconsciously
blow out the smoke. So I had quite the incentive to not make a mistake.
Because of those 2 hour classes 3x a week for years I got to separate my tabla
playing into an automatic place and begin to sing and play tabla. Which is such a
great thing then meeting Jai Uttal because Jai wants me to sing the response
while I play tabla with him and I love doing that so it has all worked out great and
I get to sing harmony too, which i also love, though it does not exist in indian
When I went to India on the Fulbright I sat with as many tabla players as I could.
One fun night the first night I was staying at Srinagar, Dal Lake, and the house
boats. The owner of the houseboat heard me playing and said “you play such
good tabla, I will tell my son, he will come and bring you to his next program.” He
did show up and he listens to me play and he invites me to his program. I’m
thinking that we’re going to some place so he comes rowing up, and I get in the
boat with the drums. There are two rowboats, packed with people, a harmonium
and another drummer and crazy instruments. They row into the middle of the lake
and begin to play and sing in the middle of the lake on the boats!!! It wasn’t kirtan
though, it was Qawalli, often described as an islamic version of kirtan. And we
went on for hours with the people around the lake yelling their requests at the
intervals between songs.
(Caption: Daniel Paul on a Kashmiri Houseboat 1987 on Fulbright Scholarship)
Studying classical indian music gave me such a great grounding and coming to
Hawaii in 85 I fell in with a great bunch of kirtanistas! . Kirtan is folk music, and
the relationship to Indian Classical has the similar correlation that western folk
has with western classical, there’s a big divide. Getting into kirtan was very
special for me and coming to Maui the people I met really wanted a tabla player.
I fell in love with a lot of kirtan singers here and we were like a big family singing
kirtan continously on the beaches and in jungle houses all night long. We would
migrate from one side of the island to another doing kirtan and all kinds of other
things (laughs) from 1985 on, and continuing to this day for many.
A little later in 1989 I met a man named Bob Kindler, who is a Vedanta scholar,
who asked me to go on tour to all yoga ashrams because there weren’t yoga
studios like there are today. From 89 to 95, twice a year I would tour with him two
or three months at a time doing kirtan at ashrams, some unity churches, some
community centers. Mostly, he would get his kirtan into ashrams, which isn’t
easy! We would never sell tickets, or charge admission but we would sell
cassettes to afford our tour. He had a recording studio on Oahu and he churned
out kirtan recordings. In those days, everyone had cassettes, and I am on nearly
all of those cassettes. He still sells them.
I came back to Maui and there would be more and more kirtan and I did my own
CD of instrumental stuff and I was on Soundings of the Planet the record label,
and they helped me to tour. One time I did 80 gigs in 90 days to promote my first
album that was fun, and was my first big solo tour. I did that for a few years, and
then my friends Jaya Lakshmi, Deva Priyo and Om started an early techno band
called Lost at Last. I kind of started to show up at their gigs. We did everything,
Kirtan, Sufi Chanting, African, American Indian Peyote chants. Burning Man was
definitely my favorite venue with that group!
This story is kind of out of chronology, but the reason I went to that original
Whole Earth show in ‘72 was because Ram Dass was on the bill as the main
speaker. I had read Be Here Now. When Ram Das finishes speaking, to this day
he has a kirtan singer with him. I remember being so blown away by Zakir that I
don’t really remember the talk or who was up there with him doing kirtan. So,
eventually I attended the Ali Akbar College and in ‘89 I played a benefit for Ram
Das in Marin, and somebody taps me on the shoulder and he says oh we’re
doing a kirtan with Ram Dass and the staff after everybody leaves would you like
to play with me? I looked up at this guy , never had seen him before, and I said
sure I’d be happy to do that.
I had just come back from India where I was studying on a Fulbright grant and
was surveying tabla all over India. Really, I was learning a lot about kirtan
because I was going into temples and pulling out my drums.
