Category Archives: Kirtan & Bhakti

Girish and heart rate variability

Heart Rate Variability: Chant From the Heart, For the Heart

Bhakti Fest is considered the ultimate playground for yogis. In particular, for bhaktas (devotional yogis). While Bhakti Fest 2018’s Joshua Tree desert playground may span 385 acres, this year I was attracted to a tiny outdoor classroom next to a small artificial pond. Sitting on the sandy ground, or perched at the rim of the pond, a variety of singers, drummers and musicians shared knowledge and tips about their practices. Of note, chanting improves heart rate variability. in other words, chant from your heart, and you’ll be chanting  FOR your heart, and general well being. 

Bhakti Fest’s Kirtan School spanned only four days, with two two-hour sessions daily. Each class had a different lead teacher for a great potpourri of kirtan key take aways. 

As Gina Salá, one of the teachers said, “So many mantras. So much wisdom.” I’d add, So many artists.  So much devotion. For the culmination of so much sangha (association/unity) of sound. 

Your Divine Voice  

Gina Sala at Bhakti Fest

Gina Sala at Bhakti Fest 2018

In a previous article of mine, Gina Salá spoke about music and devotion. A take away was that every voice is divine. Perfect.

Similiarly, in Girish’s Kirtan Class at Bhakti Fest 2018, he said, “There’s never been another voice like yours. The voice is expressing who we are. Free the voice. Free the person. Your personal growth and evolution is inseparable from your voice.”

To me, Gina and Girish have incredible voices. They hit a sweet spot in my heart. Yet, Girish considers himself a drummer. And, most drummers don’t sing. He focused on chanting during his five years as a monk living in an ashram.  “It’s not about the artistry of music. It doesn’t matter how it sounds.” He emphasized, “It’s your call to your creator.”

Most noteworthy, Girish spoke of the science behind chanting. There is clear data to attest to the benefits of singing kirtan or chanting in groups, in particular. 

Chanting for the Heart: About Heart Rate Variability  

In fact, a recent study completed by the University of Gothenburg in Sweden noted that those who sang together had synchronized heartbeats. The head researcher explained that singing is a form of controlled breathing, not unlike yogic breathwork which leads to many benefits, including lung capacity and heart health.  

Furthermore, Girish said, “When we sing in a group, our brain waves start to sync up. And heart beats too.” He talks about the phenomena called heart brain coherence, which has been investigated by the HeartMath Institute in California, and heart rate variability (HRV).  

Girish at Kirtan Class, Bhakti Fest, speaks on heart rate variability

Girish at Kirtan Class, Bhakti Fest 2018

Harvard Health Blog contributor, Marcelo Campos, MD, explains the importance of heart rate variability. “HRV is simply a measure of the variation in time between each heartbeat. Over the past few decades, research has shown a relationship between low HRV and worsening depression or anxiety. A low HRV is even associated with an increased risk of death and cardiovascular disease. It is fascinating to see how HRV changes as you incorporate more mindfulness, meditation, sleep, and especially physical activity into your life.”

“We want a more adaptable heart rhythm,” added Girish, “as HRV is a biomarker of human health. One fantastic way to increase our HRV levels — and thus our overall health and resiliency — is to sing. And, in fact, chanting mantras increases HRV levels better than any other types of singing.”  Again, Girish has scientific research to back this up. He explains that when you chant mantras, you follow a particular breathing pattern as referenced in the Swedish study. Clearly, the breathwork associated with Tibetan monks is far from that of acid rock. 

However, Girish pointed to research comparing traditional chants from diverse religions and cultures such as Ave Maria and Om Mani Padme Om.  “All have the same breathing patterns. It’s an amazing effect. These practices activate the parasympathetic system.”

Chanting in Any Language, From the Heart

So, you don’t have to be a bhakta yogi.  As Girish jokingly said, believe it or not, “There are people out there who have never done kirtan … or yoga … or worn Lululemon.  It’s not just the yogis. All the world’s spiritual traditions are doing some kind of mantra.  So that tells me that it works.” 

While there’s plenty of evidence-based insights as to why it works, when you look at a toddler or child singing a nursery rhyme, it’s pretty obvious. Singing, especially repetitive sounds, makes us feel good.

“The primal human instrument is the voice. You don’t have to go to a music school to find out where a middle C is,” said Girish. 

Shiva Rae at Bhakti Fest

Shiva Rae at Bhakti Fest 2018

Shiva Rae, also at Bhakti Fest 2018, told an intimate gathering of women there, “Your first mantra was in your mother’s womb (her hearbeat).” And, in many cultures, the drum represents the heart beat. 

For the Mayapuris, the drum represents the sacred, too. In their Kirtan Class, the close-knit bhaktas from Florida explained the essence of the primal beats and their beloved mridanga. 

“The drum is a manifestation of Balaram (Krishna’s brother). Sound vibration itself represents the lord. When we use our instruments in Kirtan we are dressing (up) the holy name, and the instruments are the decoration to attract us. The more that we offer our love, the more we will feel the syncopation,” they said.  

“Something that runs through every culture is rhythm. Every tradition in every era on every continent has some form of collective singing, because it just pierces so clearly. These instruments are a vehicle.”

Chant the Holy Name

Mayapuris at Bhakti Fest 2018

Mayapuris at Bhakti Fest 2018

However, the Mayapuris aren’t saying you can chant mumbo jumbo. “If you were to repeat Coca Cola or water water it’s not going to quench your thirst. When we repeat the names (of the lord) it’s ever-present. It just gets sweeter and sweeter, and more ecstatic. Kirtan is the absolute platform.”

The Mayapuris are Vaishnavas. For them, the names of Krishna and Radhe, among others, are supreme. “In our tradition, we say the name of the Lord until our voice chokes up. Spiritual life starts at the mode of goodness. With that vision, it’s easier to attain that realization. Kirtan is like a shortcut. We’re not worrying about someone’s culture, politics or religion. Kirtan, and in particular collective sangha. You get a little shortcut, like a machete cutting through. And, it’s accessible to everybody.” 

“The first thing the chanting does is dust the mirror of maya (illusion). We just get so consumed and then we’re trapped. The things that get in our way, in our material brains, get pushed aside (with chanting). For this modern age, the scriptures say Kirtan is the dharma.” 

In other words, just as Gina Salá and Girish say that everyone’s voice is divine, the Mayapuris say, “Anyone can take part and start to feel divinity.” 

Bhagavan Das and his ektar at Bhakti Fest 2018

Bhagavan Das: From High Desert to Dallas — on the 33rd parallel

No Ordinary Senior Citizen

Bhagavan Das and his ektar at Bhakti Fest 2018Bhagavan Das left the United States in 1968. At the age of 18, he headed east. To India. Tibet. Nepal. With no money. He adhered to the customs of the elder yogis. A renunciate. An ascetic, or sadhu. After seven years, he returned to the States. But not to the lifestyle of the ordinary American.  

