We Do Like Bhakti

By editor - 18.9 2023

Just as the catchy old music hall song says: “We do like to be beside the seaside”. It’s an exuberant and melodic statement that still holds true. So what is it about unlimited water spread endlessly beneath boundless skies that never fails to enthral us? Any why has nature’s simple but effective depiction of silvery-blue infinity enticed us to Brighton beach, today, Saturday 16th September 2023?

Well, let’s start by taking a quick look back to the 18th Century, when a fashionable fad for drinking and bathing in seawater as a purported cure for illnesses had people flocking to the popular East Sussex resort in order to, as they liked to put it (simply) back then “take the cure”. These days, those of us with a predilection for alternative remedies administered in suitably trendy places prefer our terminology (if not the actual cure) to be a tad more complex and sophisticated. Hence, mass faith in the sea has given rise to something rather (in)conveniently known as thalassotherapy. It’s a name label that might not stick quite as easily in the mind as those handy little plasters do to the minor wounds we inevitably pick up on our bumpy journey through life. However, the contemporary remedial treatment not only makes use of the sea’s natural attributes and bountiful treasures but also promises to harness its calming properties to soothe our mind, body and soul (with absolutely no sticking plasters required.)

But even though the much sought-after UK coastline is accessible to everyone at no charge, state-of-the art sea therapy can, like so many things these days, come at a rather steep price.  

Worry not, for today you can bask in the mighty ocean’s healing proximity with an added other- dimensionality included at no cost whatsoever. Brighton esplanade is playing host to an annual Rathayatra Festival, a holy Hare Krishna parade all set to joyfully romp its way along the beautiful seafront for the delectation of all who elect to take part (as well as those fortunate enough to be passing by at just the right moment). The Lord of the Universe, Jagannath, His brother, Balarama, and sister, Subhadra, have come out of their temple to take in the sea air and to bless all those who cross their path. For one day only, mystical musicians and mantra singing devotees will escort these colourful deities borne in a sanctified red, gold and yellow Rath cart along the famously elegant contours of Brighton beach.

Rath Cart – Take a Look at This

Devotees arriving from far and wide are fortified with freshly cooked prasadam (sanctified food). The queue may be long but there is plenty to go round, so please tuck in.

Queue – Stretching along the Promenade

And do stick around to take an invigorating constitutional walk with us and you will get to hear holy Sanskrit names for FREE. (NB You may even pick up a few cosmic reward points.) Please be aware though that it’s much more beneficial if you sing along. This is guaranteed to make you feel so good – on some subtle level – that you won’t want to stop.  (You don’t even have to remember the technical term for sea therapy or cough up a surcharge for any mood-elevating extras.)

Enjoying Fortifying Food

Moreover, ‘right-on’ Brighton could benefit from a generous dose of this congregational call-and-response chanting of mantras, also known as bhakti yoga. Interestingly, the City of Brighton and Hove is still officially ‘England’s most godless place’, with more than one in two people saying they have no religion. Today anyone (godless or otherwise) who is just ‘being beside the seaside’ (and hopefully liking it) can dip their toes into this non-sectarian sea of mantra meditation just to see whether they might like that too. If they feel inclined they can wade in a little deeper, or, if they really want to take the plunge, fully immerse themselves into a tried and tested spiritual practice which emerged as a distinctive form of yoga around 500 b.c. It may not strictly qualify as cutting-edge thalassotherapy, but it really doesn’t need to, because bhakti by the beach is in league of its own.

All Hands On Deck

Besides which, the so-called relatively ‘godless’ but markedly pebbly expanse between Brighton’s modern 162-metre-high observation tower and the Peace Statue on Hove Promenade (the procession’s starting and finishing points respectively) a offers broad, inviting and largely unsullied canvas on which Hare Krishna devotees can skilfully paint a perfectly integrated pattern to uplift the soul using sea, sun and sacred sound, (with a very invigorating splash of vibrant colour thrown in gratis).  

A Splash of Vibrant Colour

But this is not mere performance art. You could in fact be witnessing the point at which science meets religion here. Dr Masaru Emoto, a Japanese researcher, studied the effects our feelings, intentions, and the words we express them with, have on water crystals. The pioneering doctor found that positive vibrations generated by Sanskrit mantra chanting had a profound effect on water crystal structure, causing beautiful and symmetrical arrangements to form from unattractive and shapeless molecular chaos.

That’s all very nice, but how does it affect us? Well, don’t forget that we humans are 65% made of water. So, imagine what this microcosmic makeover does for our own, (perhaps slightly jaded) cellular structure. Dr Emoto’s careful research also suggests that the vibrations we emit through our thoughts, words, and actions can have a powerful impact on the world around us. If that’s the case let’s give it our all with these mantras, shall we?

Chanting Sacred Mantras

The parade moves off with a buoyant effervescence that brings in some cautious spectators observing peripherally, while creating powerful undercurrents to pull in those hovering at a distance. This is a procession with high enough energy levels to keep afloat the spirits of all who join it and stay the course.

Devotees pulling the Rath Cart

As we know, earth’s all-encompassing and briny deep presents itself to Brighton’s coastline in the guise and form of the good old English Channel. And if there really is a spiritual vacuum on these here shores, then this days rhythmic refrains are guaranteed to fill it, courtesy of expertly played Indian-style instruments such as mdrangas (drums) and cartalas (cymbals) that steadfastly underpin eager voices pitched and poised to sing robustly into the wind. A gentle sea-breeze carries the murmuring resonance of pulsing spray from the water’s edge to the promenade, stirring up a soft but steady backing track to transcendent verse and chorus. You can see, hear and feel the elements interplay as pure strand air unifies the timeless ebb and flowing sound of our planet’s largest water surface with the age-old ritual dance of mortal life. The Hare Krishna crew synchronise with a beat as ceaseless and continual as the waves themselves.

The afternoon’s exhilaration leaves everyone healthily tired, but not without a residual appetite. When the parade finally reaches its end point, there is more prasadam to revive this Saturday’s Shoreline Spiritual Warriors.

As the late-summer sun sinks slowly towards the horizon, Aiden, a weekend visitor to Brighton, enthuses:

“What a fabulous event. I have been to Brighton beach many times but never experienced anything like this. The music is mesmerising and the atmosphere is amazing. I have never seen so many happy people altogether on this promenade.”