In 1989 that guy who tapped me on the shoulder to do kirtan was Jai Uttal. He
was also the one doing kirtan for Ram Das at the Whole Earth Festival the first
time I had seen Zakir. It took 15 years to actually meet him. He had gone to Ali
Akbar school, but he went before me and after me. I went for 9 years and when I
left he came back,and I missed him completely! Then four years after I left the
school our paths finally collided and we had such a great time doing that first
kirtan he said that he was recording his first CD soon and would I like to play on it
and I said sure and that started our relationship.
In the beginning of the Pagan Love Orchestra, Geoffrey Gordon was the
drummer and since I lived in Hawaii I was his substitute whenever possible.
When I finally left Lost at Last I spent several months in depression and thought!
I better call Jai and tell him I’m available! I had stopped substituting because I
was too busy, and Jai the joker he is says oh I’m sorry I can’t use you as a
substitute, and after a long pause he says ‘But I could use you full time!’ and that
was about 2001 and Geoffrey was moving into other things. That was exactly
the time Jai was getting more and more calls to do kirtans as opposed to the big
Pagan Love Orchestra gigs. Jai and I have been working solidly ever since. Now
that he’s slowing down I am actually beginning to look for more work , and still
going to be available for him as much as possible.
(Caption: Daniel Paul with Jai Uttal and CC White at Bhakti Fest 2011)
Snatam Kaur, Gaura Vani, the Mayapuris, Dave Stringer, Gina Sola and Krishna
Das and of course the people I play with mostly, Jaya Lakshmi, Guru Ganesha
and Jai Uttal. For more Indian style kirtan i love Karnamrita and a lot of Indian
bhajan singers like Pandit Jasraj’s bhajan album and Jagjit Singh, Anup Jalota
and Kishore Mohan. And the american quawali band Fanna_fi Alah who really
know how to bring it to the next level, Pakistani style! And then of course there
are the many many wonderful singers i meet both at home and in my travels!
Perhaps they are not well known but they all have their beauty and place in this
new world of kirtan.
(Caption: Guru Ganesha Singh, Snatam Kaur, and Daniel Paul in Mexico)
I love all kinds of music, Bob Dylan, Rolling Stones, Beatles, jazz, classical,
Hawaiian! George Harrison was probably the reason I got into tabla with his
influence with the Beatles. A lot of great western singer songwriters. I love a good
I’m a very private person about my own spirituality. Being with Jai for so long I’ve
come to really love Neem Karoli Baba. I thought of Ali Akbar Khan as my musical
guru, but I prefer my own brand of spirituality that is very rooted in Hindusim,
Sufism, native cultures and some other practices. I believe that kirtan in getting
huge amounts of people to sing, is a very valuable spiritual pursuit whether you
know what the mantras mean or not. You’re vibrating your physical body, as well
as your spiritual body. That vibration of the energetic body is so important! I love
that my job is to assist in helping people to sing and vibrate their bodies in a
I used to play a lot of what’s known as the Tabla Tarong. It’s just the tabla treble
drum, and you can get different sizes. I have two sets of 16 drums that are tuned
like a xylophone like a chromatic scale and then you pull the notes of the scale
you’re playing. It’s very rare to play with a set like that. When I first started
playing with Bob Kindler in the 80’s in the ashrams, one of his criteria for taking
me on tour was that I had to have a tarang. Zakir taught me something about
playing it and I contacted a man named Kamalesh Maitra from India , and he was
the only master i could find who played it classical style. I had met him when I
went to Berlin with Ali Akbar Khan and I corresponded with him and he was so
encouraging because he said he didn’t know anyone else who was playing. It’s
so hard because you have to tune so many drums, and by the time you’re
finished tuning 12-16 drums you have to go back and start all over (laughs). And
most tabla players don’t want to carry around that many drums, they don’t want
to have to tune all of those drums and they may not have studied enough of the
melodic raga music to actually play melodies. I had learned just enough raga to
play tunes I’d consider folk or fusion music, not so much classical. There’s an
inherent problem playing these tablas because in Indian music they bend notes
and there’s no way to bend notes on a tabla. So it’s always been known as a folk
instrument, not necessarily something you could really play classical. Although
Kamelesh Maitra did play classical style.
(Caption: Daniel Paul with his extensive 16 tabla tarong setup.)
