Blessed to be raised from birth, in a community of Music, Sanskrit, Kirtan, Japa meditation and a vegetarian lifestyle, Dasi Karnamrita was raised in West Virginia’s Apalachia mountains, surrounded and practicing a lifestyle of Vedic teachings.
Rising daily, at the early and auspicious hour of (Brahmamahurta) 3am for meditation, there was no Television, nor radio, nor outside influence on her ears, nor lifestyle till the age of 16. In this untouched environment, she, along with the 200 children in the community, ran and played with the large heard of cows the community owned and milked, learnt to make ghee, cheese, ice cream, picked greens and herbs from the forest for the communities food and well being, learnt sanskrit and kirtan for hours on a daily basis, while being molded to be the ‘exemplary’ children of a community of consciousness.
For many years, the community was small and intimate, only a handful of people lived on this remote 100 acre forest and property when her mother arrived and joined the community. It was then, in this intimate space, that Dasi Karnamrita spent much time with the founding teacher Swami Bhaktivedanta Prabhuada. Being an eager child, with high curiosity and intellect, Dasi was blessed to be noted by the founding teacher, who gave her special attention in learning the old traditional kirtans and bhajans of India. Swami Bhaktivedanta spent many hours in these early days translating Sanskrit to English, and teaching the foundational ways of a Vedic lifestyle to the community, and Dasi would sit with him directly, learning the ways of writing and reading Sanskrit.
The community, after 16 years, began to shift in direction, and Dasi left to join her extended family in Idaho to continue her education. The move proved to be a dramatic change of perception and lifestyle for young Dasi. She now dressed differently, slept in a bed, was refered to by a Western name, and had to discover which part of her childhood to hold on to, and which parts to open up to. This level of responsibility on her values allowed her to ponder deeply on what she was made of. Choosing to remain close to her life long vow of being a vegetarian was first and foremost in mind. And slowly, after being introduce to Television and western music, she realized how deeply she yearned for the early morning sounds of Japa meditation and kirtan.
“The sound vibrations at the community were strong. At the height of this communities’ glory, there were over 900 people in the morning kirtans, and that sound vibration, that level of singing powerful Sanskrit vibrations can almost not be replicated in anything i have heard since then’ The community was not perfect in many ways, but when it came to waking up early, cleaning ourselves and sitting for meditation and kirtan by 3am, we were already in an altered state of consciousness and awareness. I found that the singing of such an ‘intentional’ community raised our hearts to feel like one voice, one breath and definitely a family. I missed that deeply when I left the community and eventually, in my hardest and loneliest days of life, i went back in search of music to replicate that feeling of connected-ness i had. As a child i was deeply impacted by voices connected and i was deeply imprinted with the rhythms and sounds of sanskrit.’
Therefore, after finishing high school, and only 1 1/2 years at University, Dasi set out to find herself in this new world. Freeing herself from others expectations, she traveled with one of her old classmates to India, finding a very different culture and country than she had expected. The shock of Mother India’s density and yet, vast array of opportunities, confused young Dasi’s mind, and so, she continued on in her new path of exploring.
She traveled on alone, through Europe, and by the age of 23 was enrolled in the Macrobiotic Cooking School in Becket, Massachusets. The art of cooking and medicine, through food and herbs, had been an important part of the community lifestyle, but macrobiotic cooking was something dear to her mother Kunti Devi, and young Dasi now wanted proper training in the healing arts. As a child in the community, Dasi was blessed to be taught the art of cooking, which she took great joy in. Her Gurukula teacher and god mother, Kutila was responsible for tutoring her love of cooking, and when the famous chef Yamuna Devi came to the community, Dasi was excited to when it was announced that she would be the girls teacher as well. Ironically, being famed the world over for her recording with George Harrison, Yamuna Devi was received in young Dasi’s mind as a music teacher above all else. For it was the communities ritual to wake up daily with her recording of the Govindam prayers lead by Yamuna Devis’ voice. Young Dasi found it a shock when it was announced that Yamuna Devi in fact would be teaching the small group of 5 girls, the art of cooking.
