Bhakti Fest is Coming!

Via Philip Goldberg
on Sep 1, 2012
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While this may initially read like an ad, we are not a sponsor or connected with Bhakti Fest in any way. We are however honored to host this introduction to the Fest via Philip, an amazing yogi and writer. ~ Waylon, ed.

In early September, three thousand people will descend on the high desert above Palm Springs for the fourth annual Bhakti Fest; billed as “The Festival of Yoga, Kirtan and Wisdom From the Heart,” the event has been compared to Woodstock (which would make its location, the Joshua Tree Desert Retreat Center, Yasgur’s Farm.)

The Woodstock analogy has its limits: compared to the colossal New York Thruway standstill in 1969, the traffic will be smooth sailing, the accommodations will be decidedly less funky, ATMs and healthy food will be readily available and, this being the desert, there will be no mud…and no one will have to make an announcement to avoid the brown acid.

But the comparison that is valid in that music—albeit, a different kind of music—will be played nonstop, the crowd will consist mainly of young celebrants and the festival carries cultural and spiritual significance.

First, some Sanskrit-to-English translations.

Bhakti means, essentially, devotion, and bhakti yoga is one of the principal spiritual pathways described in the Bhagavad Gita and other classic texts. Often called “the path of the heart,” bhakti can take on many expressions, such as selfless service to a guru and deity worship or devotional chanting, typically in the form of call-and-response repetition of Sanskrit mantras that invoke various names of the divine (Krishna, Shiva, Lakshmi, Kali, et al). That would be kirtan and at Bhakti Fest it will be performed by live musicians—with the enthusiastic—and often—ecstatic participation of devotees—literally 24/7.

It won’t be all kirtan all the time though.

There will be yoga classes twelve hours a day, led by some of the leading teachers in the land, “wisdom workshops geared to educate and inspire” (my topic is “The Beatles’ Yoga”) and an “eco-friendly vendor village of more than 100 artisan merchants,” so the multitudes will not lack for veggie nutrition, healthy beverages (it’s the desert, folks) and yogic accessories. But the centerpiece is kirtan and it will be led by some of the stars of the burgeoning art form who have, collectively, created an intoxicating East-West curry by blending traditional Indian chants and musical motifs with rhythms, instruments and flourishes drawn from rock and jazz.

Having chronicled the history of Indian spirituality in America (American Veda), I find the kirtan explosion to be as fascinating as the music is electrifying. The tradition that evolved from India’s Vedic era into what we broadly think of as Hinduism is far more diverse than most Westerners realize. The gurus who came here emphasized certain aspects of the teachings and downplayed others that might have been incomprehensible or unpalatable to Americans at the time. Hence, what Westerners first embraced were the philosophy of Vedanta and the meditative methods of yoga. In time, the physical practices of hatha yoga took center stage and now the postures, stretches and bends called asanas have come to virtually define yoga in the United States.

The bhakti tradition of chanting was kept pretty much under wraps by most gurus, who made it available mainly to their close students. The exception was the founder of the Hare Krishna movement, A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami, whose devotees were chanting in city streets and parks back in the late 1960s. Today, what seemed bizarre 40 years ago, is going mainstream so quickly that there is talk of a kirtan Grammy category.

Bhakti Fest and the frequent kirtan evenings at yoga studios throughout the country are proof of how assimilated Eastern spirituality has become. Artists who were lucky to draw ten people to chant with them twenty years ago now sell out concert halls and their CDs do brisk business. Whether you’re a spiritual devotee or just a fan of world music, if you come upon the right kirtan performance or recording, you might find it as elevating as the devotional compositions of Bach.

And if you’re feeling adventurous, come on down to Bhakti Fest. Sridhar Silberfein, the founder and producer —and a living link to Woodstock, having arranged for Swami Satchidananda to open the festivities with a calming discourse and a Sanskrit chant—says that “Bhakti is devotion to love” and “this year’s Bhakti Fest will be a total immersion in this love for all the presenters and attendees.”

If that appeals to you, bring plenty of water, sun block, a cushion to sit on, maybe a shawl for the cool, dry evenings and, if you intend to get any sleep within earshot of the speakers, a good pair of earplugs.



Editor: Bryonie Wise

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About Philip Goldberg

Philip Goldberg is the author or coauthor of nineteen books, including “The Intuitive Edge," “Roadsigns: On the Spiritual Path,” and his latest work, "American Veda: From Emerson and the Beatles to Yoga and Meditation, How Indian Spirituality Changed the West.” Based in Los Angeles, he is an ordained interfaith minister, a public speaker and seminar leader, and the founder of Spiritual Wellness and Healing Associates. He also blogs regularly on the Huffington Post. Visit or for more information.


8 Responses to “Bhakti Fest is Coming!”

  1. Thank you for the piece. I just have one important correction for the editor who typed in the links: the Swami that will be opening this year's Bhakti Fest event is named Sacinandana Swami, a disciple of A.C Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada who brought Bhakti Yoga to the West, and not Satchidananda Swami, who is now deceased. The names do look alike, so the mistake is understandable.

    Here is the correct link for your readers:

    For those of you who may be interested in the meaning of these beautiful names, (other than the author, of course, who is already aware of them), The name of the Swami who will be opening the Bhakti Fest is a name for Lord Caitanya, who first took kirtan out of the temples and into the streets for all to participate in. his mother's name was "Saci", and "Nandana" means "the son of". So, in West bengal, where Lord Caitanya was born, he was called "The son of Saci", or Sacinandana.

    On the other hand, Swami Satchidananda's name is made up of three Sanskrit words: "Sat" (eternity), "cit" (divine cognition), and "ananda", or bliss: the three spiritual ingredients, one might say, that all souls, and Divinity, are made of according to the bhakti tradition.

    Thank you for taking note of this, dear editor. And enjoy the Bhakti Fest! :))

  2. philji42 says:

    You've just made me aware of a typo. I know perfectly well that Satchidananda is long gone. That sentence should not have "has" in it. I meant that Sridhar arranged for Swami Satchidananda to open WOODSTOCK, not that he's opening Bhakti Fest. Is there an editor in the house?

  3. Thaddeus1 says:

    Hey Philip and Catherine.

    Thanks for catching that. The unstoppable and always helpful Bob Weisenberg came to the rescue.

    So very much looking forward to hearing your discussion on the Beatles at Bhakti Fest. And thanks for this wonderful contribution.

    Posting to Elephant Bhakti. Be sure to Like Elephant Bhakti on Facebook.

  4. laydowninthetallgrass says:

    My apologies for the editorial error—the correction has been made!
    ~Bryonie/ele editor

  5. I'm so glad that you're coming and teaching at the festival! I'm going to be singing during you workshop but I hope to meet you at some point. I loved your book.

  6. really? says:

    I will chant with you from afar. Th etiming is not quite right for me this year, thank you fo r this joyous piece.

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