He introduced a friend to one of his gurus, Neem Karoli Baba. That friend is now known as Ram Dass, author of “Be Here Now.” Bhagavan Das authored his own book, “It’s Here Now (Are You?)”, but is better known for his music. In each of his CDs, his chanting is almost spellbinding. Rather drone-like, his concentration on the mantras or prayers is as solid as the Tibetan monks with whom he was guided many years ago.

Today, he doesn’t look like your card carrying AARP man. No Bermuda shorts. He walks barefoot, rather than gym shoes and calf-high socks. Nor does he sport a golf shirt. Rather, he wraps a long white robe around his 6’5” lean body. Yes, he has the grey hairs and receding hairline. But, his white beard reaches almost to his belly. Trailing from the back of his head is  one grayish-brown dreadlock that extends to his upper thighs. Sometimes, he wraps the dread around his head turban-like. 

In his white robe, he looks a bit like what you’d expect an aging Moses to look like. Weathered. Coming down from the mountains. Yes, weathered but wise. 

His music is mesmerizing. Usually, he belts out verse in Sanskrit. At times, he interposes English. One hand is glued to his one-stringed ektara. His deep booming voice resonates well with the sitar, and other instruments from the Indo-Pakistani region.

Ricky Tran, a yogi from Dallas agrees. “There is definitely something different about  Bhagavan Das’ chanting. He enters a trance during his performances, and I can feel the dissolution into the Divine. I have never experienced anything like it.” 

Bhagavan Das at Bhakti Fest’s 10th Anniversary 

Bhagavan Das and his ektar at Bhakti Fest 2018Bhagavan Das’ spoken messages are sparse, but have maximum impact. 

“When the earth had been completely taken over,” he tells a crowded sanctuary room of Bhakti Fest attendees between chants, “… very little dharma was left … Everyone was lost. On the cell phone. Everyone was on e-bay. On YouTube. Lost in the glamour.”  

Next, he continues his story about the sages who formed a circle around the earth. The goddess Durga, who takes away the darkness was coming to the rescue. She was trying to slay the dragon. But alas, every time she struck to whack off the head of the dragon, another head would arise while blood was spurting all over. 

“This is the great ego,” explains Bhagavan Das.  “I. Me. Mine. The self-serving. Self-possessed. Narcissistic.” In the end, fortunately, for mankind, the great goddess, “Maha Kali licked up the blood saving the world from the great ego.”

It had been many years since Bhagavan Das graced the stage there. He was at the first Joshua Tree mega-yoga/music festival, ten years ago. While some kirtan artists live on the road, like vagabond musicians, performing at yoga studios and festivals across the country, and even overseas, that’s not Bhagavan Das’ gig any more. So Bhakti Fest 2018 attendees were in for a real treat this last September as one of the earliest American kirtaneers shared his music, and his wisdom. 

Bhagavan Das at Bhakti Fest

“We live in a dream within a dream,” he said last month in the Joshua Tree desert. “Wake up before you die. Ram (the supreme) is the fire that burns away desire, transforming it into pure love.”

In an interview more than a decade ago with “Time Out New York,” Bhagavan Das explained why people feel so great after sharing kirtan with him. 

“‘Cause when we’re all together in a room and we’re all chanting and we’re all breathing together, it’s like we become this huge deity of breath and now we have a thousand arms and legs and a thousand heads and everyone’s in the same breath.”

Bhagavan Das Heads to Dallas

Now, Texans will be in for a treat as the master Bhakta offers a weekend retreat October 19-21 at Ecstatic Dance Dallas. Ricky Tran will host, and lead yoga workshops. “This is a rare opportunity to study with Bhagavan Das, as he seldomly offers this full weekend retreat,” says Tran. 

Interestingly enough, both Joshua Tree and Dallas are on the mysterious 33rd parallel. Joshua Tree, on the 33rd North Parallel, was once sacred Indian grounds, and still carries much of the sacred feelings. And Dallas? Well, the micro-chip was invented here. But, it’s also Tran’s home, and he’s a wonderful teacher.  So, this weekend in Dallas should be very memorable.

 

BhaktiFest

Bhakti Fest: 10 Years of Woodstock for Spirituality

The Birth of Bhakti Fest: Spirituality at Woodstock  

It was 1969. There were 500,000 gathered in Woodstock as Sri Swami Satchidananda gave opening remarks and prayers. “America is helping everybody in the material field, but the time has come for America to help the whole world with spirituality also.”

spirituality at Bhakti Fest 2018Swami Satchidananda’s inclusion at Woodstock was the brainchild of Sridhar Silberfein, who suggested spirituality was missing from the original Woodstock lineup. He also suggested taking this concept a bit further. Why couldn’t spirituality be the focus for a mass festival? The Swami agreed, and Sridhar recognized he had to make it happen. 

After raising four children, establishing the first natural foods store in the LA area, and making tea tree oil commonplace in the States, Sridhar set out to design a Woodstock for Yogis. He created a spirituality-based festival where the focus was chanting the names of the divine, and bringing higher consciousness to the masses. 

In 2009, Sridhar opened the gates to the Joshua Tree Retreat Center for the first Bhakti Fest. This September 12-17, two of the artists that have graced the festival each year, are once again taking center stage.   

Jai at Bhakti Fest 2018

Jai UttalJai Uttal: 10 years at Bhakti Fest had been leading weeklong Kirtan Camps for six years when Sridhar first told him about his idea for Bhakti Fest. The musician with a traditional rock background, infused with Indian and Brazilian instruments and beats said, “Yes, it’s the perfect time!”

For those unfamiliar with Bhakti (devotion) and kirtan (devotional chanting), Jai tells why it’s such a powerful practice. “These ancient chants contain a transformative power and healing energy. By singing these prayers we join a stream of consciousness and devotion that has been flowing for centuries.”

Jai, who has been singing kirtan for many decades, felt his students were longing for a bigger-scale gathering full of spirituality and sacred chants.  

“The community of ‘devotees’ has grown and expanded like ripples in a lake. The more we toss in our tiny pebbles of love, the greater are the waves of compassion and caring.”

This year, as in all the prior years, Jai will be a prime time performer on the main stage. Additionally, his yogi/dancer wife, Nubia Teixeira, will lead four different workshops including a session to empower women to heal the world. Like Jai, Nubia has been following the path of yoga and spirituality for 30 years. 

Jai always gives a great show, with his high energy, and deep devotion.  Read about one of Jai’s past special events in Austin. 

Spirituality Awakens for Donna De Lory

Donna De Lory’s blend of world music, mantras and electronica has been a favorite at Bhakti Fest, since 2009. She made her way to the first Bhakti celebration, after touring the world for 20 years as a singer and dancer with Madonna.  

