Kirtan Wallah, Krishna Das’ latest album, signifies a new chapter in the chant artist’s life.
For thousands, the month of September signifies time to head to the desert for the annual pilgrimage to Joshua Tree Retreat Center to chant, practice, and play. The fact that Bhakti Fest is celebrating its sixth year (and sixteenth festival) means that people have long lists of peak moments they’ve experienced on the grounds. However, after speaking to hundreds of people who’ve shared a few rounds of “Sri Ram Jai Ram” one particular moment is often-repeated as a particularly memorable occasion.
It was a standard Saturday night in 2011. Chant artist Krishna Das “KD” was headlining. and about to take the stage in front of a few thousand people ready to dance and sing. Then…winds picked up, lightning struck lit by the Full Moon, and the sky opened up in a veritable desert deluge. People scattered for any available cover.
Soon the retreat center’s sanctuary filled up around the relocated KD and his band. Seekers sweatily snuggled and smushed together, transforming the space into a sacred temple. The energy was already ecstatic as Krishna Das sang the jubilant Township Krishna,“Haaaaare, Haaaare, Haaaare…..”
The audience echoed even louder “HAAAAAARE, HAAAARE, HAAAAARE….” wailing in worship, devotion, and joy.
KD is famous for decades of moments like these. Since first sitting in for Sharon Gannon and David Life at their Monday Night Satsang in New York City, 1994, KD has invited Americans to the sacred practice of kirtan—call-and-response singing repeating the names of God. He has made accessible a range of devotional practices, as is best documented in the 2013 film about his life, One Track Heart.
Krishna Das’ latest album Kirtan Wallah was almost instantly funded entirely by his fans, garnering four times the requested amount via his Kickstarter campaign, then topping the iTunes and Billboard World Music Charts. KD and crew then packed up and took the title seriously. Translated from Sanskrit, a Kirtan Wallah is a person who performs the action of kirtan; singing the names of God. That year Krishna Das and his trusty tabla player Arjun Bruggeman performed publicly more than 100 times. They traveled more than 200 days. A social media campaign sprang up around the movement and soon the hashtag “#kirtanwallah” became synonymous with the singer himself.
Since setting out for India in 1971 a packed suitcase has been KD’s constant companion. Since that auspicious satsang in 1994, he’s been joined on his travels by a harmonium case, a tabla case and at least two sound gear cases. KD has gone around the world, repeating the names of God. An adventure that lead to Argentina, Australia, Balkans, Bosnia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Costa Rica, the Czech Republic, Dubai, the United Arab Emirates, France, Germany, Japan, Hungary, Ireland, Mexico, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Poland, Romania, Russia, Scotland, Serbia, Singapore, Spain, Sweden, and the Ukraine amongst many other international, stops. A highlight was a KD’s return to the Neem Karoli Baba Temple in India, where he first learned this sacred practice.
Earlier this year the 68-year-old decided it was time to take a rest,
“In Western culture it’s so crazy the way we live and the fact that we don’t even notice, that is proof of how important it is to slow down, breathe, take a break, but everybody is afraid. If you let go someone will run over me, I’ll lose my edge, I’ll lose this, I’ll lose that and unfortunately, that’s how we live. We hang on to that piece for dear life. It’s as if happiness is in limited quantities, and there’s not enough to go around. Happiness is inside of us, and if we don’t look we’ll never find us. That’s why I’m stepping out of it for awhile. Just enough to let the body and the mind quiet. My body object of concentration these days is my suitcase, and it’s been that way for 20 years.”
To support this short sabbatical, the “township” created a charitable organization with the obvious name of the “Kirtan Wallah Foundation” It’s intention is simple; to support Krishna Das’s three to six months time out from touring, effective early 2016. This will allow Krishna Das to retreat, so he can continue to share these practices, and these teachings of his guru, Neem Karoli Baba with the world.
“I will recharge, and get back out there to do the best I can….Love everyone, keep singing with people for a long time. It’s the joy of my life to do that.”
A registered 501c3, The Kirtan Wallah Foundation, is gratefully accepting donations from the township.
To learn more visit http://www.krishnadas.com/kirtan-wallah-foundation.cfm
Amy V. Dewhurst is the President of Sense + Color. She has spent more than a decade, building brands, creating content, and ensuring success for projects, and personalities globally. Learn more about her at @sense_and_color