This is the 18th year that Grammy-nominated recording artist, Jai Uttal, and his classical Indian dancer yogi wife, Nubia Teixeira, run a Kirtan Camp. This camp is all about play. Playing and singing devotional chants, that is. Kirtan is an ancient practice. As part of bhakti (devotion), it is a branch of yoga that helps connect with one’s inner soul, and the divine.
This year, Kirtan Camp is virtual. It’s more affordable. And, accessible. People can tune in to Kirtan Camp from anywhere, any time. No long flights or drives. Live Zoom sessions run June 30 until July 28. What's more, participants can catch the recordings at their leisure, or even replay them repeatedly, for three months.
The 2020 participants will learn all the basics about kirtan music, which Jai says is “a timeless gift that has been given to us by the saints and sages of ancient India.” Given the confusion, frustration and anger that’s sweeping our nation and the planet, the 2020 camp will be even more meaningful. Content will empower people to go inward to find greater meaning to what’s going on around them.
“The current global crisis brings a different context to the practices, demanding us to look much deeper into our spiritual selves. The rising awareness of the inequalities in our society demand us to reach out to others and express our bhakti in service. I hope to inspire the students to share this work far and wide.”
Furthermore, a bhakti practice can be very healing for oneself. Arguably, it can permeate the world.
“With the many distractions and attractions of human interaction being cut off, we are left with our selves, our loved ones, and our practice. The harsh reality of police brutality asks us to keep our eyes open, and our vision clear, regarding who we are and what we stand for. All of this is very challenging, and requires a calm mind and an open heart. Singing kirtan, and chanting mantras, is a soothing balm for the soul and helps clear away the fears and anxieties of this transformational time. I hope that the practices shared in this online camp will become like a soft blanket of blessings over your life, like they have for me.”
Raised in the music industry, Jai learned classical piano at age of seven. However, it wasn’t until he attended a concert by Ustad Ali Akbar Khan that he discovered the music that moved his soul: the classic sounds and instruments of India. Ragas. Bhajans. Sarod. Harmonium.
He felt the sounds, “entered my heart like the source of all life.” As a result, kirtan and bhakti are pillars in his life. For 50 years now.
The idea for Kirtan Camp was actually Nubia’s. Also a bhakta, for 30 years she has dedicated herself to the “art-science-philosophy-practice” of yoga. Participants can enjoy a 40-minute bonus segment she’ll lead on the Gods and Goddesses of India.
Kirtan Camp is appropriate for anyone that wants to delve deeper into the sacred sounds. It’s not restricted to musical virtuosos or those who sing like a nightingale. Jai says his camp is ideal for anyone who:
wants to explore the journey of bhakti yoga in a deep, joyful, and meaningful way;
has been touched by a kirtan experience, or who wants to bring more devotion into their lives;
is seeking a more heart-centered and soul fulfilling life;
or is ready to find their voice, and learn musical skills that support a chanting practice.
Divided into six extended all-level lessons, each is appropriate for a beginner or an experienced kirtan leader alike. While no instruments are necessary, Jai offers harmonium and guitar tutorials. Recordings facilitate participants to go at their own pace. At the same time, live Zoom sessions and a dedicate Facebook page will boost sangha (community, or association).
The virtual sanghas are not new to Jai. He was onboard with livestream concerts and kirtans when quarantine began. Nor surprisingly, those gatherings built bonds among people all over the world.
Jai notes that they "chat with each other and send me many letters of appreciation. I feel like my Friday concerts have created a real online community of bhaktas that want to give support and receive support. This has been very healing to all of us.”
Additionally, he wants the interactive Zoom sessions to be a source for cohorts not just to learn the basics about kirtan, but to connect. Share their own music. Find homework buddies. Listen to one another’s thoughts and dreams. In essence, create a new community of like-hearted friends.
Finally, as everyone reconsiders what to chuck from pre-Covid days, Jai encourages people to think about the planet.
“Air travel is one of the biggest causes of climate change. As we’ve been forced to share our work online, we’ve also felt the relief of not traveling. So we’ll continue to work this way as long as it’s sustainable. I do miss playing with other musicians and interacting with a ‘live’ audience, so I’ll still do concerts and kirtans, but I’ll stay much more local. And I’ll continue to compose and record new music till the day I leave this planet.”