Donna De Lory at Bhakti Fest for 10 yearsA Valley girl, her mom died of breast cancer when she was just 16. That event reshaped her life in many ways. She moved south to live with her dad, a Latin band leader who was into health foods and Eastern religions. She took up meditation, and worked at a vegetarian restaurant. She read a book by OSHO, and made gospel music. All in the land of country music. Nashville, Tennessee.

As a young adult, she moved back to LA, and eventually landed what many would have considered the ultimate job. Part of Madonna’s crew.  Throughout those years, the sacred vibes and sounds of devotional music never escaped her. About the time that the west coast yoga culture was taking off, she had two children, left the “Material Girl” circuit, and recorded her first yoga CD, “The Lover and The Beloved.” 

The arrival of her children, and Bhakti Fest, cemented her true desire to do her own style of world/sacred music. 

“I realized I have to do my own music. What am I about, and where’s my devotion?” Her fellow Bhakti musicians, Girish and David Newman, helped to bring her to “a place where all these loose ends came together.  We all felt we were part of a movement…like Woodstock…of people wanting to come together and expand their consciousness and go deeper within.”

Joy-Filled Participatory Fans

Donna said goodbye to the “Material Girl” and hello to “Bliss” and “Sanctuary.”  But they weren’t two completely different worlds.

“It is a community. People were so joy-filled. They never stopped smiling. I felt like I was down with the people,” she says about the Madonna days. “I learned the value of that touring with Madonna. I’d go out in front of the hotels and talk to people.” Same for Bhakti Fest.

Furthermore, the Madonna fans knew all the lyrics of her songs, and would sing along “…to the point that we couldn’t hear ourselves.” Again, same for Bhakti Fest.

Collaboration at Bhakti Fest

spirituality at Bhakti Fest 2018

From that original Bhakti Fest, collaboration abounded, Donna explains. “The artists were all one big tribe.” The musicians are almost like mix-and-match. On stage in many configurations.

“There’a a lot of integration of styles,” explains Donna. “The artists and teachers have been given space to blossom in what they offer.” For example, MC Yogi does hip hop. Sean Johnson’s style is NOLA infused. The Mayapuris perform traditional Indian ragas, samba and spirituals. 

Donna sings in English, Sanskrit, and Spanish. Often mixing one to another, just as she did with Madonna on La Isla Bonita. A professional singer and dancer, everyone who hears her can channel some of that. “No matter how much I may be in an introspective place, it just goes there. You just see it. People want to dance, and sing together. It’s in our DNA. To have this celebration, together.”

spirituality at Bhakti Fest 2018People connect with each other, and with Joshua Tree. “It’s the nature. Community. Expansiveness. Especially in today’s world. It’s a place that allows you to just be who you are, and not be judged,” explains Donna. 

Now, to amp up that collaboration and closeness between artist and attendee, Bhakti Fest 2018  includes a Mantra Dome, for a more intimate gathering to chant sacred mantras.

“Bhakti Fest was so rooted in the devotion. People feel free to let go and show their devotion. These festivals are allowing you that.”

yoga with Deborah Charnes of The Namaste Counsel

Yogi Bhajan: Yoga for a Meditative, Neutral, Intuitive Mind

The meditative mind is the neutral mind that runs your destiny. There are three ways to conduct your destiny. Through the law of karma-action and reaction you can tune into the magnetic field of the Earth and just float with it as a freeloader, or your life can be run by that magnetic, attractive creative, meditative Neutral Mind. That way you do very well. —Yogi Bhajan

paschim namaskarasana reverse prayerGurucharan Singh Khalsa, PhD, rubs elbows with geniuses like Yakir Aharonov. He’s a psychotherapist, and professor at MIT, with a penchant for quantum physics. At the core of all his passions are the teachings of Yogi Bhajan.  He collaborated with the Kundalini spiritual guru on many a publication, thus becoming one of the leading teachers of this form of yoga. So much so that Gurucharan Singh Khalsa was international director of training for Kundalini Yoga for 40 years.  He recently led weekend workshops at Yoga Yoga in Austin. His primary topic was how yoga can build your intuitive senses, something I was taught by one of my first spiritual leaders many years ago.

Your system of intuition is the source of your happiness. It is the source of your victory. It is the source that can make you invincible. —Yogi Bhajan

“Most instincts are pretty useful,” he says. Think running away from a bear, or, dropping a hot plate. The third chakra, is the foundation of instinct, he explains, and it often shows up with somatic feelings of the body.  For example, recall the way you felt the first time you laid eyes on your partner. Conversely, think back to when you spot someone who just doesn’t seem to jive with you.

kapalabhati ego eradicator breath of fire, as taught by Yogi Bhajan“We want to have strong instincts,” he adds. And one of the staples of Kundalini Yoga, breath of fire, is helpful in that area. Interestingly enough, that technique of breathwork, kapalabhati, was part of my twice daily routine where I studied with the swami who suggested intuitive powers are built through a sincere, steady practice. While I’m not running on intuitive overdrive, I recognize that my gut feelings have strengthened significantly since I became a devoted yoga practitioner.  

“Breath of fire is very useful in aligning with instincts,” says Dr. Singh Khalsa.  But, he pointedly differentiates between instincts and intuition. “If you have instinct, intelligence and intuition, you can reduce your errors.”  

Wise choices bring about a balance in life, he explains. Yoga, of course, is all about bringing balance to the body, mind and spirit. Furthermore, yogis traditionally adhere to an alcohol- and drug-free lifestyle, and minimize use of prescription drugs. Dr. Singh Khalsa asserts that consuming any kind of drug will alter one’s instincts. As such, drugs can pollute your ability to hone your instincts. In the Ayurvedic world, we talk about leading a pure sattvic life, avoiding what are rajassic or tamassic. Mood alterers, alcohol is very tamassic, whereas caffeine is rajassic. Think uppers and downers. Both bring about problems.  Driving while intoxicated is a perfect example that Dr. Singh Khalsa uses to paint the picture of how substances can alter your mind. In some instances, causing fatalities.

When you are in the state of the neutral mind, the soul is like a chandelier switched on over you. Communication of the soul is just that light; you are lit up by it. —Yogi Bhajan 

dhyana mudra tibetan meditation mudraKundalini, as taught by Yogi Bhajan, represents a capacity for awareness.  Just as the snake represents your kundalini rising, a snake sheds its skin to grow. You’re shedding skin, expanding. Making the infinite more intimate. Bringing about a birth of consciousness at the heart center, he says. However, if you’re purely instinctual, you may shut everything out…and be lonely. Beliefs have their own immune system. A lot of people never believe anything. Additionally, he says “bias is often from self-dialogue.”