Ali Akbar Khan school has great heads and equipment. In India it’s easy and the
tabla maker will make the head on the drum or scrape off the dot and put on a
new one on. In America it’s different because you have to import a head made for
a different drum, and put it on your drum. That’s very hard, and there’s no
guarantee it’s going to sound great, it’s very chancy.
No, I’ve always tried to get better. It’s really hard for me because I’m not playing
anywhere near the amount of classical music I used to and so keeping my chops
is very hard. In Kirtan, very often with the big band style, it’s so loud on stage that
it’s very easy to harm the technique. So I am constantly trying to remind myself
not to overplay, because when I can’t hear myself I start playing too hard. I’m
always saying don’t worry if anyone can hear you, and to just maintain proper
technique. It’s a constant battle now with kirtan because nowadays they want
bass players, and trap drummers. It’s not Indian style and you can’t hear what
the bass drum is doing as intimately as you would like. All of a sudden the tabla
is an accessory that people think is neat sounding not because people really
understand what the tabla is capable of doing. There are so many sounds
involved, in Indian classical music your like a one man band.Tabla drums can
create sounds like the bass guitar on the bass drum, and the rim shot, bell tone,
fast drum roll on the treble drum. So it’s a struggle for me. Like right now I’m
playing with Snatam Kaur tonight, and she has one guitar player, her harmonium
and that amazing voice. That is the type of ensemble I’d like to be involved in
where the tabla is being utilized more toward its fullest potential!
I like my students to have a broader appreciation for the classical structures that
tabla uses in its rhythmic counting. It’s nothing like you can ever find in Western
music. Odd time signatures like the 16, and the compositions you learn in those
cycles. There’s so much composition literature that I’ld like my students to know.
This has been going on for thousands of years, and it’s a lifetime of study in one
form or another. Not just something you can pick up in a month and jam with your
friends. They need to know and listen to the really great masters from India and
feel it’s full intensity! Both in tabla solo and in it’s intricate roll as the
accompaniment for many types of traditional music in India !
(Caption: Daniel's lightning fast tabla hands)
Recite everything you play. Walk and get the rhythm going and make your
walking a metronome. Count on your fingers Practice stroking patters with a
metronome, single Ta Ta Ta Ta and then touble TaTaTaTaTaTa and make sure
it’s slow and correct. Look at a mirror so you can see your hands from the other
side, and it really helps to improve your posture too. If you’re an accompanist
remember you’re an accompanist and let yourself create beautiful accompanist
rhythms. Many people study more composition and neglect understanding how
Playing tabla is based on traditional patterns and recurring themes and the music
is like a conversation and so when you’re talking to someone you’re usually not
thinking so far ahead about what you’re going to say usually. When you’re in the
thick of the conversation it’s coming out based on what the other person says,
and I think that’s true with music. We tailor what we’re playing to what we’re
hearing. When you get there even if you don’t end the way you think you were
going to, that’s okay, you’ve hopefully created a beautiful conversation.
No sometimes what I want to play, the tempo is too fast, and a tabla player has to
be really good at immediately understanding that what you want to play just isn’t
going to work. You can practice in such a way that if that doesn’t work you have a
fall back that happens so fast that no one even knows about.
I’d like to think that more westerners will start to understand how to use it. A lot of
kirtan singers ask me to record tablas on their albums and when they hear what
tabla sounds like with their music they ask me to play more like a conga drum.
People like word tabla , the concept of tabla, along with the popularity that it’s
Indian, Krishna Das and Jai Uttal use it, but most people don’t understand how
it’s used. I would like more people to have a better understanding of what it is,
and not add Tabla as a cosmetic addition to albums and performances.
I hate electronic tabla beats, and most drum kit drummers play way too loud for
me to want to play with them.
At a certain point, I would like to start leading kirtan more because I don’t do it
very often and everybody is asking me to. I feel like I should be able to, but my
whole life I’ve been an accompanist and it’s really hard to cross that line, and
think as the first person rather than the person who repeats.
The very first Bhakti Fest, Jai and I were up there with Gaura Vani and his group
and the Mayapuris. There was some wow in that mix! Sridhar created Bhakti
Fest with some friends, and it all came together for quite magically that first time.
