Jai Uttal chanting in Rishikesh

A commitment to meditation, education, and devotion delivered me to Rishikesh, India, the “City of the Divine” where I completed a 200-hour teacher training course. My activities in Northern India have revolved around yoga, wellness, holistic living, savory and sweet food around every turn, and chakra and ear cleanings offered on the winding paved road through Lakshman Jhula. I have experienced all of this amidst the traffic that includes animals, motorbikes, and pedestrians. Of all the choices of this magical land by the River Ganga, one day I saw a notice posted at the Ayurvedic cafe for the Jai Uttal concert on the river bank. I made sure to be at Parmarth Niketan Ashram on January 11, 2017 at 3 pm ready to bask in bliss.

Jai Uttal in Rishikesh

The sun was low in the sky over the water, shining down on the band at an angle when the songs began. Even more dramatic lighting would soon make its decent into dusk ultimately revealing a gorgeous sunset backdrop. As the music played, our energies rose and our bodies began to sway, clap, and move with the beats. All of the musicians on stage as well as each of us in the audience on chairs and carpets were beaming. Among all the natural and man-made wonders of the Himalayan foothills, yoga shalas, and moving green river, people from around the world felt moved to celebrate the physical and spiritual, all radiating appreciation to be there with the exotic soulful sound of Jai Uttal’s talents.

Gura Vani with Jai Uttal in Rishikesh

One goal of the free kirtan concert in glorious Rishikesh was to film a music video for the song “Samba Sada Shiva” from Jai Uttal’s new album Roots Rock Rama! In order to celebrate kirtan artist Jai’s 50th year of singing in devotion and sharing it with the world, what better place than Rishikesh, a town built around devotion to Shiva—in the architecture, ashrams, traditions, and shops?

Read about the music video for “S.A.M.B.A (Shiva’s Adoration of Mata Bhavani’s Ambrosia). 

Combine this location with a live international audience of devotees brought together to dance, sing, and praise as well as master musicians Jai Uttal, Gaura Vani, and Visvambhar Sheth.

Arms raised for Jai Uttal

Arms raised in reverie, swaying side to side, we all celebrated the harmonizing layers of the notes put together to create rhythm with messages of joy. I was so happy to be there as a part of the whole production: from Jai’s decision to shoot the video in India, to the day of the performance, to the uniqueness of the song to Shiva on the edge of Ma Ganga, the Mother River. After this organic performance, the celebration continued into the evening as we were treated to more songs accompanied by sights of the goldenrod sky.

Sunset Jai Uttal in Rishikesh

After the last guitar string stood still and the hands transitioned from clapping to the prayer gesture of Namaste, Pujya Swamiji, President and spiritual head of the Parmarth Niketan Ashram came on stage. This humanitarian, who has been living a pious life to serve others, wearing robes the colors of citrus and saffron, officially invited the seasoned singer Jai to make Rishikesh his home and gifted him a sapling — a gesture of gratitude and inspiration. Jai Uttal and Swamiji continued to speak about trees, using their voices as a call to loving action.

Read Shiva Baum’s review of Jai Uttal’s Roots, Rock, Rama! 

A portion of sales from the evening’s devotional musical will promote more roots being planted in India, the US, and other countries.

Jai Uttal in Rishikesh
After this offering, another was made. A solid, brightly pastel pink lotus flower with a globe in the center was carried onstage and placed on a table front and center. Swamiji spoke of the current situations faced by our planet’s connected water sources. We listened in silence to hear how we could all contribute to efforts to maintain the cleanliness, purity, and availability of our streams, lakes, oceans, and shared water sources. Jai Uttal, Swamiji, and others assembled around the globe, backlit by the setting sun. Each person poured a bit of water over the globe into the large flower foundation, symbolizing the health and wellness of this precious resource. I found this offering to be a powerful image to witness after the music, prayer, and love.

Parmarth Niketan Jai Uttal in Rishikesh

To be in this city with rich layers of offerings for yogis, seekers, wanderers and communities that care, I am grateful to have happened upon the poster for an evening I will forever remember. I was honored to have received the music, sang for the kirtan music video, and heard the messages of altruism.

For more information about Parmarth Niketan, visit www.parmath.org

To order Jai’s album and join him on tour, visit jaiuttal.com

Photos by Dawn Sorenson

Dawn Sorenson is a beauty makeup artist, hair stylist, aspiring yogini, and lover of all things involving creative connectedness.