The World Culture Festival, also touted as a global Kumbh Mela of culture by many including PM Narendra Modi, recently concluded its 3-day marathon display of performing arts in New Delhi. It was designed as a platform to demonstrate world peace by sharing of art and culture with citizens from over 155 countries physically present at the venue. Visited by 3.5 million people and with performances by around 36,000 artistes it was further studded by global political and religious dignitaries coming together on the same platform in support of the motto of Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam – ‘One World Family’.
For someone who witnessed the festival first hand, the event was replete with some extraordinary feats which would strengthen India’s soft power on the world map. But, if majority of media reports and tweets from prominent journalists are to be believed, the World Culture Festival (WCF) only implied environmental issues with Yamuna and traffic jams in Delhi. So, instead of busting their negativity with further negativity, this article chooses to go with the spirit of the festival and highlights 10 positively important things accomplished at the festival, which most media houses have either not covered, or left for the back pages.
1. World Culture Festival receives accolades by World leaders: Australian PM wishes to host the next WCF in Australia, British PM invites Sri Sri Ravi Shankar to House of Commons
While Indian media is busy reporting whether we should conduct a World Culture Festival at all, the Australian PM has sent an invite to Sri Sri Ravi Shankar to host the next WCF in Australia. Mexico has also extended an invitation to host the next edition of the festival. The United Kingdom was so impressed by the festival’s vision of Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam that British PM David Cameron invited Sri Sri to address the House of Commons in his next visit to the UK. “People say that no one can change the world but Sri Sri has made a good start. We are seeing a ray of hope,” Cameron was quoted as saying in his message.
2. Indian leaders from opposing political spectrums come together: Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal requests Sri Sri to lead the Clean Yamuna Campaign
While AAP and BJP supporters are not generally known for seeing eye-to-eye and are usually at logger heads on social media platforms, WCF brought their top leaders together. While PM Narendra Modi inaugurated the 3-day event, Arvind Kejriwal was part of the closing ceremony. Alongside, Indian National Congress had its representation in the form of P.J. Kurien, the Vice Chairman of the Rajya Sabha. He was so overwhelmed by seeing 1500 Mohiniyattam dancers dancing in unison that after completing his initial speech, he decided to speak again in Malayalam to express his pleasure on seeing such a magnificent representation of his state’s culture.
In his address, Kejriwal acknowledged this feat of getting opposing poles in politics to come together, and requested Sri Sri to get the Centre and multiple state governments on the same platform to clean the Yamuna and to lead it from the helm. If this goes through, it can possibly lead to the strengthening of union-state relationships, and thus federalism, even in cases where the governments usually don’t see eye-to-eye.
3. Leaders of all religions come together in a grand display of unity: Grand Mufti of Syria calls it the pigeon of peace flying from India to the world
While spiritual leaders are heavily portrayed in divisive tones by many sections of the media, WCF busted many such myths. Around 40 leaders from all faiths across countries came together in appreciation of the message of peace that WCF stood for. From the Grand Mufti of strife-torn Syria to representatives from the Vatican, from the Buddhist Master Kong Xin from China to Giani Gurbachan Singh, the former Jatedar of the Akal Takht, from Jain muni Tarun Sagar to Jewish Rabbis and Zoroastrian leaders, the stage was representative of how people from multiple faiths could work inclusively on a mission of peace. One of the standout features was not just the presence but also the performance put up by Shaolin Monks of China as their contribution to the festival.
The Grand Mufti of Syria, who spoke about the troubled times of today in a world plagued with fanaticism, termed this event as a pigeon of peace flying from India to the rest of the world. Where religions are pitted against each other in an ugly war, a platform to get everyone together in a spirit of unity is definitely the need of the hour.
4. Bonhomie between India and Pakistan: ‘Victory for one does not mean loss for another’, says Sri Sri
In a remarkable display of bonhomie between two nations always touted as enemies, leaders from political as well as religious spectrums from both India and Pakistan came together to demonstrate that the countries can be good friends despite their differences. The vice-president of Pakistan Peoples Party, Sherry Rehman, thanked the AOL foundation for bringing people together and emphasized on the role of culture to unite nations. At the same time, Mufti Mohammad Saeed Khan, a religious cleric from Pakistan appreciated Sri Sri’s efforts and shouted Pakistan Zindabad along with Sri Sri’s Jai Hind, in tune with Sri Sri’s message that ‘Victory for one does not mean the other has to lose’.
On the final day, a troupe from Pakistan gave a Sufi performance receiving huge applause not just from the 150-strong Pakistani audience but from every section of the viewers. Political and religious leaders from Pakistan coming together for an event organized by an Indian spiritual leader – now, who could have imagined that!
5. Gratitude from Colombian and the Andean Presidents: Lat-Am representatives thank Sri Sri for bringing peace to their region
While India is grappling with internal issues like Naxalism, Colombia has also struggled with its own internal armed conflict led by a group called FARC. After multiple decades of violence, this conflict seems to be easing off because of a big breakthrough in negotiations in which Sri Sri played a major role as a key negotiator. He impressed on the FARC rebels to choose the Gandhian way of non-violence and Colombia is now looking at a possible long-term resolution of this crisis.