Jai knows how to rise to every occasion but he really took it and blew the roof.
(Caption: Jai Uttal and Daniel Paul with Gaura Vani at the first Bhakti Fest.)
. Jai’s wife is from Brasil, and we go to Brasil a lot. We were invited to Yoga pe la
paz, a huge yoga festival in the park in the middle of San Paulo. It was Krishna
Das, and his crew with a few brazilian artists, and Jai with Prajna and our
Brazilian crew. Four thousand people in the park in the rain and none of them
left. It was a daytime outside gig in the rain with four thousand Brazilians.
The Omega kirtan festivals in Upstate New York are incredible also! There are
only about 500 people. We go almost all night long for three or four nights and
then at 6am after all night Saturday I find myself performing a classical raga with
the amazing Steve Gorn and Manose on bansuri flute!
I thank my teachers first, every time, there’s about 10 of them including several
americans who also taught me at Ali Akbar College. Immediately after that I have
four close friends who passed away and I ask them to come and have the front
row. I’ll ask my mom and dad but I don’t know where they’re at. Then I think
about Shiva, Brahma, Vishnu, and the accompanying dieties, the pantheon and
of course by then the kirtan is starting and we’re actually singing to them.
Aside from tuning the drums.
Mostly I stick to what I’m familiar with because if I’m singing along it has to be
stuff that can go on automatic. I try to add to that repertoire, and you have to play
a lot. Literally, you have to play something a thousand times before you can get
so comfortable with it to play it on stage.
I came to kirtan way before all of the yoga studio things. There was never a
situation where you paid to chant kirtan. We always sang on the beaches of from
home to home here in Hawaii. Kirtan had nothing to do with money. I’d like to
see more people creating free kirtan in their homes, on holidays, birthdays,
thanksgiving, Christmas or on any day. It shouldn’t only be about seeing your
favorite kirtan artist on stage, that you paid money for and you’re seeing them
with a huge sound system. But you should also be developing it in a noncommercial
non-professional way. Whether it’s singing in the shower, or for a
personal altar, or with your husband, wife, kids, few friends, or a bigger weekly
get together to chant kirtan. Now people are also doing it in yoga studios where
there are people donating the money to charity and no one gets paid. It’s not
about singing on a mic and having people come and see you. It’s about finding
people you feel good singing with and doing that with your own circle of friends
I teach a few a few folks here at home and I love recording here. I am now
working on a new CD featuring more tabla drum words sung with kirtan.Also, I
would like to teach more classical for the kirtan artists that want to bring that
understanding into their lives. There aren’t many people interested in learning
classical music like Jai and I have. I’d like to spend more time teaching from
home, perhaps start a school of kirtan here in Hawaii.
I met Guru Ganesha at Omega years ago with Snatam, and he’s such a bright
bright star. Snatam and Guru Ganesha took me to South America last year filling
in for Ramesh who’s their usual drummer. I had such a great time getting to know
them. Now that Jai’s slowing down and I put it out there that I’m looking for more
work Guru Ganesha asked me to join his tour and we’re doing 40 gigs in 60 days
this spring! Two separate 30 day trips and I have programs with Jai Uttal in
between. Guru Ganesha put a great new band together including some fellow
american Sikhs and Hans Christian, half of the early kirtan group known as
Rasa, and Michelle Hurtado who’s going to be singing with us.
I’d like to be remembered for helping to enable kirtan music to reach more
people ! That I can be of service to enable more and more people to feel the
heart and energy and the love in what we do chanting kirtan. That’s the great
thing about kirtan, everyone is a participant. The healing of the planet requires
everyone to vibrate their body a lot. Crying, laughing, raging, and chanting kirtan
it’s all done by vibrating the body. Shake off all of the old denial that the body and
spirit is holding, wake up hidden emotions and thank the gods in the process!
What a great vehicle kirtan is to spread the message of love around the world!