Possibly, that’s why one of my favorite yoga practices is chanting, especially group chanting, or sankirtan, which to me is so powerful. In the Kundalini Yoga tradition, mantras are just as much a part of the yoga experience as is breath or body work,. While my yogic foundations are not from Yogi Bhajan’s Kundalini lineage, chanting was integral to my yogic formation.   I incorporate chanting, or mantras, in my personal practice at least once, daily. When needed, I’ve called upon mantra meditation for hours at a time. 

Man without intuitive mind is a car without brakes. An intuitive mind cannot be achieved without a meditative mind.The meditative mind is a process to the intuitive mind. —Yogi Bhajan

Finally, Dr. Singh Khalsa notes that nothing is perfect. “We all face decisions, and each has an impact.” Even a “wise decision” can get you in trouble, as it did for Nelson Mandela. Not that the “trouble” didn’t have a positive outcome, in the end. But you have to have self-forgiveness. And above all, patience.

 

spiritual practices of Bhakti and kirtan

Bhakti and Self-Love Spiritual Practices

The topic of spiritual practices is by guest author, Pranada Comtois. Her book, Wise-Love: Bhakti and the Search for the Soul of Consciousness is newly published.

The Magic of Bhakti’s Self Love Spiritual Practices

Wise Love: Bhakti and Self-LoveWe are driven for love and by love. We must feel loved to feel whole. But do you feel lovable or loved? Sometimes? All the time? Almost never?

You may have a life companion, family, and friends and not feel loved or worthy of love. Or you may be a loner without significant relationships but feel lovable and loved.

Loving relationships can go a long way in confirming our worth, countering negative self talk, and making us feel lovable. But they aren’t what make us feel lovable. If we don’t love ourselves – truly, deeply, fully, and with clarity – we won’t feel loved.

Even if we surround ourselves with a community of loving people we may still feel unworthy of love. After all, those who purportedly love us can make us feel unloved or unlovable. Their style of relating to us, as well as their own needs and shortcomings, combined with our misperceptions and misconceptions can create untenable situations.

Neither can our inner lack of love be resolved by affirmations, creative visualizations, mindfulness, or meditation. We can look ourselves in the mirror in the morning and repeat, “I love you. You’re worthy of love” and still feel unlovable. That’s because we often miss the distinction between mundane love of the false self and divine love of the genuine self.

Only in realizing my real self can I experience real love because I’m not the body, mind, or emotions — or the illusory identities associated with this temporary frame I inhabit. Love of the body-mind won’t make me feel whole and satisfied. I require love for myself as a spiritual being.

And how can I love our self unless I know my self?

Spiritual Practices Can Uncover Our True Self

spiritual practices of Bhakti and Self Love

But, not all practices simultaneous endow us with self love. This is the promise of bhakti’s divine love, or wise-love.

As a spark of spirit, a unit of consciousness, we are a most beloved subject of love. We must be loved to be whole, and we are givers-lovers. Feeling unlovable or unloved is only an imagined state of mind without truth in reality. When we wake to our eternal self we awaken to our enduring nature as lovers who are supremely lovable.

The ancient Bhagavata, the sequel to the Bhagavad Gita, says, “Sometimes we suffer because we see a tiger in a dream or a snake in a vision, but actually there is neither a tiger nor a snake. Thus we create some situation in a subtle form and suffer the consequences. These sufferings cannot be mitigated unless we are awakened from our dream.” (Bhag. 4.29.35)

Credible and Daily Spiritual Practices Break the Deep Dream  That Grips Us

Spiritual practices of Bhakti and Self Love: Radha and KrishnaWhen we awaken and see the self, we naturally see the Source from where we are generated, just as when I see a spark of fire, I will also see the fire-source. As a spark of our Divine Other, our nature reflects his. As he is a lover, we are lovers. As he is lovable, we are lovable. We don’t need the confirmation of the world, or current relationships, to validate the existential truth of our lovability; we experience it when we awaken to the self.

And more, just as our Divine Other cannot be moved by conditional love, the love of this world cannot fill us. We must have the most exalted, pure love, or wise-love: the unconditional love the self knows for itself and its Source.

We easily progress in the art of self awakening by bhakti’s simple method of hearing about and chanting about our Divine Friend. In kirtan or japa (solitary chanting with prayer beads), we can chant the sacred great mantra, the maha-mantra Hare Krishna.

Kirtan is the beginning of an amazing journey to the self and wise-love. By associating with our Infallible Lover, our infallible lovability is reflected to us and our love fully reciprocated. The magic of bhakti reveals the lover and her lovability, the Beloved, and their mutual wise-love. Even the beginning experiences of this relationship can alleviate, forever, our feelings of being unloved or unlovable.

About the Guest Author

Pranada Comtois is a devoted pilgrim and teacher. Her writing sheds light on bhakti’s wisdom school of heartfulness. She shares her love for spiritual practices with a focus on how to culture wise-love in our lives and relationships. She hopes others can experience the inherent, unbounded joy of the self. The wisdom of her teaching and spiritual practices grows from living 20 years as a contemplative in bhakti ashrams.

For more on Bhakti, click on the Kirtan and Bhakti button at The Namaste Counsel archives

Jaya Lakshmi at Bhakti Fest

Benefits of Bhakti: Chanting and Singing Feels Good

Sankirtana. Singing feels good.Music is a part of my life. I play no instruments. I’m not a trained musician. But, music is in my heart, and in every cell of my body. That’s why chanting (bhakti yoga or kirtan) is one of the most important aspects of yoga for me. Yes, chanting is yoga. As is dancing. 

When I was a kid, I felt something special when I would sing with my sister. After seeing “The Sound of Music” and “Mary Poppins,” some of the songs were on automatic replay in my head. I couldn’t stop singing. Now, it’s the same way. But it’s mantras that keep circulating through my heart and my mind. I try to share that appreciation with my students. In classes, even if I’m playing Mary J. Blige or Stephen Marley, I’ll intersperse a rhythmic mantra.  

Sankirtana. Singing feels good.Once or twice a year, I go to kirtan festivals. Recently, I was in California for Bhakti Fest. The following weekend I went to North Carolina for Sadhu Sanga. Both were gatherings of several thousand bhaktas. People, like me, that have been touched by the power of sankirtana (group chanting).

One of the most beautiful things about Bhakti Fest and Sadhu Sanga is the energy. Beyond the beautiful sounds and rhythms, there is a special atmosphere. Bliss. Devotion. Whatever you want to call it. That’s what bhakti is all about. In fact, one of the translations for bhakti is devotion. When you practice san kirtan that special feeling is magnified a thousand times.

Kirtan Fest Houston

Kirtan Fest HoustonNow, there’s a kirtan festival in Texas.  Labor Day weekend. September 2 to September 4.  The venue is the most beautiful ISKCON temple.