“it was in fact a disappointment to me when i heard that we were going to be in the kitchen when we met Yamuna Devi. I had imagined this woman to be the greatest voice, one of the most famous musicians in our world wide community, and that she, as a woman, had such a powerful voice, represented to me strength as well as devotion. I had sung with her daily all my life on the recordings of the Radha krsna Temple album, and to think that all i was going to learn from her was cooking…I was young, and well, I had perceived that singing was the only thing she could teach. I found out how wrong I was. She had the talent of perfecting everything she touched, and cooking was in fact where I got to know her and appreciate her as a woman of vast depth in the bhakti yoga practice. It was later on in life, where I was blessed to sing and record with her, and on numerous occasions have the great blessing to sing and perform with her on stage. We have shared had many wonderful years together since, in the kitchen, in the recording studio, and on stage singing to thousands at devotional kirtan festivals.”
Having ‘graduated’ from the renounced Michio Kushi school of Macrobiotics, (the Kushi Institute) Dasi was hired to care for an elderly gentleman who was curing himself through this healing art of food, for the last 17 years. Yet, when Dasi arrived, his hips had broken, and it was only a matter of time before he left this world. It was Dasi’s time to now be a cook and a healer in many ways. She learned to listen to his many hours of memories, and to massage and heal him in the sounds of sanskrit. When he passed on, Dasi had experienced something very impressionable…the witnessing of dying. A year had almost passed, there in that home, and young Dasi did not have a clear idea of which direction to take next. The witnessing of dying and death now changed her ideas and needs from this world.
Dasi chose to join her friends in New York City who were all music and acting students at NYU. Living in Greenwich Village, Dasi was exposed to the opportunities of American cities and all that are contained inside. Contemplating her new direction, she sang with the Lower East Sides’ young and upcoming artists, and went to Broadway shows and discovered museums filled with art and meditation. After nearly a year, she decided to join her childhood friend in India, who was studying the classical art of dance and painting in Bangalore. It was this re-introduction to India that allowed Dasi to now perceive and gloms India from a deep, and sophisticated cultural stand point.
“The arts were so detailed, so delicate, the softness and femininity unlike anything i had ever seen, the understanding of the human body in relationship to nature and our higher self as well, was like magic to my development. I had never really understood India on a cultural level. I had been raised with this Vedic culture, yet, it was mixed with young american hippies and their limited experiences with India. Now, in this setting in Bangalore, I began to see the maestros of art, of dance, of refinement such that no other place or people had ever shown me before. I was deeply moved and till now, I had never felt ‘connected’ to anything else as strongly. I found India to be wise yet humble, this true wisdom and intelligence, while also understated by them, made me want to search out more of their cultural ways. I then decided to take on the hardest part of my journey, that of re-visiting my own communities temple in Vrindaban. I was nervous, because I did not want to fall back into patterns and understandings I had already known. I wanted to continue my new growth and visions of the new ‘old inida’ I had found.”
Travelling around India for nearly two years alone, though many thought it was a great risk, Dasi wanted to see India un-protected and un-filtered from the perspectives of others. This was now an important part of Dasi’s new relationship with India. From the deserts of Rajasthan, to the mountains of Assam, to South India’s southernmost tip at Kanyakumari, Dasi travelled by train, on second class and began to learn the language of Hindi and the culture of sharing food, music, joy and unlimited warmth. There was so much familiarity for Dasi in this new land, in this warmth of natural musicians, nature, voices of a nation filled with melodies of every kind. And so, Dasi decided to stay and grow deeper, into the foundations which had already been planted as a child. Only this time, she decided to stay closer to the villages, the cow dung cooked fires of Braj, the wheat fields and magical temples surrounding Vrindaban. Slowly, this became her home base.