Last Updated on Tuesday, 18 September 2012 06:33
Category: Feature Profiles Written by Administrator
it's been about a month since I picked up the latest Altar of Love albums, and got to experience the Altar of Love Immersion retreat. Jaya Lakshmi's music has definitely evolved into such a rare, reflective, and tuneful combination of cultural influences. The music is meant to invoke divinity in it's purest state and yet still bring these sounds to Western audiences. Her newest engagement and collaboration with partner Ananda Yogiji works on many levels one can not help but plainly sense the apparent comfort and palpable mutual respect they have working together. They have released a double disc self titled album Live at the Altar of Love, and are facilitating Altar of Love Immersion retreat weekends in various locations throughout California, Oregon, and Washington. There's a brief interview with Ananda Yogiji at the bottom of this article about the beautiful heart healing work they've been doing with ceremonial cacao, kirtan, and kundalini yoga that they're including in the Altar of Love immersion retreats.
Jaya Lakshmi and Ananda Yogiji collectively released two albums this year which both chronicle the journey from darkness to selflessness and surrender to God.
Jaya Lakshmi:Live at the Altar of Love features original works by Jaya Lakshmi. Listen to "This is the Day" in the InternationalKirtan.com Audio Collection Here!!!
Jaya Lakshmi and Ananda: Live at the Altar of love features original works by Ananda Yogiji , except for the song “Altar of Love” which was written by Will Nolen. Listen to Song "Bow to You" which is part of the InternationalKirtan.com Audio Collection Here!!
They are sharing this music on their website JayaLakshmi.net. Both albums feel deeply rooted in folk rock music combined with Indian traditional. Instruments used are acoustic guitar, flute, and harmonium. Harmonies done by backup singer Luna. The lyrics have a raw booming quality that Jaya Lakshmi has developed over many years, and are a combination of English self-written poetry, western harmonics, and traditional mantras from different traditions including Gaudiya Vaisnavism, Sikhism, and Hindusim. The songs are resonant and span between edgy, strong guitar driven melodies to mellow traditional kirtans, and the lyrics are profound touching on coming out of a dark place and moving towards the light of love. The albums invoke a deep sense of surrendering to the light within using mantra meditation as a catalyst for self-realization.
The Altar of Love Immersions are a combination of several workshops including: bhakti yoga, kundalini yoga, partner yoga, kirtan and kirtronica music, and Cacao ceremonies. Full description of their programs can be found on their website JayaLakshmi.net, which has a gallery and shares some of the practices involved with these workshops.
They were recently in Maui for the Mystic Island Festival, and they headlined the event. I was so impressed with the breadth, depth, and diversity of music and meditation that Jaya Lakshmi and Ananda share. They bring together musical works from decades of experience into their workshops. Jaya Lakshmi's beautiful kirtan, bhakti yoga, and kirtronica music creates sacred space throughout retreat to go deeper. Ananda shares kundalini yoga and music practices and he also facilitates where he guides the participants through a series of pranayama ( breathwork) and visualization exercises. He focuses on universal topics and planetary topics to guide an inner reflection. I got to experience their healing work first hand and was so extremely blessed by them and their heart healing work.
The Cacao workshops that they are doing involve ceremonial Cacao from Guatamala. Ananda Yogiji’s family roots are from Guatamala where his mother is involved with Mayan ceremonial Cacao. I had the chance to ask him several questions. The ceremonial Cacao is powerful, and is much more powerful and has more properties, spiritually and chemically, than even raw cacao you get in a bag in the grocery store. When I tried one of their Cacao balls it melted in my mouth, and the texture was silky and smooth, unlike anything I’ve ever had before. I even exclaimed “wow” after having a bite it was so divine.
Can you tell me about your mother and her connection or your lineage connection with ceremonial cacao?
My mother has had a very special connection to the Mayan people. We grew up in a house and culture that reflected a lot of Mayan culture as well as the mixed Euro culture of Guatemala.
The ceremonial cacao came to me after experiencing a cacao ceremony in San Marcos Guatemala. The location itself is such a powerful vortex and experiencing the effects of the cacao with a cacao shaman was quite the transformational experience.
Can you tell me of any personal experience in Guatamala with the plant?
