Gayatri Festival – The Medicine of Mantra
“If ever there was a time to come together in sacred union, that time is now. Bring your voices, your open hearts, your laughter, your tears – All is Welcome Here!”– Deva & Miten
By Nikita Mehta
When I was a little girl, my grandparents lived in India, and every vacation possible I was in Mumbai. Waking up in India is an experience. The air is heavy with humidity, the sun blotted out by the haze and the sounds of the street wafting into your windows. But the one thing that I remember the most about those warm, loving mornings is the sound of the Gayatri Mantra playing in the living room, coaxing me out of bed and into the space where my grandparents were practicing yoga. Since then I have heard the mantra all over the world; in yoga classes in SF; in jewelry markets in Bali; in a small dress shop in Paris; and every time I hear it, it takes me back to those mornings.
The Gayatri Mantra, first seen in the Rig Veda, is a dedication to Satvir, or the sun god. The mantra is thought to be one of the oldest mantras and shows up in classical Hindu texts such as the Bhagavad Gita. Swami Vivekananda’s translation of the mantra has been widely regarded as the most literal translation. "We meditate on the glory of that Being who has produced this universe; may He enlighten our minds."
As a dedication to the Gayatri Mantra and to power of chanting and bhakti yoga, the Deva Premal & Miten Band will be hosting a Gayatri Festival Weekend at the Mill Valley Community Center from Friday May 17th until Sunday May 19th.
In anticipation of this transformative weekend, we sat down with Miten to talk about the mantra, rejuvenation and why chanting is so important for the world today.
Why did you choose the name Gayatri Festival instead of the Krishna Festival or the Diwali Gathering? What is the origin to your connection with the Gayatri?
Deva was born to the sound of her parents chanting the Gayatri Mantra. She chanted it throughout her childhood. When she was age 11 she became a disciple of Osho and at age 17 was living in his ashram in Pune, India. Deva and I met in 1989 and began a musical / meditative / love journey - first in the ashram (where I was music coordinator for the evening meditations with Osho), and later, when we left India for Europe, where we facilitated meditation/voice workshops.
During our travels, Deva heard the Gayatri Mantra being chanted at a spiritual festival in the UK and recognized it as the mantra she had chanted daily as a child until becoming Osho's disciple, which is when she discarded the practice in favor of Osho's more radical/non-traditional meditations techniques. We began chanting it in our workshops and a year later, recorded The Essence, which featured 7 mantras, the Gayatri among them. This album marked the beginning of a new musical genre: mantra chanting!
Deva became renowned for her mantra chanting and we combined the mantras with the songs of awakening that I have written for many years in our workshops and concerts. Since then we have shared the Gayatri all over the world. We created the Gayatri Festival to offer participants a deeper experience of the power of the Gayatri, which is acknowledged as the oldest prayer known to mankind, asking for the enlightenment of all beings. The festivals are now in various locations around the planet: Corfu, Greece (July/August) - Costa Rica at the Blue Spirit Retreat Center (March) and now Mill Valley California (May).
In your introduction video you state that this festival “is a chance to rejuvenate spirit, chanting your way to ecstasy.” Why do you think that chanting is such a powerful tool for us all to drop in to our true selves?
1] The Sanskrit sounds are potent, refined sound healing formulas - scientifically discovered/created in the Vedas, way back in the mists of time by wise 'rishis' who were exploring the power of particular sounds.
2] Chanting mantras is beyond the emotional dimension... it is not there to excite the senses. It is there to awaken a deep 'knowing' that lives, subliminally, inside us all.
3] The mantras are keys into the dimension of inner peace.
4] Due to Deva's very intimate relationship to the mantras - especially the Gayatri, which was chanted throughout her mother's pregnancy - there arises a sense of deep connection and respect for sharing the mantras through music. And due to my background in the English music scene (having toured with Fleetwood Mac, Ry Cooder and Lou Reed in his early days) we have expanded our live concerts to include a band of great, heartfelt musicians who who facilitate a deeper ecstasy while chanting mantras. It is a natural heart opening experience.
Mantra has been around for thousands of years and yet, there seems to be a surge in the yearning for mantra and chanting in places all over the world. Why do you think people need this form of Bhakti yoga more than ever?
Because the world is going crazy and getting crazier by the minute. We need some kind of inner foundation that makes sense of the world and its problems. Mantra chanting doesn't necessarily eradicate the problems - although it can do - but it brings a sense of inner peace and solace which helps us deal with the state of the world.
Your band has been all over the world, playing in temples and in sacred spaces, what made you choose Mill Valley as the location for this next festival?
We have a tour of the West coast in May, and we wanted to share a weekend retreat where people can go deeper into the chanting - we love California and felt it would be a great place to gather.
What’s next for the band?
We have recently released a new album - DEVA - which hit #1 on the iTunes world music charts. #1 on the Amazon world music charts and #2 in Billboard charts. We will be sharing the music/chants from DEVA on our Wings of Mantra 2019 World Tour. I am working on a follow-up to my Temple at Midnight album, which also topped the iTunes and Amazon charts on its release in 2018. We're also working on an English version of a book about mantra which has already been released in German, Russian and Hungarian - it will be available soon.
Tickets for the Gayatri Festival at the Mill Valley Community Center are on sale now and can be found on their website at: devapremalmiten.com.