Kirtan Fest Houston brings together kirtan artists who travel around the world. Karnamrita Das is one. I’ve sung with her in California. Amala Kirtan Das is a Brazilian-born musician with whom I’ve chanted several times in Austin. In addition to many others leading the group chanting will be San Antonio’s Advaita Acharya Das. He’s my personal conductor. He’s moved my life in many ways. Not just getting me to dance or sing, but to make a difference in my life. To live the principles of yoga.

This is your chance to feel the power of group chanting without leaving the big state of Texas. In fact, Advaita is coordinating caravans to get to and from Houston. 

Kirtan Fest HoustonAdvaita quotes the scriptures to explain the value of chanting. 

“Compared to that person who is attached to chanting japa (beads), the person who performs loud chanting of the holy name of Sri Hari is one hundred times better. This is because the person who chants japa purifies himself, whereas the person who chants the holy name loudly in kirtana purifies himself, all those who are with him, and everyone else who hear the holy vibration.”

Quoting the scriptures, he adds, “The animals, birds, and insects cannot chant the holy name, but by hearing the holy name chanted they can benefit. Chanting the japa of the holy name of Krishna purifies oneself, but the loud sankirtana of the holy name of Krishna benefits all living beings. Therefore, loudly chant the holy name of Krishna in kirtana, and you will get one hundred times the benefit of chanting japa. This is the verdict of all the sastras.”

Advaita’s Tips for First Time Chanting

1) Get as close to the kirtan circle as possible. Imagine fire. The closer you are, the more wholesome is the experience.
2) Don’t burn yourself.  Respect the fire. Respect kirtan sound and you will be able to feel something without touching it, and see something with your eyes closed.
3) Don’t come to kirtan tired. Don’t over eat, or eat not enough. 
4) Remember your body is a temple. Focus on PPP:  Posture. Pronunciation. Presence.

It Feels Good

Girish is one of the frequent Bhakti Fest musicians. At this year’s Shakti Fest I attended one of his workshops. Kind of like Singing 101.  

“Every one of us is born to sing,” he said. “Each and every one of our bodies is a unique musical instrument. Are we a cello, or are we a flute, or trombone in this symphony of life?”

Girish pointed to research that validates what I learned as a young kid. Singing feels good.

Chanting is Good for you“It’s scientifically proven that singing is really really good for us. Singers have lower cortisol levels, by about 15 percent. It activates the parasympathetic system. It lowers our blood pressure and calms our mind.”

And, especially when we do so with groups of people (sankirtana). Think about singing at places of worship, or jamming with your friends or family. What’s more, Girish says when you sing in sanga (community of likeminded people), “Our heart beats and brain waves sync up.”

Girish said that freeing the voice is freeing the person. Moreover, “Our voice is a bridge between the inner world and the outer world. Singing and chanting is the best way to bring that forth. It’s not about having an amazing voice. I myself identify as a drummer who sings. Live your life so that when you die, the world cries.”

Girish’s Tips for Singing

  1. Find your key. The majority of women are most comfortable in the key of A. On the other hand, men usually prefer C. 
  2. Relax the jaw, tongue and throat. Try a few lion’s breaths before you start to sing. 
  3. The dan tien (a few fingers below the belly) is the root of the voice. In Daoist practices this spot is special. It’s where energy brews. A sea of qi (prana). Similar to with yogic breathing, expand the flower pot, beginning here.

Girish told us that the word voice is related to the word invocation. Both come from the Latin  voxdictionary.com defines invocation as the act of invoking or calling upon a deity, spirit, etc., for aid, protection, inspiration, or the like; supplication. Another definition is a form of prayer invoking God’s presence, especially one said at the beginning of a religious service or public ceremony. So, that can be interpreted as chanting is a form of invoking that connects one with a higher spirit. 

Jaya Lakshmi at Bhakti FestGirish first explored devotional singing when he was in college. There,  he found Kundalini yoga. Then, he deepened his chanting practice when he lived as a monk for five years. He studied Sanskrit and translated many mantras.   Translations are hard, especially from Sanskrit, because there are so many interpretations. About “Om Nama Shivaya,” one of my  ingrained mantras, he makes it simple.  “I honor the inner Self. Shiva. The light of consciousness within me.”

Similarly, Jaya Lakshmi and Ananda are popular singing yogis at Bhakti Fest. 

Jaya Lakshmi acknowledged that Kundalini yoga was the gateway for her devotion. Not surprising, since mantra meditation is very much a part of the Kundalini tradition. Additionally, she said “mantras have such potency.”

Ananda’s Tips for Mantras

“The best mantra to practice is the one you are going to practice. You have to find the joy in it. For me, the Lakshmi mantra is the one I go to. We go through different phases. Whatever makes you a better person. The way is your intuition…your heart.”

One of my favorite recordings of Jaya Lakshmi and Ananda is “Divine Lover’s Maha Mantra.” The maha mantra is widely celebrated. It’s always the grand finale at Bhakti Fest and is the mainstay at Sadhu Sanga and the upcoming festival in Houston. Advaita leads it throughout San Antonio, and beyond. He explains that “maha means great… great mantra for upliftment and restoration of our original loving nature that will swell in your heart more and more, the more you chant.”

 

International Day of Yoga 2017

International Day of Yoga 2017 — Many Days, Not One

International Day of Yoga 2017 India 

International-Yoga-Day-CelebrationA few years ago, India’s Prime Minister, Narendra Modi made an appeal at the United Nations. As a result, 177 United Nations member states assigned June 21 as a day to recognize the benefits of yoga. International Day of Yoga 2017 will be celebrated around the world. Now, tens of thousands convene for mass meditations and sun salutations. 

For International Day of Yoga 2017, India’s Prime Minister, senior officials and yoga gurus are expected to lead more than 50,000 people in Lucknow, India.  Nearly a dozen events will take place in Delhi. One, in Red Fort, can accommodate 50,000.  In Southern India, venues even include a women’s correctional facility. 

Prime Minister Modi is a man who respects the ancient traditions, while moving forward. In a Facebook video he posted this week, he talked about the benefits of yoga on society.  “People want to live a happy life, and this can be possible only through yoga.” Yoga can make it possible for a person to have a balanced lifestyle mentally and physically, he explained. “Yoga can arouse the inner conscience of a person.”

International Day of Yoga 2017 New York

swami-sivanandaWhile cities around the world honor this day with special public yoga and meditation practices, the UN will host two days of activities. The Indian Mission to the United Nations is responsible for the impressive lineup June 20 and 21.

Among the yogis are California-based Seane Corn, Sharon Gannon of New York City’s Jivamukti Yoga and Gurmukh, who popularized Kundalini Yoga in Los Angeles.  Also on the lineup is Swami Sivadasananda, a senior teacher of Sivananda Yoga (my yoga roots). His session, expected to attract 1,500 participants, will be televised in India.