“It was on one magical night, in the very holy month of Kartik (October-November) when hundreds of thousands of pilgrims try to reach the area of Braj by walking, barefoot and singing, where i had a magical break through. Even the air is filled with vibrations. I could feel it in the sandy pilgrimage pathways (parikrama) where so many beautiful saints and sadhus and pilgrims were walking barefoot, only repeating the names of the divine as they walked; i could feel something magical re-entering my heart. The softness of these people, the patience of them, the tolerance they had, and yet the strong practice of their own daily sadhana, was striking me into new kindles of inspiration.”
It was in this time, that on the full moon night of Kartik, Dasi was invited by a friend to attend a classical dance and music performance in the beautiful old palace temple (Jaipur Mandir) of Vrindaban. The performance was re-inacting the famous Ras Lila Dance of Radha and Krishna, which actually took place on this very night, thousands of years ago. Dressed in all white, under the moon light, the dancers, enchanted Dasi’s heart and the voice of the lead singer, Swami Fateh Krishna, reminded Dasi how she could never leave her beloved Sanskrit and Classical Indian Music roots.
Re-inspired, she dedicated herself under Swami Fateh Krishnas shelter to understanding the roots of Braj.
“it was truly due to Swami Fateh Krishna that I had any interest in turning back to my roots of any kind. His elegance and warmth, his love of Krsna and his gentle understanding of how to slowly guide me without even assuming the role of a teacher, was profound to my spirit. I cannot credit anyone else as my true teacher (as an adult) for he single handedly made me love Krsna again. He brought the spark back in my consciousness towards a life I thought I had already left behind. From showing me through nothing more than his example, though his dedication to a simple lifestyle and through his constant awareness that his life was meant for serving the hundreds of thousands who would attend and sing kirtan in his RAs Lila performances all over India, this gentle Swami’s heart and elegance, brought warmth back to my devotional life.”
Having been re-introduced finally to her path of passion, Dasi would travel throughout india to follow the famous Ras Lila’s performances. Again traveling alone, Swamiji and the others could not believe her dedication, and slowly they brought her closer to their home, their small inner village and Brahmin lineage, and began to share with her the intimacies of their lineage (the Balab Sampradaya) and their family music. Dasi spent many years, intimately sharing and studying with this renowned and respected family in Vrindaban.
From this foundation, Dasi now sealed her lifelong direction, and dedicated herself once again to service in the name of Vrindaban and its villagers.
“I felt a resolve, a home home, for i had found i had come full circle. Yet, I felt that now, I had to travel deeper, for I had already seen how much Swami Fateh Krsna and Vrindaban had changed my whole vibration.”
Taking a short trip to Australia that winter, Dasi was presented with the news of her mothers illness with cancer. She retuned to India to pack her things and take blessings from Swami Fateh Krsna and Vrindaban before returning to The United States to care for her mother.
“This was such a challenging time for me. The shock of leaving India, the shock of remembering how to live in the American ways was hard enough. But when i returned home, I found my strong and vibrant mother to be a frail woman of only 88 pounds. I took to caring for her as my only goal and I would tell her stories of Vrindaban and sing all the village and folk songs I had learnt. Her joy was so obvious when I would sing, and she would tell me, ‘you are the most beautiful when you sing, i wish you would do this all the time.’ And I would laugh, because she was so tone deaf, that her compliments seemed only sentimental.
But, on her last days on this earth, she asked me again, with seriousness in her eyes, to please make singing my goal in life. And I agreed. Her departure left a crater in my heart. I felt as if the emptiness would never go away or be filled by anything. For, As a child, the community had required all parents to separate from their children, and so I had hardly any time her her in life, and this unexpected illness and her early departure, left me in shock and pain.”
Dedicating herself now to her mothers wish, Swami Fateh Krsna and Vrindaban, Dasi returned to India with her mothers ashes and her new search for musics’ calling. She did not know how to find a teacher, what kind of music to study nor how to define what she wished to study, for she hardly spoke fluent Hindi. But with determination and patience, she sat in Vrindaban and searched every night the temples for inspiration.
