A conversation with Shakti and Bhakti Fests Founder Sridhar Silberfein
I knew Shakti Fest was the yoga festival for me when a one hour conversation with its founder left me wanting to be a better person. Sridhar (Steven by birth) Silberfein is a man who has walked his talk for so long that now he’s simply talking his walk.
Steeped in the rich traditions of yoga since 1968, Sridhar considers the moment he introduced Swami Satchidananda to the stage at Woodstock in 1969 to be what started him on the path that led to the creation of two major yoga festivals that are in full swing. Bhakti Fest as of 2009 and its sister Shakti Fest as of 2011.
The Importance of Service
According to Sridhar, these festivals are acts of service, or seva. (Seva is the Sanskrit word for selfless acts that are performed without any regard for reward or repayment.)
You cannot talk to Sridhar for more than a few minutes without realizing that service (seva) is woven into the fabric of his being. Whether it is helping his friend and spiritual luminary Ram Dass or taking flowers to someone in an old age home, for Sridhar service and transformation go hand in hand.
Ram Dass Offers Wisdom
Every year, the festival features an exclusive interview with Ram Dass and Sridhar. (If you’re not at the festival, you can watch the videos on YouTube).
Sridhar says, “You can’t do anything for the planet unless you change yourself. How much seva are you doing? It’s easy to quote phrases and give lines, but what are you really doing? How deep are you really going? Going deep inside the process, really surrendering and getting to the next round, that’s the work. And that requires discipline. It takes everyday focus. You have to get up every morning and do the work and not talk about it. There’s no more time to talk. Discipline is the key. You break through much quicker if you have a discipline.” He credits his understanding of discipline to what he learned from Swami Muktananda.
Swami Muktunanda was Sridhar’s guru from 1970 through 1982. It is known among yogis that certain individuals can transmit the energy of Shakti or Shaktipat and Muktananda was one of them. For my skeptic readers, before you “woowoo” this away, let me say I’ve known several incredible people who attribute their reception of Shaktipat to Muktunanda and they are some of the most balanced, loving, and successful people I know. This tells me there is something very real about this phenomenon.
The Power of Shakti
According to Sridhar, “Once Shakti starts moving in your body, there’s nothing you can’t do or accomplish in life.” This spiritual energy is something Sridhar hopes that everyone has the opportunity to experience at the festival. Nurturing, love, understanding, and compassion are just a few of the words he uses to describe what attendees can expect to experience. With non-stop workshops, yoga practices, meditation, kirtan, and super healthy food—transformation is available and accessible.
A Family-Friendly Festival
What makes it even better is this is a completely green event. It is also a drug, alcohol, and meat-free event. Sridhar who has been a vegetarian for 48 years is committed to keeping the festival true to the traditional values of yoga. Sponsors, vendors, and presenters are carefully chosen with this in mind.
Sridhar is also very candid about the fact that this is not the place to drink, drug, and hook up. He has no qualms in saying if you want that, don’t come to Bhakti Fest. “Yoga is not about escaping from yourself. It’s about connecting with and going deeper into yourself,” he says. He’s also delighted that people have been bringing their families, so all can grow together.
A Festival of Community
These words come from a man with a belief in service. He still stands on his head daily, engages in meditation, spiritual study, and who knows he needs a guru. After Muktananda’s passing, Sridhar found Amma, the hugging saint. He’s been a devotee of hers now for 28 years and considers her “the highest female presence on the planet.” (You can learn more about her on her website Amma.org and in the 1999 film, River of Love.)
Sridhar describes both Shakti and Bhakti Fest as being about “Getting out of your comfort zone. It’s a gathering to celebrate, to go deeper into devotion. Which is a spark that will help us ignite into a deeper spiritual and biological transformation.”
Buy your festival ticket today for Shakti Fest in May and Bhakti Fest in September. Make your plans to travel to Joshua Tree Retreat Center. At the very least you’ll have fun, eat delicious vegetarian food, dance, and sing your heart out all in the company of like-minded people. And beyond that you may catch a spark that changes you forever, leaving you transformed and ready to serve the planet.