Other guests are spiritual leaders from India. President of Divine Shakti Foundation, Sadhvi Bhagawatiji, and H.H. Pujya Swami Chidanand Saraswatiji, who runs an ashram, both reside in Rishikesh. 

Additionally, there will be discussion on Yoga and Health with World Health Organization officials, Bruce H. Lipton, Ph.D and others. Finally, there will be pranayama, meditation and chanting. Grammy nominated Jai Uttal will lead thousands with his eclectic world rhythms.  

Shout it Out: The Yoga of Chanting

Jai Uttal to lead kirtan at International Day of Yoga 2017

Jai humbly, said, “Finally, after well over 5,000 years, yoga has made it into the modern calendar. International Day of Yoga is a celebration of the dedication and commitment of countless seekers, from time immemorial, who have discovered and then shared the path of healing and realization that is yoga. Starting in the West as a fad, the many styles and forms of yoga (and there ARE many) have become a healing balm to our hearts and souls in these troubled times. I bow in gratitude to the United Nations for acknowledging this ancient and sacred wisdom.”

The event coincides with Jai’s tour promoting his 19th album Roots! Rock! Rama! Named for Bob Marley’s “Roots Rock Reggae,” Jai’s three Rs celebrate Rama (God), reggae and classic Indian ragas. As an extension of his new double CD, Jai released a single, “H.E.L.P.” for International Day of Yoga. 

“We hear all the translations and interpretations of the mantras. But to me,” Jai said, “they’re all saying ‘Help!’ You know? Like, ‘God, help me. I cannot take the next step without your help.’”

California-based Jai returns to New York where he was raised.  His father was influential in the music industry in the 50s and 60s. So,  Jai picked up an  appreciation for the Beatles, Marley and other rock luminaries. Then, in the 70s he studied traditional Indian music. In India, he began his bhakti (devotional) yoga practice. As such, kirtan became the center of Jai’s musical and spiritual life. 

International Day of Yoga 2017 in Texas 

downward facing dog with The Namaste Counsel

Multiple Texas events will honor this day. Following, are just a few.

  • San Antonio:

International Day of Yoga 2017 at Tripoint Event Center. A free family-friendly festival runs alongside a CME-accredited conference for health practitioners. 

  • Austin:

The Indian Consulate is hosting a celebration June 17 at the State Capitol.

  • Greater Houston:  

June 24, the Hindu Temple of Woodlands will be at Town Green Park leading bhajans (songs), meditation and hatha yoga.

  • Dallas/Fort Worth: 

The official International Day of Yoga 2017 event is June 25 at Mahatma Gandhi Memorial Plaza in Irving. Yoga mats will be provided, and breakfast served.

Bhakti Fest 2015

Boost Your Bhakti at Shakti Fest

Yoga is everywhere in the United States. You can even buy your blocks and mat at any big box store.

But the yoga that is so prevalent tends to be the physical component.  In fact, yoga is eight-limbed. Some of those branches may seem a bit obscure. Others, out of reach. However, it’s easy climbing. Especially if there’s a spotlight on them. Add in mega-stages and throngs of people loving their spirituality and you’re on your way. That’s Bhakti Fest.

Bhakti and Shakti Fest

puja ceremony at Bhakti FestThe guy who brought Swami Satchidananda to Woodstock created Bhakti Fest, and its sister, Shakti Fest. 

Shakti (divine energy) Fest is just around the corner.  Set for May 12-14, I booked my airfare last month. The next Bhakti (devotion) is in September. Both have a similar vibe to what I can only imagine was at Woodstock. But, on a much smaller scale. And, following yoga tenets: no drugs, alcohol or meat. As a result, people from all over head to Joshua Tree, California, for these festivals. I’ve made it a priority for many years.  It’s my fix. It’s powerful professional development. And, permanent personal development.

The festivals are rooted in yoga, Kirtan, and meditation. If you’re not familiar what Kirtan (or Bhakti), read more on my blog

Bhakti and Shakti Fest mesh traditional and non-traditional spiritual practices.  They are a smorgasbord for the yogi. I gorge myself on the music, chanting, and Bhakti yoga practices. Oftentimes, sleeping just a few hours under the desert stars. Unlike an all-you-can-eat buffet, you have to make hard choices. Siva Rea or Mas Vidal? Hemalayaa or Michael Brian Baker? Kia Miller, aerial yoga or the Hanuman Chalisa? There are three concurrent yoga sessions (many with live music). Additionally, there are two stages for devotional music.  Then, there are five workshop areas including a Family Village, a Men’s Lodge and a Women’s Dome. Plus, aquatic yoga, and holistic health practitioners offering massages and more. For those needing to chill, soak up healing sound baths every evening.  

Donna de Lory headlines on Friday. For many years, this spiritual vocalist toured with Madonna. Jai Uttal performs in prime time Saturday. Jai’s latest CD is both Beatles- and Brazilian-inspired. Closing out the night is Joss Jaffe about whom I’ve written in the past. Others include Sheela Bringi, Girish, Sirgun Kaur, Prajna Vieira, Johanna Beekman and Saul David Raye. 

As stated before, these festivals delve into the lesser frequented limbs of yoga. First, there are experts in Vedic astrology and Ayurveda.  Other workshops cover Sanskrit and the deities. Plus, advanced meditation and breath work techniques abound. Finally, for many of the guest speakers, instructors or musicians, the branches intertwine.

From Mantra Meditation to Kirtronica

Jaya Lakshmi and Ananda at Shakti FestFor example Jaya Lakshmi and Ananda are leading three 90-minute yoga sessions. On closing day, they perform on the main stage.  Jaya Lakshmi and Ananda are seeped into meditative Kundalini mantras. Nonetheless, they can switch gear into Kirtronica — Kirtan meets Electronica. As such, their workshops aren’t about a child’s pose or Sun Salutation. The Oregon-based yogi/musicians, with 12 CDs, inspire via waves of movement, breath work and sound.

Ananda Yogiji explains, “My own yoga practice has been heavily influenced by the teaching of Kundalini Yoga as taught by Yogi Bhajan.  In this practice, there is a quite a fusion of asanas with mantra meditation, bhakti, breath work and more.  In fact, Yogi Bhajan taught kriyas, which oftentimes are a combination of all those things. Almost always the breath is linked with movement and also mantra.” 

“The Bhakti portion really is about your own cultivation for the love of the divine,” he says. “I include that in my practice by singing, bowing to a deity, altar, the omnipresent God without form or simply to my own soul.  I also love making offerings at my altar such as incense, flowers and fruit.  There are so many ways to include these practices not only into your yoga practice but also in your day to day life. Ultimately, Shakti and Bhakti Fest are a super recharge to my devotional practices.  And they just get better and better each year.” 