Hence, the Colombian President sent a video message to thank Sri Sri for his role in this conflict resolution. Also, the Andean President was grateful to Sri Sri for bringing peace to the Andean region.
6. American flag hoisted at the Senate gifted to the Art of Living Foundation: President Obama’s pastor says that if needed, he is ready to go to jail with Sri Sri for world peace
While the USA troupe put on an enthusiastic dance performance, the US gifted its national flag hoisted at the Senate to the Art of Living Foundation. It is a matter of great pride that an Indian organization received such a big honour, not just in lieu of the festival, but also because of the humanitarian work done in the US during Hurricane Katrina. There are 18 cities in the US which have celebrated ‘Sri Sri Ravi Shankar Day’ in honour of the work done by the Art of Living Foundation.
Rev. Dr. Gerald L. Durley, President Obama’s pastor called Sri Sri a friend and expressed his resonance with the ideals of peace and hope represented by Art of Living. In fact, he said he was willing to go to jail with Sri Sri to promote these ideals.
7. Over 1000 artistes from Africa represent their culture: The Dark Continent makes the stage of World Culture festival brighter with its drums and dances
When the world comes together for any mega event, the role of Africa is many-a-times sidelined and not given centre stage. The World Culture Festival was very different in this regard. More than 1000 artistes from Africa presented their dance and played the African drums called Djembe, to create a surreal atmosphere for the audience. Also, when the African troupe danced to Shakira’s Waka Waka, it had the audiences enthralled and one could see people from all countries dancing to the African beats. The Dark Continent made the World Culture Festival stage much brighter with its drums and dances.
8. Indian local art forms get centre-stage: Local and tribal dances like Panthi and Bihu receive huge appreciation
1500 Bharat Natyam dancers, 1500 Mohiniyattam dancers, 1700 Kathak dancers, 1000 Garba dances dancing on the stage was a spectacle in itself. But, what made World Culture Festival even more spectacular for Indian arts is the representation of relatively lesser known local dances. From the Ghoomar in Rajasthan, to the tribal dances of Panthi from Chattisgarh, Munda from Jharkhand, and Bihu from Assam, many local dances were featured in this festival. For many artistes, this was once in a lifetime opportunity to represent their talents in front of such a mega audience. For the audience, it was an opportunity to know the diversity of culture and art of this country, and their appreciation could be heard through the loud cheers during all these performances.
9. Mega symphony of over 8000 dancers on stage after rehearsals only over Skype: A feat unparalleled in history
The last day of the World Culture Festival saw a symphony of over 8000 dancers across dance forms representing a story of a man in his spiritual journey. The dancers were not bound by country, religion, race, or dance form. While the symphony was a never before witnessed spectacle, what made it all the more unbelievable was that the only way so many people from such disparate geographical locations could practise together was over the internet. The Skype practise sessions eventually resulted in a culmination of precise co-ordination and the internet thus became a tool for bringing together people from disparate backgrounds in a mega display of unity in diversity. It was a sight that had to be seen to be believed!
10. Rains refuse to dull the enthusiasm of the participants and audiences: Leaders appreciate the volunteers for their impeccable discipline
One of the risks that was stated for organizing this mega festival was the fear of panic and pandemonium when such a huge audience would gather in one place. This was at the time when one did not even imagine rainfall on D-Day and the floodplains getting completely wet and muddy. But, the event despite all its obstacles was not only managed safely but also appreciated by all the leaders for its planning, management and the spirit of volunteering. Even post the event, the volunteers took immediately to the task of cleaning up the venue and even involved the audiences in this campaign. Calling the volunteers well-mannered, always smiling and amazing, Arvind Kejriwal requested Sri Sri to provide his volunteers for Delhi government programmes.
At the same time, the audiences made the most of the untimely rain, and danced to the music of the artistes without letting the rains dampening their spirits. Most commendable though was the commitment of the performers who braced the chilly winds and the rain but did not move from the stage and put in all their energy in delivering power packed performances.
While the event could easily boast of many more such accomplishments, their coverage in the media is next to nil. The event with the right coverage could easily have projected India as a soft power with the ability to get opposing ideologies on the same platform in the spirit of unity. But a fair coverage clearly didn’t happen disappointing many a volunteer, and many audience members who witnessed the event live.
But, in the times of such biased media coverage, the best option is to remain positive and keep continuing the good work. Like Sri Sri himself explains in his Facebook post, “Thousands of volunteers are pained and angry at the lies that are being circulated. It is natural to feel outraged when lies are being repeated. Do not abuse anybody. Keep your mind pure and stable. You have two choices – one is to react in anger and the other is to channel that energy to respond creatively. Remember that truth will triumph and lies will wither away like dry leaves. Don’t be disheartened, spring is around the corner.”
– by Shreyans Mehta
About Shreyans: Shreyans completed his MBA from IIM Calcutta in 2011, went on to work as a McKinsey consultant for a year, and then started working on a start-up in education. For a year, Shreyans decided to work on the Modi Campaign and he was a co-founder of Citizens for Accountable Governance (CAG), a non-profit which was responsible for the success of Modi campaign initiatives like Chai pe Charcha, Manthan, and 3-D rallies. He was leading multiple teams in CAG including the Statue of Unity Mobilization Campaign, and the 60-member Bihar election team.