The Utah Krishnas' 'Yoga Rave' was voted 'Best of Utah' 2013 by Salt Lake City Weekly.
First there was the Festival of Colors, which draws tens of thousands every year to chant Hare Krishna, dance, and throw colors.
Now the Utah Krishna community has launched a new popular event to introduce newcomers to spirituality: the yoga rave.
Not to be confused with the Yoga Rave trademarked by Ravi Shankar’s Art of Living foundation, Yoga Rave: Salt Lake City held its tenth consecutive monthly event on Friday June 7th at the Hare Krishna center in the Utah capital.
Utah Krishnas leader Charu Das admits the idea did come from the Art of Living’s Yoga Raves.
“I saw an article on the Internet about two guys in Argentina that were doing drug- and alcohol-free yoga raves with mantras set to disco, techno, and dubstep music,” he says. “I thought, that’s something we could try as a nice alternative to normal raves. Just as milk can give you indigestion but milk in another form, yoghurt, can cure it, so a yoga rave can take some of the same musical elements of a rave and transform it into a wholesome, uplifting environment.”
Two years ago, the Utah Krishnas purchased a thirteen thousand square foot property on 3.72 acres of land in downtown Salt Lake City, a satellite center to their main temple in Spanish Fork.
It seemed the perfect spot for the Yoga Rave, and so Charu began holding the event there on the first Friday of every month for just $5. It quickly gained popularity.
The recent June 7th event, like all the others before it, drew around eighty people, some in their teens and many yoga enthusiasts in their twenties and thirties.
“Most of them were people that might not, in the normal course of things, come to a Krishna temple,” Charu says.
All gathered at 8pm in the Salt Lake City Krishna Center’s grand auditorium, with its wooden floors and arched wooden ceiling.
Charu kicked off proceedings by welcoming everyone and inviting them to also attend the Krishna Center’s other events, including its weekly yoga classes and Saturday Feast, which includes kirtan and a talk on Krishna consciousness.
Next, yoga teacher James Davis led a vigorous forty-five-minute yoga class to get the crowd’s blood flowing, using his unique version of astanga yoga called “dub yoga.”
“People were really upbeat and excited at the end of the first yoga class,” Charu says. “Then I told them to move their mats off to one side.”
As the audience complied, the house lights faded into darkness, and colorful laser lights and strobes pulsated on clouds of smoke emerging from a smoke machine.
Ascending the stage, Charu transformed into a DJ, playing a series of spiritually infused dance music selections.
“The music takes after the Festival of Colors,” he says. “Our main purpose is to expose people to the Hare Krishna mantra. Now, if you just have harmonium and mridanga, you’ll get a very limited crowd. But if you take the same mantras, and couple them with popular music like ska, reggae and dubstep, it draws people in.”
The playlist included tracks from ISKCON groups such as the Mayapuris, Titiksava Karunika with his “Hare Krishna Breakbeat,” and the Kirtaniyas with their pounding dance song “Nitai Gauranga,” which features the lyrics “Nitai Gauranga, Gaura Hari” and “Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, we always sing your praises like the monsoon.”
There were also cuts like “Rock on Hanuman” and “Ganesh is Fresh” by yoga scene rapper MC Yogi. But most tracks featured the Hare Krishna mantra or songs like Govinda Jaya Jaya and Om Namo Bhagavate Vasudevaya.
As the music played and the fluorescent green lasers and strobe lights flashed, images were also projected on a large screen, creating a totally immersive experience.
Ninety per cent of the images were of Radha and Krishna, while there were some pictures of Laksmi Narayana, and a few of Lord Shiva, Ganesh and Hanuman.
Moving video was also projected to inspire and energize, such as footage of the Kirtaniyas and MC Yogi performing Nitai Gauranga at Festival of Colors in Spanish Fork, with thousands chanting and dancing along.
Responding to the music and images, yoga ravers danced in circles, holding hands, some spinning as in a kirtan, some incorporating yoga postures.
“No two people were doing exactly the same thing,” says Charu. “But all of them were joyful, with big smiles on their faces. It was highly entertaining for me to look down from the stage and see how each person reacted, how they moved and celebrated to the music.”
After thirty-five minutes, the lasers and images remained as the music eased into more gentle and meditative tracks such as a rendition of the Gayatri mantra. The yoga teacher then took the crowd into a more relaxed forty-five-minute yoga sequence, ending with shavasana (a deep relaxation pose) and some inspirational quotes.
The Yoga Rave ended at 10pm with attendees sampling healthy prasadam snacks such as curry and rice and freshly squeezed juices, and chatting with devotees and each other.
The Yoga Rave is, of course, a broader approach than the kind of events usually held at Hare Krishna temples, and may not thrill conservatives. But Charu explains that beginning outreach in this gentle way can be more effective and more appreciated by guests. This is especially true in Utah, were another religion—
Mormonism—is predominant, and where the local history and context must be respected.
“I think in preaching, we have to be quite patient,” he says. “If you try to convince someone that Krishna is the Supreme Personality of Godhead in the first meeting, it actually might be counter-productive. Before the seeds sprout, you have to make sure the soil is fertile. A farmer can’t expect to have sprouts on the first day. He has to do some cultivation work. And weeks might go by where nothing is evident. But having done your preparatory work, you can nevertheless be confident that there will be a harvest. The seeds will sprout.”
He adds, “I want to bring people to the point of asking me, ‘Who is Krishna?’ Because I know that when they come to me, I’ve done my preparatory work properly.”
Sure enough, after attending the Salt Lake City Yoga Rave, people have already said that it has whetted their appetite and that they want to come along to some temple services and learn more about Krishna conscious philosophy.
One young man attended the Sunday Feast at Spanish Fork right after participating in a Yoga Rave, and sat down to enquire from Charu.
“He was a very intelligent boy,” Charu says. “We had a wonderful conversation about Krishna. He asked amazing questions.”
Charu plans to keep holding monthly Yoga Raves at the Salt Lake City Krishna Center, with a young DJ likely to replace him in the future.
“I believe that Krishna consciousness should be fun,” he says. “I don’t mean frivolous. But I believe that if we’re eternal spirit souls, part and parcel of God and full of knowledge and bliss, then there should be that element in our public programs. I think more people will be attracted to Krishna consciousness if it’s joyful and celebratory, than if it’s preachy, critical, judgemental and condemnatory.”