Deep Dive with Govind Das and Radha

Govind Das and RadhaGovind Das and Radha are another married couple that blend music with mantras and movement. Their music, Bhakti yoga and intensives have made a mark on me. They are the featured band on closing night. Plus, they are offering three yoga sessions infused with their live music. Additionally, Govind Das hosts a men’s workshop and the couple is holding a post-intensive, May 15. The latter includes dialogue, journaling, dharma talks, a silent meditative desert walk, teachings from the great masters, and the philosophy of Kirtan. And, always in their, plenty of music, mantras and heart-opening hatha flow. 

Govind Das says, their intensive is “grounded in a rich and mellow devotional mood of gratitude, compassion, peace, and spiritual upliftment.” Their intensive is actually a satsang, or spiritually uplifting gathering of like-minded people. They motivate participants to reboot Shakti’s vibrancy — and learnings — into their daily lives, 

It’s About Satsang

Satsang and Sangha at Bhakti FestBetty and Bill, are frequent Bhakti Fest-goers. The Canadian engineers created their own Kirtan band, Shanti Maya, fueled by satsang at Bhakti Fest, and elsewhere.

“You can’t say enough about how beneficial it is for the soul to come into the company of dozens, sometimes hundreds, of people who have gathered with the same goal,“ says Betty. 

“I read once that every human culture that has ever existed on our planet had two things in common; they had music, and they sought a connection with the divine,” recalls Betty.  “Devotional music, the musical component of bhakti yoga, is that sweet place where these two most beautiful pieces of our humanity come together.”

meditation and tibetan yogaShe says Kirtan is a major draw.  But, it goes far beyond that. 

“The music itself is blissful, and all the artists have their own unique musical styles that almost always keep us entranced. We all come in common purpose, and that is to feel safe and enriched in one another’s company,” says Betty.  

”Shakti and Bhakti are a place to celebrate the Vedic traditions of India in a modern western setting,” adds Ananda.  “The mixture of chant artists, teachers, and presenters offer participants a wide flavor of teachings for their personal journeys.”

 

 

Sound therapy and The Namaste Counsel

Sound Therapy in Joshua Tree: From Contact in the Desert to Shakti Fest

 

Dr. Dream and his Tibetan BowlsIn a recent blog, I wrote about Dr. Dream. This is the sound therapy conductor who uses 333 Tibetan bowls. A big fan of sound therapy, I hope to experience the 333 bowl effect next month. Dr. Dream and his team of “angels” will make magical music at Contact in the Desert

Dr. Dream’s bowl sonata will be somewhat of a postlude to a series of nightly sound baths the prior week at Shakti Fest.

Coincidentally, they are all at the same sacred space. The common venue is the very special Joshua Tree Retreat Center, about 40 minutes from the Palm Springs Airport. A not-for-profit center, it is the oldest and largest of its kind, in the Western U.S. It sits on many acres, above an aquifer, with buildings designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, and his son.  Adding to the coincidences, I was born and raised in Frank Lloyd Wright’s hometown, and my brother mowed the lawn at his  studio/home.

Sound Therapy in the Desert

Sound Therapy at Shakti Fest, Joshua Tree CaliforniaSo, for the last five years, I’ve headed to Bhakti Fest without fail. Now, I am headed to Shakti Fest. No typo. S. Not B. Bhakti is held each September.  Shakti Fest is in Springtime.  Actually, May 12-15 this year. Despite the fact that Shakti is a more condensed version than Bhakti, one stage will be dedicated to five hours of sound therapy, nightly. 

Both Bhakti and Shakti Fest bring the best yoga teachers, Kirtan musicians, and workshop leaders to Joshua Tree. Namely, they celebrate the devotional paths of yoga, Kirtan and meditation. Quite a few of the Bhakti/Shakti workshop leaders have influenced my teaching. Many more are staples on my yoga playlists. 

Sridhar Silberfein is the man behind Bhakti and Shakti Fests. Interestingly enough, he was also responsible for getting Swami Satchidananda to Woodstock. So musical extravaganzas and spirituality have been with him most his life.

A sincere bhakta, he has been expanding the festivals to meet the demands of attendees as more and more people head to these festivals. “For years many attendees were asking us for our sound bath programs to be expanded,” Silberfein explains. “For years, we had a small tent where some folks would do gong sessions. Now we have utilized our second stage from 7 p.m. at night to 2 a.m.  Folks can come in, lay down on the carpets, relax, and go into another zone due to the gongs, crystals, and bells surrounding them. It is a very magical environment, and takes each participant into a relaxed, deep, meditative space within.”

Why Sound Therapy?

Sound therapy and The Namaste Counsel As a Certified Yoga Therapist, I have studied many different forms of healing, and try to tap into a colorful palette of modalities when I create lifestyle action plans, homework or protocols for my clients. Sound therapy is most certainly a favorite.

I’m not alone. Dr. Oz is a proponent of sound therapy. On one of his shows, Dr. Oz explained how bi-neural frequencies influence the brain. He displayed brain scans of people listening to crystal sound therapy, to point out the positive effects.

His guest, Dr. Mitchell Gaynor, gave patient testimonials for sound therapy. Gayor is an oncologist, who uses sound in his practice. “It’s critically important,” he responded, saying that it can help everyone. Dr. Gaynor explained that with sonic therapy, you can improve moods and much more. For those that are in good health, it is a proactive measure. For those battling health issues, the differences are more evident. As an oncologist, he incorporated a 15-minute crystal sonic therapy session into his patients’ first visits. Apparently, it was highly effective. Many said they hadn’t felt that relaxed, ever. For Dr. Gaynor, this was especially rewarding. Especially, considering the first visit to an oncologist is often filled with fear and anguish.

Shakti Fest Sound Therapy Lineup 

Bhakti Fest, Joshua Tree, California

Ten different Sound Dome presenters are part of the extended Shakti lineup. Among them is Danny Goldberg.  His Sound Immersion Experience “weaves the restorative vibrations of singing bowls, gongs and chimes to create a blanket of healing sounds. The sound provides a channel for release, opening and transformation; tuning our vibrational frequency.”  In the past, Danny led healing sessions at Wanderlust, Lightning in a Bottle, Lucidity, UC Santa Cruz and Foothill College Music Programs.  

Guy Douglas is a sound therapy practitioner with a longtime interest in the healing power of music. A traveling gongmaster, he performs Sound Circle Ceremonies, Group SoundBaths, Retreats, Gong Workshops, Gong Yoga Flow classes and Gong Invocations. His focus is Eastern sound healing techniques that help clear dormant pathways and open the heart. 

Michelle Berc and her healing bowls and Shakti FestLynda Arnold is a healing sound recording artist and certified sound healer. She taps into the power of sound therapy to help people reduce stress, and transform consciousness.  Lynda was a Sound, Voice and Music Healing student at the California Institute of Integral Studies in San Francisco. Additionally, she studied Tibetan Bowl Sound Healing with master practitioner and educator Suren Shrestha.

