Bhakti is big for me. Devotion often expressed through group chanting, or kirtan, is my favorite of the yoga branches. So, my heart’s humming, knowing World Bhakti Festival is coming up. In Dallas. Feb. 28, 29, and March 1.
World Bhakti Festival is a yoga and wellness festival. However, it features Bhakti leading lights Sean Johnson and the Wild Lotus Band from New Orleans, Stefanie Tovar from Dallas, and Fort Worth-based Bhakti House Band. Orchestrated by three dedicated yogis in Dallas, World Bhakti Festival honors one of the yoga paths that isn’t as ubiquitous as yoga and meditation.
The Past and Present of Bhakti Yoga
Some estimates point to nearly 50 million yoga practitioners in the U.S. Mostly yoga on the mat. However, Bhakti likely predates the ancient Hatha postures. Without a doubt, Bhakti was practiced ions before the sun salutations. For example, Bhakti Yoga is described in the Bhagavad Gita, circa 300 BCE. What’s more, the Bhagavad Gita praises Bhakti as the highest form of yoga.
While the asana or meditative forms of yoga are powerful practices for the body and the mind, Bhakti goes right to the soul. One can argue that heart-focused sincere practices are the seeds of spirituality, around the world, throughout the ages.
For example, one of the World Bhakti Festival co-founders, and kirtan leader, Lavanga Latika Devi Dasi says, “Bhakti is inherent in traditions all over the world…in ALL religious/spiritual traditions. It’s actually the string that holds them all together. The heart of Bhakti is learning to see how we are actually more alike than different.” Latika, who was first exposed to Bhakti in 1985, notes, “When we sing in Kirtan, there is no us and them. Separation dissolves. By awakening our relationship to the Divine, we can then see how we are all children coming from the same source.”
Not surprisingly, Bhakti has been gaining steam across the U.S. as there has been a rise in the spiritual but not religious population. Festivals from the west coast to the east, and even in Mid-America are now attracting thousands. The Bhakti goers get something here that is amiss in most yoga studios or gyms. It feels good. Deep inside.
The Texas Bhakti Explosion
“Now it’s Dallas’ turn,” for a similar Bhakti explosion says Latika. In part, because Bhakti resonates with everyone. Just as everyone has a heartbeat, everyone can feel the connection with Bhakti.
“The time is right because Dallas is ready for the rest of yoga. Those who have been practicing asana for enough time are now hungry for more. It’s a natural progression no matter why they started their asana practices,” she explains.
The popularity of the Fort Worth-based Bhakti House Band is proof. Husband and wife team, Randall and Kristin Brooks have been leading Kirtan for the two decades that they have been on their own Bhakti journey.
Brooks says, “The DFW yoga communities, as a whole, may have started out being a little more cautious in adopting the practice of chanting, but resistance has been fading as people experience the peace of mind that comes with yoga and chanting mantra. Since Bhakti is all about powerfully committed devotion to the truth of who you really are, it can be expressed in so many different ways in order to reach the heart.”
“We are all trying to re-connect with our Spiritual Source,” adds Brooks. “We call upon the many forms of that source…but there is only one Source.”
World Bhakti Festival in Dallas
Whether one is a longtime Bhakti practitioner like Latika and the Brooks, or a neophyte, World Bhakti Festival is a good fit for all. There’s a free fair featuring local vendors, healers, and plant-based food and drinks. And, plenty of free traditional yoga and meditation classes and educational workshops. On top of that, Sean Johnson and the Wild Lotus Band will perform. Two nights in a row. Plus, Johnson and his band will lead a workshop for teachers on bringing Bhakti to the mat.
It’s natural that Wild Lotus and Bhakti House share some of the spotlights. First, both bands share styles that range from funk to country to gospel/soul. Second, both are very high energy, and at the same time, introspective and soulful. Plus, the two bands routinely travel across the country with their Kirtan. From small intimate groups to mega-venues.
In fact, Bhakti House Band and the Wild Lotus Band have performed together at Bhakti Fest in Joshua Tree, California, Bhakti Fest Midwest, and Floyd Yoga Jam in Virginia.
“Sean and the band are a WONDERFUL way to further expose Dallas to Bhakti and chanting,” exudes Kristin Brooks. “Sean brings a very Southern, soulful vibe to his music. Texas culture is already filled with deep devotion—-it’s simply finding the entry point into the Texas heart–and anything with a little bit of that gospel vibe seems to do the trick. He’s truly an authentic and generous soul on top of his inspiring energy and quality musicianship.”
The Wild Lotus Band, beyond yoga crowds, routinely performs at the New Orleans Jazz Festival. According to Latika, Sean Johnson was a perfect fit. Many in the community have already been inspired by him she said.
Stefanie Tovar, a Dallasite who has been a presenter at the Sedona Yoga Festival, acknowledges that Johnson “lit the fire in her heart for Bhakti.” Tovar will lead Kirtan on Friday immediately prior to Johnson taking the stage.
Sharing the Love and Devotion
Kirsten Joy Burch is another World Bhakti Festival co-founder who will lead tantra yoga and meditation at the festival. She summarizes why she and the others created this event.
“Bhakti blurs the lines of separation and brings the world together through song. The energy of community devotion and song can be healing and nourishing to those suffering grief, loss, and emotional pain.”
A portion of World Bhakti Festival proceeds will benefit The Widows Journey. The non-profit helps women navigate emotional, mental, physical, legal, and technical obstacles after the loss of a spouse.
Burch, herself, recalls experiencing “involuntary reorganization of my home, career, worldview, and lifestyle state losing both my father and husband to cancer.” The Bhakti Yoga practice helped her on her path to recovery. “It is my hope and intention to help other widows find their path to recovery, in whatever means fits them.”
Register online for concerts, workshops, or the entire weekend.