On one of these nights, she found the beloved temple of Radha Raman, and heard, in the back of the temple, the sounds of sweet and meditative music. She approached the musicians who offered her to join them, and after many weeks of sitting every night to listen, the lead singer, Tarun Krsna Das, asked who her teacher was, and invited her to join their musical guru. It was in this fortunate meeting, that Dasi was now introduced and sitting nightly on the banks of the Yamuna River, in the famous palace of Jaisinghera, to study with the famous Maestro Pandit Vidur Mallick.
“There, sitting on the open structures and balconies of this palace, right on the banks of the Yamuna River, which held the ashes of my beloved mother, I began to study the sacred and oldest form of Classical Indian Music known as Dhrupad. It touched my heart deeper than any other music i had heard before. With few words and mainly pure sounds of notes, directed by the Raga of the hour, I heard sounds and emotions and meditation such as I had never experienced before. The level of mediation while listening was simply profound, and I knew that this was not just my Guruji, not just my mothers wish being fulfilled, but my true medicine. I had found home, only this time it was in my heart. THis time, it was internal medicine, in a place were only only filled the hollowness of a crater. This time, it was being filled with ancient Raga’s and Prana (breathing techniques) which used to be called the true medicine of the Vedas. I was speechless in this presence, not only of my Guru, but of all the teachers who had come before him, who had been the alchemists of sorts, who had meditated so deeply, that they could see sound in the either, and paint it out so that we could carry it on. I had become a true disciple for the first time in my life. And my Guruji, who was now close to 76 years old, had carried this sound vibration down from generations, and since childhood, since being in the womb, had been hearing these deep sounds of eternity. there was no question i had found my own internal eternity in his presence.”
Studying with grace under the tutelage of Pandit Vidur Mallick and his main disciple Tarun Krsna Das, Dasi attended and accompanied the musicians at the Radha Raman Temple daily, and was invited to sing there in the classical Dhrupad style.
“it was my greatest and most humble hour when i was invited to sing there. For, in some India traditions, and in my own mothers temple, I was not allowed to sing due to being a woman. Yet, here was this temple, one of the oldest and founding temples of Vrindaban, inviting me to sing for the evening darshan. I felt not only invited, but blessed by RAdha Raman Himself, and i knew in some way, my mother was guiding my path still. It was here that my pain began to heal, it was trough this blessed invitation, through Radha Raman, though my Guruji, through my mother, thourhg swami faith krsna, that my path finally began to feel clear”
After studying almost 4-5 years, Dasi began to remember her promise to her Aunt Pat; that she would finish college by the time she was 30. Seeing that she was coming upon this age, Dasi decided to find a University that would allow her to graduate and continue to study classical Indian music under her Guruji. After much research, she found an amazing match at Antioch University. Blessed with the aid of her dear friend Harriet Crosby and Marz Attar, she graduated from the University, studying Neuro Linguistics and Communications. While studying there, Dasi was required to travel off campus and study/work every other semester in her field. Seeing that Sanskrit and music related closely to communication and the amazing patterns music and sanskrit have on the brain, she convinced her professors and advisors that her continued studies in India would be relevant to her degree in Neuro Linguistics.
It was only due to their blessings that Dasi was able to therefore continue her studies in India, while also getting a degree from such a prestigious University. For her thesis and graduation Dasi produced her first and only album; DASI; Prayers by Women.
After the passing of her Musical Guruji, Dasi moved to California to continue her studies with the famous Maestro Ustad Ali Akbar Khan in San Rafael. His devotion to his students and his humility and dedication to carrying on his famous fathers love of Classial India, through music, was the blessing for Dasi to be able to now study from California while also being able to fulfill her international touring. “Khansab” as students lovingly refered to him was Dasi’s last teacher and blessing.
For the last 9 years, Dasi has been invited world wide to sing and offer the blessings handed down to her by her teachers. She therefore tries to incorporate the meaning of her name Karn (ear) Amrita (nectar) (the nectar of sound to the ear) as her life’s purpose.