Attendees feeling the ecstasy during Gaura Vani's performance.
Yogis and kirtan enthusiasts congregated at the Omega Institute in upstate New York as it held its ‘Ecstatic Chant’ festival from May 7th to 9th.
The spring celebration of devotional chant (kirtan) is an offshoot of the original ‘Ecstatic Chant’ festival, held over Labor day weekend for the past six years. Given the idyllic forest setting and the popularity of the well-known American kirtan leaders that attend, both the spring and Labor day events are usually sold out, with over 500 attending. This year was no exception, with all housing on the Omega campus being fully booked long before the event drew near.
The spring chant also forms a vital part of the month long Jivamukti yoga teacher training course at Omega. The course is led by Sharon Gannon and David Life, widely respected yoga practitioners and founders of the Jivamukti yoga organization that trains thousands of teachers at six worldwide centers, including the largest yoga center in the US. Their love for kirtan as an essential element of yoga practice moved them to ensure that their course coincides with the festival each year.
Kirtan began each morning after breakfast and continued until lunch, after which there was a break until late afternoon. Most attendees participated in over 24 hours of kirtan by the end of the weekend.
Many different kirtan chanters were there to lead and guide everyone through the experience, including Jai Uttal, Shyamdas and Donna DeLory. Gaura Vani and his band As Kindred Spirits were also there for the third year running, sharing their unique blend of kirtan, storytelling and dance.
Over the weekend many were moved to tears, some after taking part in kirtan for the first time, and some after experiencing a renewed conviction in the deep value of kirtan after having practiced yoga and meditation for decades. As the momentum built over the two days, almost everyone took the opportunity to chant and dance with focus and enthusiasm.
A stand out highlight for many participants was the presence of Radhanath Swami, who was invited to attend as a special guest. On Saturday afternoon he joined Shyamdas to lead a Vrindavan bhajan they had both learned many decades ago whilst living in India, which suffused the gathering with the sweet mood of Varsana.
As Kindred Spirits led a powerful midnight to 2am set that had everyone jumping despite the late hour.
The final day of the festival was Mother’s Day, and many kirtan leaders chose to honor Goddess Durga – also known as Sri Ma, or the worldly maternal energy of the Supreme.
Before the close of the festival, Radhanath Swami was again invited to the stage. Being Mother’s Day, he asked everyone to rise to their feet and lift their arms up high, calling out to God in the mood of a child for its mother. Visibly enlivened, almost everyone spent the next two hours blissfully dancing. With a loud cry of ‘Radhe Shyam!’ from everyone present, the festival finally came to a close, leaving most with happy smiles, aching feet, and a taste for that irresistible kirtan beat!