Michelle Berc has performed at Bhakti/Shakti fest in the past. She focuses on chakra balancing with Crystal and Tibetan singing bowls, percussion instruments, gong, tuning forks, and other rare instruments. She explains that “sonic experience allows you to; release blocked energy in the body, balance and align the chakra centers for greater energy flow, and elevate your holistic being for expanded awareness. Overall, a vibrational kinship between mind, body, and spirit will take place.” 

She holds a certification from the Sound and Consciousness Institute in San Francisco. 

(As a matter of full disclosure, Bhakti Fest has, at times provided me with complimentary admission. However, that does not in any way affect the content of my blogs.)

Shadows of the Sun Dynasty by Vrinda Sheth

Sita’s Fire: Trilogy Unveiled at Austin Performance

When Vrinda Sheth was 18 years old, an opportunity fell into her lap. Most would have run the other way. Or laughed it off. She toughened up to the challenge. She spent the next 15 years honing her talents, as part of “Sita’s Fire.”

This week, the object of her immense dedication won a prestigious award. “Shadows of Destiny,” was bestowed a Silver Medal by the Independent Book Publishers Association. One of the most influential associations in independent publishing, IBPA awards recognize excellence in book editorial and design.

Book Reading Performance in Austin

Vrinda Sheth, author of Shadows of the Sun DynastyVrinda lives in Central Florida with her husband, Vish.  He’s a kirtan artist about whom I’ve written many an article. April 21, they will perform their mesmerizing and invigorating blend of East vs. West music and dance at Austin’s Sanctuary Church. The visit is to promote what has kept Vrinda on the creative track all these years.  Not just one book. But three.  “Sita’s Fire” Trilogy.  All are published by Mandala/Simon and Schuster,

Well-known yogi, Shiva Rea says Vrinda is an “extraordinarily gifted storyteller” who makes the timeless epic come to life.

Vrinda explains how everything fell into place. 

Annapurna Johansson, Sita's Fire“This project began as a vision by my mother, who is the illustrator. As long as I can remember, she has been fiercely committed to her art, setting up studios for herself even with the most minimal of resources. She began her first Ramayana drawings over 15 years ago and was working with another author. That project came to a halt as that author dropped out. Determined, my mom asked me if I’d like to try my hand at writing. Her request really surprised me, as I was 18 at the time, about to start college, and with no clear idea of my direction. But the publishers loved the draft I wrote and that was the beginning of this joint mom-daughter work.”

The Trilogy: Sita’s Fire

Shadows of the Sun Dynasty by Vrinda ShethVrinda began “Shadows of the Sun Dynasty” from Internet cafes in India.  As she was writing the Sita’s Fire trilogy, she earned a degree in English from the University of Florida. She married Vish. They had a baby, and are expecting their second child this July. Now, she has gained confidence as a prolific writer. “Queen of the Elements” will be available August 8. Then, the third in the series will be released in 2019.  She acknowledges mom was always right.

“I think in some ways she knew me better than I knew myself, because her request really compelled me to start my creative journey as an author. In hindsight, I can see that my mom encouraged me in this direction, because I was always writing something or the other and an avid reader. It took more than 10 years for me to settle into my confidence as a writer, and that journey will perhaps continue lifelong. But I’ve at least grown past paralyzingly self-doubt into a mature ability to even critique and edit my own work.”

Vrinda’s mother, Anna Johansson, exposed Vrinda to the ancient tales of the Ramayana at an early age. Rather than tales of Mickey and Cinderella, her parents raised Vrinda according to Vedic cultures and traditions. Stories of Sita and Rama. She learned Sanskrit and basic Hindi.  For five years, she lived in India. She mastered  traditional Indian dance which guests will appreciate in Austin.  

“It is my personal aim to make these ancient Indian stories accessible to ‘my own people,’ in the sense that I grew up in the West, first Sweden and then America, and I’m quite rooted in the United States. I was raised on these incredible Indian epics from various ancient texts. Good stories are good stories. And we are all hungry for them, no matter where on earth they come from.”

Vrinda and Vish make sacred traditional music hip. Likewise, she hopes to be a cultural translator of the tales from India that date back to fifth century BCE.

The Ramayana is an Epic Tale

Vrinda Sheth, author of Shadows of the Sun Dynasty“The Ramayana is a complex, multi-layered epic that has stood the test of time, and is studied by scholars and is being constantly retold by various authors. In India, for example, there are over 200 regional versions. So I’m officially part of this vast and vibrant storytelling tradition. Knowing this actually eased some of my writer’s anxiety, as it was at times daunting to tackle such a beloved story,” says Vrinda. 

For Vrinda, much of what makes the story so special are the pivotal characters. While Rama is oft-described as a deity, one of the things that endears him to Vrinda is the human struggles he undergoes. “The challenges he faces are ones that any of us can relate to,” she says.

“The story itself has so many of the classic elements that a modern reader craves: palace intrigue, romance, a prince in exile, an abducted princess, a three-dimensional villain, the battle of good vs evil. And perhaps most of all, the question of womanhood is central to the story, as I see it, turning it ultimately from a love-story to a tragedy. This is, at least, one of the most fascinating and admittedly disturbing aspects of the tale: how it treats its women. Our retelling is unique in that it focuses not only on the inner lives and feelings of the characters but also explores the place and personal power of the women.”

Sita as a Heroine

Not surprisingly, the female protagonist is Vrinda’s favorite in the fable.  

“Sita, to me, is the most fascinating of the characters. Despite being a central character around which the plot of the story moves, she has received very little stage time herself.  Isn’t this exactly the position that women across history have faced? In our work, we make an intentional effort to bring Sita into the spotlight.”

Sita in Shadows of the Sun DynastyTo some extent, Vrinda is taking the classic tale and bringing a bit of feminism to the storyline. 

“All over the world there is a rise in the collective consciousness towards elevating women, valuing girls, giving equal opportunity to children, regardless of gender. I was reflecting the other day on the power of our childhood stories (in Sweden). One of my favorite childhood authors is Astrid Lindgren, who wrote Pippi Longstocking and many other stories with strong and powerful female leads. This has impacted the Swedish consciousness, and I think women’s equality is a going strong there. This motivates me to be part of a storytelling effort that pays attention to the women and girls even in stories that already exist.”

Similarly, Madhavi Mangu is a strong female in Texas. Of East Indian ancestry, she was raised in Dubai and works as an IT manager for a major multi-national. In her spare time, she is dedicated to Austin Bhakti Yoga. As such, she is co-host of the book launch performance. “This is a MUST COME cultural event. Vish and Vrinda combine contemporary touch with a classic twist at the beautiful Sanctuary Church in Tarrytown. The book reading is presented through a unique format of Indian classical dance and music that symbolizes honesty, goodness and sacrifice.”