For the second year in a row, the Jagannath Temple Tent has immersed Bhakti Fest participants in the chanting of the Hare Krishna maha-mantra.
ISKCON devotees have performed kirtan onstage at the yoga and sacred music festival since early on, but it was just last year when a dedicated camp was established.
Jagai Nitai Das, an active member of the Laguna Beach temple, organized the Jagannath Temple Tent this year at Bhakti Fest, which ran from September 25th to 30th at Twenty-Nine Palms near Joshua Tree in California. About fifteen devotees traveled in from around the U.S. to help.
Gorgeous Jagannath Deities worshipped by Shakuntala Zakheim presided over the colorful 20’ x 20’ tent, which was decorated with lanterns and ornamental rugs. Daytime kirtan ran from 3pm to 6:30pm. At 6:45, lanterns and candles would be lit, and about eighty people would pack into the tent for the main evening kirtan program, with more dancing outside.
Chanters including Radhanath Swami, Gaura Vani, Bharadaraja Das, and Vishvambhar Sheth of the Mayapuris led everyone in calling out the Holy Name, while people took turns offering candles and flowers to Lord Jagannath. Devotees then passed out prasadam cookies and mixed nuts to the crowd.
The Jagannath Temple Tent at Bhakti Fest
“It was super atmospheric with the candles, the colors, and everyone dancing,” says Jagai Nitai. “And we had a new addition this year – a large cut out of the word ‘Bhakti,’ about four feet high and eight feet long – where people could write or paint about what devotion means to them.”
Bhakti Fest is also known for classes and courses, and Gaura Vani taught a kirtan course at the event with a special treat for students at the end.
“He had the whole class get up, then all the devotees met him, and we did a maha Harinama through the whole festival,” Jagai Nitai says. “There were about fifty to sixty people chanting ecstatically. Wherever we went, past yoga classes and musical performances, people would join in. It was a very friendly atmosphere.”
Devotees also set up a table distributing Srila Prabhupada’s books, which reportedly did very well. Meanwhile after Gaura Vani’s set on the main stage – during which he performed his own devotional songs with English lyrics on guitar – he invited devotees including Radhanath Swami on stage to lead a stomping Hare Krishna kirtan for an hour and a half.
“Soon the whole crowd was up dancing in kirtan and chanting the maha-mantra,” says Jagai Nitai. “It was like a Hare Krishna festival. People were very, very enthusiastic, very encouraging and into it.”
Some in ISKCON have expressed concerns about devotees going to Bhakti Fest due to the demigod worship, impersonalist philosophies, and partying that may go on there. However Jagai Nitai says devotees don’t go to Bhakti Fest to participate in any of this, but to bring Krishna consciousness as Srila Prabhupada presented it.
The Mayapuris chant at Bhakti Fest
“Much like when you go on Harinama down the street, it’s not like you’re participating in the street activities,” he explains.
With a main organizer, Sridhara, who has visited Govardhan Ecovillage with Radhanath Swami, done kirtan with the devotees, and has a very devotional mood, Bhakti Fest is in fact one of the most favorable venues for devotees.
“It’s one of the sweetest experiences I’ve had all year,” Jagai Nitai says. “And there’s a small movement of people there who really want to know how to incorporate true bhakti practices in their yoga. So we give them prasadam, do kirtan with them, explain who Krishna is, who Srila Prabhupada is, what Bhagavad-gita is and what Bhakti is, and give them a spiritual experience.”
Whether they’re interested in diving deeper into the philosophy, or just want to enjoy the kirtan, many Bhakti Fest goers had a very positive response to the Jagannath Temple Tent and to Harinama.
“At the very beginning of the Harinama, this big, tall buff dude who had no idea what it was just got into it,” says Jagai Nitai. “The Harinama went on for two hours, and he was just dancing and chanting so enthusiastically with us the entire time. Later, we met him, and he started glorifying the Harinama and saying it was the best part of the whole festival. Many people also told us that the evening kirtan in the tent was their favorite part.”
Other Vaishnava groups such as the Gaudiya Math and Narayan Maharaja, who had their own camps at Bhakti Fest, would come to do kirtan in the Jagannath Temple Tent every evening, and were also positive about the experience. “Their organizers told us they were very happy to have a place where all the Vaishnava groups could just come and do kirtan, without any politics or problems,” Jagai Nitai says.[ bhakti ] [ california ] [ fest ] [ jagannath ] [ jagannatha ] [ laguna-beach ]