Devotional practitioner, translator, author, speaker and musician, Shyamdas (1953-2013) brought India's ancient Vedic literature and medieval devotional renaissance to life in the West. An accomplished practitioner-scholar and guide to the 16th century philosopher Vallabhacharya’s Pushtimarga tradition, Shyamdas published more than 15 books on Bhakti Yoga and the Path of Grace. Shyamdasji’s overflowing good mood and ability to relate to every individual and situation with bhāva (divine, good mood) made him an instant best friend to so many. His profound contributions live on in their hearts, and in his audio and written publications.
After being called to India in a dream encounter with the famous Vrindavan saint Neem Karoli Baba, in 1972 Shyamdas travelled to India and took up residence in the sacred city of Vrindavan. Soon thereafter he began to receive bhakti teachings from his guru of the grace filled path, Shri Prathameshji. Shyamdasji’s was truly addicted to satsang—association with fellow truth seekers. He regularly led kirtan and satsang programs at yoga studios and retreat centers in America, Canada, and Europe. Of late he was a central figure in the burgeoning kirtan festival movement, headlining at events like Omega Institute’s Ecstatic Chant Weekends and the regional Bhakti Fests.
Shyamdasji’s love and commitment to the sacred region of Braj and its inhabitants inspired him to dedicate his time, resources, and connections to various charitable works, including environmental cleanup efforts in Braj, cow protection, architectural restorations, direct support to schools, musicians, and temples, and of course, feeding people. The Shyamdas Foundation established in his honor supports charitable works, devotional projects and musical studies, in the spirit of Shyamdasji’s amazing life and legacy.
“Jai Shri Krishna…What a lila! To my entire family as well as to my circle of satsang friends and teachers: it was an honor to have been a part of it. Know that the soul is eternal and plays onwards, always reaching for the Beloved.”
—from the Last Will and Testament of Shyamdas
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Annual Bhakti Immersion Weekend with Shyamdas at Ananda Ashram
Radhe Radhe! If you are in the New York area don’t miss this intimate devotional retreat at the serene Ananda Ashram. I consider Ananda to be my home-ashram, where I have been visiting and leading programs for decades. We will have plenty of time and the lovely space to explore bhakti teachings, stories, mantras, songs, and more. anandaashram.org
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Arjun Bruggeman is featured on Shyamdas’s Songs of Sweetness album and joins him for several events every summer. Shyamdas and Arjun combine their passions for rhythm and improv to create spontaneous bhava well worth witnessing — and taking part in!
Arjuna is Krishna Das’s primary touring and recording tabla accompanist. He studied classical percussion under Michael Frashe and tabla with Zakir Hussain, Ty Burhoe, and Benjy Wertheimer.
Adam Baba — doesn’t this photo say it all? A blissful, benevolent being who loves to “bhaj.” His humor and goodness are matched only by the spiritual funk he conjures up with his bass, enough to get anyone in the divine mood. Connect with this soul brother at one of Shyamdas’s many New England events, like the Boston Chant Fest, Omega, and others. Sample Adam Baba’s groovy bhajan bass from Shyamdas’s Songs of Sweetness album, below:
We are fortunate to have a musician of the caliber of Steve Gorn (stevegorn.com) in the U.S., offering virtuoso bansuri flute performance and accompaniment. Shyamdas and his audiences are thrilled by Steve’s presence in a number of Shyamdas kirtans every year, as he accentuates the devotional heights and depths of the divine praise that is kirtan. Steve G offered this hauntingly beautiful finishing touch to the “Grace Goddess Yamunaji” track of Shyamdas’s Beloved Chants.
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What to say of Naren? One of the sweetest people you could hope to meet, as well as most versatile and sensitive tabla artists you could hope to hear. He accompanies dance, instrumental, and vocal artists in an astounding array of musical genres, a testimony to his broad aesthetic sensibilities. Naren regularly supports Shyamdas in venues in and around New York city. You are sure to enjoy any performance and conversation with this remarkable man. Here’s a sample of his tabla wizardry, from Shyamdas’s album Sweet Radhe!
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The following passage is from the famous Puranic text, the Shrimad Bhagavatam, in the section called the Venu Gita — the Song of the Flute. The original Sanskrit can be found in any copy of the Bhagavatam. Shyamdas also included this passage in the introduction to his text, The Teachings of Shri Vallabhacharya
varhapidam natavaravapuh karnayoh karnikaram
vibhradavdasah kanakakapisam vaijayantim ca malam
randhran venoradharasudhaya purayan gopavrndaih
vrndaranyam svapadaramanam pravisad gitakirtih
Shri Krishna is adorned with a peacock feather, and His ears are graced with flowers. His shawl is the color of brilliant gold. He wears a garland made of forest flowers and appears as the Actor-Husband. He is the Swaminis’ choice, their Lord and Husband. He fills the holes of His flute with the nectar from His lips. His praises are sung as He enters Vrindavan, surrounded by His cowlad friends. His lotus feet appear splendid and create dalliance wherever they touch the earth.
Shyamdas also sang these lovely verses on his first CD, Beloved Chants (track 2: “Krishna”)
The poet Rasakhan was a gay, Muslim born Krishna bhakta who lived in the 16th century. I guess you could say he was radical! Shyamdas, like the rest of India, is very fond of his works, and in 2007 he translated a collection entitled The Poems of Rasakhan: Treasure House of Love, which includes this poem, “Unfathomable.” It is without a doubt one of the most widely recognized poems throughout North India. At Shyamdas’s kirtan events, you will notice any Indians in the audience singing along to this one — at least the last line. Next time you can too!
shesha, ganesha, mahesha, dinesha, suresha hu jahi nirantara gavain
jahi anadi ananta akhanda acheda abheda su veda batavain
narada se suka vyasa rahain paci hare tau puni para na pavain
tahi ahira ki chohariyan chachiya bhari chacha pai naca nacavain
The gods Shesh, Ganesh, Mahesh, Suresh and Dinesh constantly sing of Him Who is beginningless, endless, unlimited, indestructible, void of differences, and revealed in the Vedas. Narada, Sukha, and Vyasa are exhausted from searching for Him — they can never fathom His limits. Yet, the dairymaids of Vrindavan can make Him dance – for a sip of buttermilk from the palm of their hands!
And yes, I selected this poem because Shyamdas also sang it for you on his CD, Sweet Radhe! (track 3 “Rasakhan I”). Click on the play button below to listen
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Interview with Shyamdas by Hinduism Today, May 1986
Hinduism Today. Please tell us how you became involved so deeply in the Vallabhacharya Sampradaya.
Shyamdas: I went to India originally to meet a teacher, Neem Karoli Baba, who was the guru of Ram Dass. He resided in Vrindavan as well as in the Himalayas. So I went to Vrindavan to meet him and remained in the Vrindavan area, a 168-mile region which encompasses all the areas sacred to Lord Krishna. I eventually took initiation into the Pushti Marg Sampradaya about a year or two afterwards. I lived by the Govardhan Hill, which is the Hill which Lord Krishna held to ward off Indra’s rains for 7 days. There, I studied with various bhaktas and acharyas on Vaisnava Vedanta. Read More→
“When the deer hear the rava, the sound of Hari’s flute, the fire of divine separation (ra) arises in them and then they are showered with nectar (va). They imbibe the divine rava and are mesmerized. Captivated by the sound, they realize their positions in God’s playground. It draws them close to Krishna and they sit near Him, determined and obsessed like a person who has taken a vow to fast until death. Those deer are like us: totally engaged with Krishna. He glances at them with the same loving mood with which He looks at us! They have attained the Gopis’ devotion!” — Ecstatic Couplets