My life in New York centers around Bhakti yoga. Yoga in Indian traditions is more than a physical exercise, it has a meditative and spiritual core. The supreme focus of Bhakti is love and devotion to the Divine. One of the main practices of this tradition is kirtan, call and response prayers and mantras that are sung. These musical offerings get quite ecstatic, and dancing is even encouraged! Of all the good things in my life, and if you read this blog regularly you know my life is full of them, kirtan is one of the absolute good-est! Just as we have favorite mainstream musical groups and bands we follow, buy their records, see them in concert, listen to them on our iPods, there are kirtan bands too, expressing themselves through devotional music. One of my favorite groups is the Mayapuris. I’ve had the great good fortune to sit with them in temples chanting at kirtan events and attending their concerts through the years. Two of the band’s members, Visvambhar Sheth and Krishna Kishora put together a kirtan retreat in India called Yoga of The Heart. I. Had. To. Go. I mean look at them up there! Wouldn’t you want to go anywhere they were going?! These are the guys that bring the party.
Vish and Kish, with the help of an amazing friend Mukunda (Muki) Rico traveling with them, brought the party indeed. And I was a guest! Imagine going on tour with a band that you love. You have backstage passes to all of their shows, you share meals with them, and you explore new towns on days off. You are treated like VIP’s wherever you go just because you’re with the band. Your group walks down the street singing one of their tunes and all of a sudden half the town is trailing behind you in a parade wanting in on the devotional party. And all of this happens in India! I never dreamed that I would ever be anything more than a fan, but one of the greatest gifts of the whole retreat that was PACKED with gifts, is that I left India with new friends. Not only did Vish, Kish, and Muki humbly share their musical talents, but they were so generous with their history and traditions, their love of their families, and above all, their devotion to God.
Our group was well taken care of. There was a very full itinerary, but these men fly by the seat of their pants, leaving their lives open to something even better coming along than what was originally planned. They stay open to the flow of grace, and grace just easily flows. The retreat participants got daily lessons in staying open to adventure. For me, it wasn’t just about keeping my schedule open, but more importantly, keeping my heart open. In India, there is so much love flying around and it’s easy to miss out on it. Sometimes as travelers we come to a new place and stay on guard a bit, protecting ourselves from the unknown. We seek out the comfortable, the predictable, the safe routes. Let me rephrase that - not just in India, but in LIFE - there is so much love flying around and it’s easy to miss out on it. We stay on guard, protecting ourselves, staying predictable, comfortable, and safe. With open minds and open hearts, grace flows.
Touring India with the Mayapuris was a high vibrational experience. It was charged with singing, dancing, feasting, temple visits, morning asana classes with Bryn Chrisman of Yogamaya, bringing kirtan to an orphanage in Rishikesh, white water rafting down the Ganges River, touring the great Taj Mahal and the Amber Fort in Jaipur. Meditating in caves, bathing in sacred waters, personal time with Radhanath Swami, and taking part in the wild Holi Festival of Colors. Vish and Kish were fantastic guides that created a very special experience. If they were taking a trip to the moon, I would want to be on that rocket ship with them. That high vibration they carry is also balanced with a stillness. A sweetness. I think they can afford to fly by the seat of their pants because they are so grounded in their devotion. The fuel they run on is love. Love for God, deep love for each other, the love Vish has for his wife and daughter, and the love Muki and Kish have for their fiancées. I felt like I wasn’t just on a retreat touring India. I was in a masterclass on Bhakti, on love and devotion. I was a student of the heart. As I was saying goodbye to my new friends, I joked that I’ve been on a search for love my whole life and now that I’ve met them, the search has just begun! Now I know what’s possible. Love for a partner, love for God, love for myself. I know what love looks like and I’m not going to settle for anything but the real deal.
After a big trip, I come home and try to recreate travel moments in my own kitchen and in the menus of my clients. I read somewhere about the 'fingerprints of food,' the personal grooves in the hands of regional cuisines that set them apart from the food of another country. Much of India is vegetarian so protein comes from lentil and chickpea flour cakes and breads, ghee, and yogurt. Throughout my 3 weeks in India I found myself eating a lot of dhokla. It’s a gluten free, vegetarian savory steamed cake made of chickpea flour. We were offered dhokla as prasadam at temples, as refreshment on boat rides, and bus rides. It's the perfect fortifying snack because of the chickpea protein.
~adapted from Veg Recipes of India
- 1 1/2 cups chickpea flour
- 3 pinches of ground turmeric
- 1 tsp lemon juice
- 3 tsp ginger green chili paste
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 cup water
- 2 tsp ENO Indian fruit salt or 3/4 tsp baking soda
Preheat an oven to 350 degrees. Coat an 8 x 8 dish with butter, oil, ghee, or non stick spray. Combine the chickpea flour, turmeric, lemon juice, ginger green chili paste and salt in a medium sized bowl. Gradually stir in the water with a fork. Stir until the batter is smooth with no lumps.
Bring 4 cups of water to boil as you are mixing the ingredients. Place the 8 x8 dish in a 9 x13 or a dish large enough to make a water bath. Add the ENO or baking soda to the batter, mixing quickly as it will begin to get flufffy/foamy. Pour into the greased 8 x8 dish and smooth the top with the fork. Carefully pour the boiling water around the smaller dish, making sure it doesn't come to the surface, and carefully slide into the oven. Let the dhokla steam for 15-20. (In India most of the dhokla we ate was really spongy and wet so I steamed mine a full 20 minutes to make sure it was fully cooked. And I avoided the tempering liquid mentioned in most recipes to keep it intact and not soggy.) Serve with chutneys. I used cilantro chutney as well as tomato jam. Slice into bite size squares.