We’re gearing up for Bhakti Fest this weekend! There are still a few tickets available at www.BhaktiFest.com.
Meet Bhakti Fest founder Sridhar Silbersfein and hear his journey….a life devoted to bringing yoga and kirtan to thousands upon thousands in the US. His retreats in paradise with world class singers and teachers are nourishment for the body and soul. Sridhar is the founder of the spring Shakti Fest and fall Bhakti Fest held in Joshua Tree California and Bhakti Midwest, held in Wisconsin in July.
FF – How did this Festival series come about?
Sri – We started the first Bhakti Fest in 2009, but the actual vision came when I produced part of the Woodstock Festival in 1969. I was spending time with Michael Lang & Artie Kornfeld, the producers of Woodstock and they asked me what did I think was missing? I said, “The spiritual aspect”. I told them, ”Let’s bring the great guru, Swami Satchidananda to give the opening talk”, and we brought him in, in a helicopter. You can see me standing there with him on stage in the movie, discussing the idea of how it would look if all the people were chanting the name of God. He and I discussed it then and here we are 40 years later. That’s where the original idea came from.
FF – What brought it all together, to the Bhakti Fest format?
Sri – It’s all about timing. Like anything else you do in life, it’s when you do it that determines how it evolves. Sometimes you’re ahead of the game, like when we started the first natural food store in Southern California in 1970. There were no other natural food stores around any place. We started teaching yoga and had the first yoga center and health food store, with weekly chanting. Most of the big names in kirtan singers got their start in those days, in the 70’s, in a place called Topenga Canyon, California. Ram Dass, Krishna Das and Jai Uttal, Bhagvan Das all came to our Center for Spiritual Studies. That was the birthing time for this new movement, the Bhakti Movement, which is why we call our festival the Bhakti Fest.
[Bhakti – When a devotee actively practices devotion for the Divine, in the form or chanting for example, he/she is practicing Bhakti. – from the Bhakti Fest website.]
FF – Elaborate on the Bhakti Movement?
Sri – People are realizing more and more that their lifestyles and their involvement in the world are not working that well. The club scene, the drinking scene, the smoking, the dietary factors, there’s no end to it. There’s no end to desire, there’s no end to attachment, it’s a vicious cycle that keeps going back and forth, back and forth, nobody can get out of it. Once they start going to some yoga classes and something happens with the improvement in their body and their breath, their whole mind clears up. They think “there must be other things that I can do”, and that’s where the meditation and the chanting come in.
My first guru, Muktananda, when he first came to America, (we hosted him) … he sat me down and said, “Sridhar, you don’t have to do anymore yoga.” (I was a yoga teacher at that point). He said, “You don’t even have to meditate. Just sit down, close your eyes and chant the names of God, and you’ll get it all.” And that actually is the case.
People start with yoga and then they go into breathwork, meditation, chanting, kirtan. This is where the different forms of inner expression open up within the individual, through chanting and meditation, such as art, dance, group discussion. It’s very powerful.
One thing that makes our festivals different is that we are very strict. If people want drinking and smoking, they shouldn’t come to Bhakti Festival. We tell people, “Don’t come to us, go where they offer that”.
We have the best vegetarian food anywhere at any festival in the country, the best beverages. We have nonstop yoga in 4 yoga halls that start at 7am, and it goes to 8pm for 4 days straight. Then we have a dedicated breath work hall that goes from 7am to 7pm.
We have workshops with leading teachers, activists, and workshop leaders that each give a 2 hour workshop. Then we have two kirtan stages. The main kirtan stage goes on at 8am Thursday morning and it ends at midnight Sunday night – nonstop – 24 hours. It goes non-stop for days and days and days. We also have a dance pavilion till 4 or 5 am, trance dance and dub kirtan.
FF – On the west coast, there is a movement of festivals that embrace green practices, art & creativity, community, collaboration – do you see yourself as part of that new emerging culture?
Sri – Yes. We are a green festival, in the way of recycling and composting, we have a very dedicated process for that…but we’re on a different page than Burning Man, because we’re dedicated to yoga and kirtan, as our base, and nobody else is doing that.
That’s been our main focus from the start. It’s not a money making venture for us, we’re a non profit foundation and we have atleast half a dozen charities that we donate money to. In the end we are a charity. Water services in villages, helping farmers, things like that. Our movement, the Bhakti Festival dedication is born in the way of service, in the way of Seva, that’s what we’re focused on. We’re helping people change their lives and go toward better ways of living.
FF – Talk to me about why you shifted from your yoga center to festivals?
Sri – I’m very much into yoga, I’m still practicing, meditating and chanting every day. I built a beautiful temple on our main property in Joshua Tree. It’s a temple that’s open for people to come and enjoy. Then, I’ve been going to India for 35 years, every year, sitting in caves at the foot of the Himalayas, and a lot of my understanding and my depth comes from those areas. I try to bring it back and incorporate it into this festival idea. I want this festival to be open and honoring to everybody, no matter who they are and where they are from. We really take care of people, we house them, we feed them, there are great vendors picked personally by my staff. My daughter Mukti is one of the producers of the festival and she watches over it like a baby. And we keep on incorporating new ideas every year. This year we’re going to offer kirtan yoga hikes, where musicians take people out into the desert for a hike, playing music while they’re out there.
FF – That sounds wonderful!
Sri – The yoga slashers are going to be doing interesting yoga while balancing on ropes, and the trance dances and kirtan go all night for the younger set. There’s a movement coming out of South America called yoga waves which we’re incorporating this year as well.
I’m making a concerted effort to bring more students into the fold by offering them discounts. We’re going out to the campuses, giving demos and holding programs. They need to start at a younger age to understand what it’s all about. I also want to do more for the seniors, letting the seniors come for as little money as possible, practically free, and have our teachers give yoga classes for the seniors.
FF- Is there anything else you want to add?
Sri – We are totally open to everyone. I invite you to come and experience something really different and exciting. I’m leading a tour of 30 people to India next week, to the Kumbha Mela, the famous celebration that happens every 12 years. 30 million people come. I’m taking Saul David Ray, the well known yoga teacher and Shyamdas, the kirtan bard. We’re going to be doing very advanced work on this trip and that’s what we really want to do at our Festival as well. Besides offering the top yoga teachers from around the world, we have a second stage that’s just for up and coming kirtan artists that we want to expose to the public, that people never heard of, giving them a chance.
Shakti Fest in May and Bhakti Fest in September at Joshua Tree Desert Retreat Center. A jewel in the desert, a gem for seekers of serenity and healing. This sacred space was founded in 1940 as a place of peace and meditation. The Land of 450 acres, is a powerful and rare fusion of sweeping vistas of desert, mountains and centuries of Joshua Trees, 5 miles from world famous Joshua Tree National Park.
Bhakti Midwest in July at The Alliant Energy Center is located on the Southern edge of Madison, Wisconsin.
Gear Up for Yoga at ShopFestivalFire.com