My personal experience with the cacao and its effects have been the main inspiration for holding ceremony and spreading its love. The cacao itself has asked me to spread its magic and healing to people all over. It also just so happens to be the most delicious and transformational cacao I have ever come across. I just got tired of cacao that wasn't giving me the full potency.
The cacao ceremony came about after a few shamanic friends of mine started using it for ceremonies in the states. It was so powerful that I immediately got the inspiration. And I am not alone. Cacao ceremonies are popping up all over the place by people who want to hold ceremonies in a loving, playful, deep and transformational manner.
The ceremony that Jaya Lakshmi and I hold is a unique fusion of our past experiences for heart opening transformation and community building.
Can you recommend any books about ceremonial cacao?
No. Only your own book of life.
Can you tell us about using whole bean cacao as opposed to Cacao powder that the raw foodist use?
The cacao I use is a native bean species and was told to me by the shaman that it is the only one to use for ceremony. The stuff you buy in stores is hybridized and has lost a lot of the potency.
I noticed you served balls? Do you expect to use balls or drinks for your ceremonies?
We typically make a drink that everyone drinks from and passes it around as we state our intention and heart sharing.
Can you recommend any Kundalini yoga teachers/gurus?
Well, the reality is that Kundalini Yoga is such a spiritual journey and you should follow your intuition. You will find yourself going into so many different dimensions with different teachers.
With that said, I love Harijiwan and Krishna Kaur in LA. The best is to explore your local teachers and establish your own sadhana (spiritual practice of Yoga).
Can you explain a bit of your background.
Ananda's significant transformation into Eastern spirituality began at the University of Oregon. He started taking his first Kundalini Yoga classes and studied abroad in South Korea. He was captivated by the Buddhists who had built their temples in the steep mountain ravines. It activated in him an ancient remembrance of his practice as a monk, his path of enlightenment and harmony with Mother Earth. At the same time, his practice in Kundalini Yoga began to open all sorts of doors into the Indian Yoga practices.
The next significant shift was attending the Kundalini Yoga Summer Solstice Sadhana Celebration in New Mexico. From this point on he was captivated by the pursuit of the soul awakening and the Great Spirit. Books Like Autobiography of a Yogi were presented on his path and inspired a change of name to Ananda, "bliss with the divine" after the beloved Paramahansa Yogananda.
Over the years he continued his path of remembrance as a Yogi and Buddhi. It sank deeper and deeper as his communion with his true infinite self emerged. His Sadhana -"spiritual discipline"- began to transform his music into that of devotion and healing, specifically with use of ancient mantras from the Yogic traditions.
Which songs on the tour did you create yourself?
The songs I lead, are usually the songs that were created through me.
Have you always been a folk singer?
I didn't know I was a folk singer.
Did you know Jaya Lakshmi’s music before you two had met?
haha no!! I saw her perform several times but I had no idea about her musical background. That was pretty funny as our relationship developed. I had no idea what I was getting myself into. It started with me wanting to promote a show for her, then in turned into me playing base for her, then a relationship, then touring and playing with a whole plethera of musicians such as Shimshai, Jai Uttal, Dave Stringer and so many more.
How do you feel that you and Jaya Lakshmi share a common dream?
Our dream is one and the same. That is all that can be said. God fit us together for a special purpose and that purpose is just beginning to blossom.
Aloha, Sat Nam and Hari Bol!!
Last Updated on Wednesday, 17 October 2012 06:51
We aim to highlight that space where kirtan and the world intersect through a completely free international social networking portal that links to an events calendar, audio collection, non-profit online shopping, smart writing and superior photography in a lifestyle blog. With these mandates in mind, InternationalKirtan.com showcases the best of our country, and the world for its highly educated viewers.
The site is translated into every major language, each with a dedicated language page. For example to go to the Portuguese version of the site you can click on a flag or select from a drop down menu of languages and get to http://InternationalKirtan.com/pt/. Language translations pages are easily and permanently edited by a user given the correct permission. All of the content from the website is also generated in Multilingual SEO making sure people in other countries can find the website by searching in their native language.
