Jai Uttal is a Grammy nominated singer and a pioneer in the world music community with his eclectic East-meets-West sound. He is a sacred music composer, recording artist, multi-instrumentalist, and ecstatic vocalist, who combines influences from India with American rock and jazz to create a stimulating and exotic multicultural fusion that is truly world spirit music.
The following was written by Jai about his dear friend Shyamdas who passed away recently.
Berkeley, California, about 35 years ago…..
It was another busy day; phone calls, faxes, arrangements for my next tour, my next CD, interviews, career….. Without doubt, spirituality was at the core of my life, but in those days I still felt that there was a ton of stuff I needed to do. Suddenly I heard a knock on the door. Who could that be? People don’t just stop by without calling! Opening the door I was met with a young woman acquaintance of mine and an obviously American guy wearing very old fashioned Indian clothes, kind of like a village temple priest. “Radhe Radhe” he declared just a bit too loudly and pushed past me into the living room of my little shack-like cottage. “This is Shyamdas. He wanted to meet you”, said the girl, seeming a tad embarrassed. Well, I liked this guy immediately, and we talked for quite a while over chai and sweets, discussing our mutual passions and friendships and shared history. But then that not-so-sweet little voice of nervousness started whispering to me about everything I had to do that day. “Well, it was great meeting you…. Let’s get together again.” Shyam didn’t move. “I gotta get to some stuff now…” No response… Hmmmm…. Finally, “Jai Gopal, I’m not leaving until we sing Hari’s name together!” Uhhh…. Well, ok…. So we went to my little temple, pulled out the harmonium and entered bliss. Effortless joy. The Name….Then with big hugs and happy hearts we said goodbye.
And that became the pattern of our friendship for many years. Shyam would show up, usually unannounced, sometimes twice a day, and after chai and chatting, force me to sing with him. And the Kirtan got deeper and deeper and sweeter and sweeter, as did our friendship. (Why did I need to be pushed to do the one thing that I loved over everything else? Well, I guess that’s another story!) Those times together were filled with laughter, and beautiful soul friendship. Shyamdas couldn’t really understand why I was so busy. His only business was Hari Nam……
Then came a period where we were a bit out of touch. Shyam didn’t come to California much, spent more time in India and became very involved with his community of friends and yogis in upstate New York. Although I was a bit jealous, i didn’t think about it much because I had become even more ‘busy’….
Well, times change and people change and after some major upheavals in my life I ran into Shyamdas again at Omega Institute about 12 years ago. Instantly we were in each others arms, laughing, loving, praising, teasing, like no time had passed. And the amazing thing was that Shyam hadn’t changed at all; he was exactly the same. “Radhe Radhe!” He exclaimed, a bit too loudly, “Jai Gopal, let’s sing Hari’s Name together”. This time I didn’t need to be asked twice….. And our friendship became even deeper, until we began to forget our proper names and call each other ‘Sakhi’, sisters, handmaidens of Srimati Radharani, the beloved of Krishna.
And now he’s gone. My beautiful friend has left this Earth plane. And I, like so many, can’t stop the tears. Because Shaymdas didn’t just encourage ‘me’ to sing, he encouraged everyone. He invited us all to dive ever deeper into the bliss that pervades us, yet seems to hide from us. He reminded everyone that this is all Hari’s sweet play and that we need only dance like a Gopi to the music of His divine flute, eternally participating in the constant ecstasy of Radha and Krishna’s love.
I was asked to write a eulogy for Shyam, but I don’t really know how to do that. He was so deep and is so loved and missed. Look at Facebook. Thousands of friends are pouring out their hearts and their sadness. But one thing I can say is this: Shyamdas wasn’t waiting for anything, he wasn’t ‘doing’ sadhana to get somewhere. He was living in the radiance of his final refuge every day, perhaps every moment, of his life. And he was sharing that joy freely, with humor and love, with everyone he met. No one was beneath his radar. We are all his brothers and sisters in Bhakti….. Let’s sing Hari’s Names……
Click to listen: Jai Uttal- Radhe Radhe for Shyam Das
For more on Jai Uttal, visit his website Here.