International Kirtan launches as an interactive devotional music website that celebrates the lifestyle of our viewers. We speak to an international audience that is cultured, educated, and on the go. Kirtan music has evolved beyond the sacred temples of India to festivals, yoga studios, and kirtan movements worldwide. This interactive website is created to showcase kirtan performance and local community kirtans.
Our Mission: International Kirtan Shala is an interactive devotional music share space that is building a source of relevant, entertaining and thought-provoking information. The website celebrates the excitement of devotional music and seeks to provide an in depth presentation of all things related to International Kirtan.
Our goal is to create a sustainable community for international kirtan via an interactive website, featuring social networking where members can upload original audio, photo, articles, kirtan calendar of events, and products for an online store.
Without a place for discovery online, a sustainable and growing community for International Kirtan will never exist. Although there are current websites that feature kirtan artists, and music, they are usually denominational, focusing on one specific guru or path, and fail to offer anything that can truly unite the worldwide kirtan movement in all of its different events, languages, participants, and manifestations.
Thanks to the interactivity of the website, International Kirtan will become an accessible entry point for the international kirtan scene, and everyone will benefit. The new influx of audio, video, photo, and article content created by the social network will expose the artists to a much wider, curious audience, driving a steady rise in attendance at kirtan events, kirtan education, as well as artistic collaboration. With an International events calendar audio collection, and an accessible and engaging interactive website of the amazing new kirtan scene as we know it, we can build a better future for discovery of the music.
Translated via flag icons into 58 languages. Translations can be edited through simple methods by people who are interested to fix translation errors. The editing of translations is so simple, any user who is given permission can edit right from their browser.
Search Engine Optimization: The website already has a Multilingual SEO feature to bring all pages and content to the top of the hits list on search engines all over the world. Your audio, product, article, and event information will be searchable internationally and able to reach a majority of non-english speakers.
so you can migrate your facebook profile, pic and info along with your status message with the click of a button.Although this feature does not include events, photos, videos or anything else. It's a basic registration and status update. None of your other information is pulled.
The content uploaded by International Kirtan members (i.e. photos, videos, and comments) generated by the social network will be displayed on the pages of the website, so you can browse all the latest kirtan videos posted by all of the members, all of the groups, all of the events, and all of the photos.
Throughout the site (on albums, articles, products, and event pages) there are social sharing links to all of the various social networking sites to allow everyone to share content, like it on facebook, tweet it on twitter, +1 on google, Digg it, Bookmark it on Delicisous, save it with Instapaper.
The International Kirtan Events calendar is a member generated events list. The calendar is searchable by artist, date or location, category, and can also include a location map. Members on the free social network can easily add events via forms on their profile, as well upload an iCal of weekly or yearly events. These member generated events are automatically put into a large calendar database that’s searchable by location, date, and by artist by anyone regardless if they are registered on the social network or viewing publicly. Of course privacy features are included where the events can be made exclusive to invitees only.
The audio collection of international kirtan music created by members can include extensive artist and album information, reviews, as well as individual songs. Only original kirtans, or community kirtans that are not copyrighted will be acceptable. Any copyright infringement will not be tolerated, if this becomes a problem we will make this feature by special application only. The audio section is open to your original international kirtan recordings, artist profiles, discography, community kirtans, festival recordings, and favorite historical kirtan albums. You must be logged in as a registered member of the social networking site in order to upload audio. Audio can be uploaded here for free presentation in the audio collection. Also, to support the artists, all kirtan tracks listed in the audio collection can link to a product page where the kirtan albums and compilations can be sold. Although right now MP3's are not priced to sell. Members can create their own playlists of favorite kirtan songs to listen to, rank albums, and post comments. The collection compiles statistics based upon number of views as well as ranking.
members can submit articles and photo essays for review easily and help co-create a kirtan magazine. Articles will be chosen and edited according to site guidelines in several categories including: Higher Learning, Travel Features, Reviews, and Feature Profiles. To make things easy, International Kirtan Shala accepts previously published content. International Kirtan Shala indends to have numerous submissions of artwork, photography, locational information, and more to create and present an ongoing, high quality list of featured content.
Last Updated on Thursday, 23 August 2012 00:44