Global leaders joined by hundreds of thousands of citizens to celebrate Fourth World Culture Festival

Former President of India, Ram Nath Kovind and former First Lady Savita Kovind on day-two of the World Culture Festival at the Washington National Mall in Washington DC. PHOTO: The Art of Living Foundation

Washington DC: World leaders and over a million global citizens gathered at the Washington National Mall for the Fourth World Culture Festival (WCF) held from September 29-October 1, 2023, to celebrate diversity, foster peace and harmony, promote the spirit of unity, and address challenges related to societal violence and mental health crisis.

Sri Sri Ravi Shankar speaking at the 4th World Culture Festival in Washington D.C. held Sept. 29-Oct. 1, 2023. PHOTO videograb YouTube

Founder of The Art of Living, Gurudev Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, the architect of WCF, while addressing the gathering on inaugural day, observed “It is such a beautiful occasion to celebrate our diversity. Our planet is so diverse, and yet there is an underlying unity that is the human values.”

Panchabootham, a grand musical ensemble and Indian classical dance styles were being presented on day-one at the Washington National Mall in Washington DC. PHOTO: T. Vishnudatta Jayaraman, News India Times

Noting the importance of music and dance, he said, “Music is such a part of every culture. It’s part of our human spirits expression and it is necessary that we celebrate this without a sense of competition [but] with a sense of cooperation and conviction.”

He warned that “The mental health is a big issue. Aggression and societal violence on one side or depression and suicidal tendency on the other,” while pointing out that festivities like these can aid people in overcoming the peculiarities of their minds. The inherent goodness within everyone emerges when there is recognition of interconnectedness as a global family, he added.

Elaborating that “Loneliness, tension, and stress” are ubiquitous in societies today, he said, “One person not being happy in a family can make the whole family miserable. And several such families make the whole nation unhappy…” adding “Let’s commit ourselves again on this occasion to bring more happiness, let’s bring more smiles, and wipe tears. That’s humaneness and we’re all made up of these values.”

S. Jaishankar, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, Ban Ki-moon and other dignitaries on day-one of the World Culture Festival at the Washington National Mall in Washington DC. PHOTO: The Art of Living Foundation

Former Secretary-General of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon, Chair of WCF’s Reception Committee said, “I’m excited to join you here for this historic global event. Culture builds bridges, culture breaks down walls, culture brings the world together through dialogue and mutual understanding. Culture enhances unity and harmony among peoples and nations and culture can create powerful exchanges between all global citizens, just like all of you here today.”

Reflecting on his 10-year tenure as the UN Secretary-General, he noted, “I traveled all around the globe. And I have seen and learned from many different cultures and civilizations,” and further added, “All of the world’s culture richness has come together here at the National Mall of the United States… I am pleased to see and feel the resonance of peace and celebration today.”

Attendees of the World Culture Festival on day-one at the Washington National Mall in Washington DC. PHOTO: The Art of Living Foundation

Shortly before addressing the gathering, SG Ban Ki-moon told News India Times “It’s my great honor to serve on WCF’s reception committee,” and highlighted the heightened importance of culture in bringing peace and harmony around the world.

During his address, former President of India, Ram Nath Kovind, said, “The message of global peace, and harmony radiating from this festival could not be more powerful. This festival has brought together the Indian diaspora from four corners of the world. They have been the torch bearers of our ancient philosophy of Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam. That is the world is one family.”

Adding that Gurudev is well-known as a spiritual leader, President Kovind said, “If you look at his initiatives and relentless efforts to building a peace-loving society, he stands out as one who creates history, a history that others are attractively drawn to and pleasantly compelled to follow.”

He emphasized that WCF evokes memories of the 1893 World Parliament of Religions in Chicago that Swami Vivekanand addressed adding, “That too was an effort to bring people from diverse backgrounds together.”

India’s Foreign Minister, S. Jaishankar while highlighting the “Inspiration and guidance of Gurudev” in bringing everyone together at WCF noted, “That global thought and international understanding is so visible as I look around me.”

“It’s also heartwarming to see the panorama of cultures across the world that is displayed before us today. We are gathered here to express our friendship, strengthen our solidarity, and promote peace and understanding,” Jaishankar added.

Thanking Gurudev for bringing WCF to the nation’s capital, Mayor of Washington DC, Muriel Bowser said that the hundreds and thousands of people joining to celebrate peace and humanity during the three-day festival “Will also inspire in their hearts, peace, kindness, and a love of the global community.”

Publisher Dr. Sudhir Parikh of Parikh Worldwide Media and ITV Gold, at the World Culture Festival in Washington, D.C. PHOTO: courtesy Dr. Parikh.

“This was a very successful World Culture Festival, more than 700,000 people there. The whole idea is to bring everyone together according to our goal, “Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam” the world is one,” Dr. Sudhir Parikh, publisher of Desi Talk and News India Times, and recipient of the Padma Shri award who was at the event, said. “With so many different cultural shows from almost 180 countries, so spectacular and lively, it shows the whole world is the same, so we should all work and live together for a peaceful world. That was the message of Sri Sri Ravi Shankar. I am happy that I was able to contribute toward bringing dignitaries to this impressive event.” Dr. Parikh added.

“I believe very strongly that one thing the world needs above other things is peace,” former President of Nigeria, Olusegun Obasanjo, who is attending WCF for the second time, told News India Times. “We are clamoring about climate change and economic development and it’s only when we have peace, there can be economic development,” he said adding “So peace is the one unique imperative element that we must have. And wherever there is an opportunity to work for peace, we must join hands.”

Former Speaker of the Lower House of Indian Parliament, Sumitra Mahajan told News India Times, “I can say people from four corners of the world are present here to celebrate diversity…the whole world is a family.  In India, we say, Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam,” adding there is some special joy in celebrating together, the oneness.

Former Prime Minister of Slovenia, Alojz Peterle told News India Times, “I participated in the World Culture Festival for the first time in Berlin 10-years ago. I see that there is more and more added value in it and that we really celebrate unity in diversity with different identities but with equal dignity. I would say it is unique,” adding he is witnessing a new culture of togetherness, which is inclusive and bringing peace without any polarization.

Congressman (D-Michigan) Shri Thanedar told News India Times, “I am happy to see the world coming together for happiness and peace. We should really fight against hatred in the world. We should fight against bigotry, and we need to unite and lift people.” He said earlier that day he formed a Congressional Caucus of Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs, and Jains along with other congressional leaders to “Foster understanding, promote inclusion, and take affirmative policy actions.”

The festival “celebrates our differences and our diversity” Member of Parliament of Colombia Juan Carlos-Teres told News India Times, noting it also aims to “Bring us together and not to create separation on the contrary.” He further added that he thinks nobody else can put this message out there like Sri Sri Ravi Shankar is doing in Washington.

Grammy-nominated artist Chandrika Tandon who led a choir of 250 high school students and 100 adults sing America the Beautiful and Vande Matram told News India Times, “I just wept and wept after it was all finished just because I felt the emotion that everyone was feeling and singing these iconic songs. We were all singing it…” adding “And the same thing with Sarva Mangalam bhavatu, bhavatu, bhavatu – all the children wanted to sing it. So, I did extra rehearsals to work on the Sanskrit parts and to get the pronunciation just right.”

As part of WCF, a Global Leadership Summit under the theme of “Shaping a Humane Future,” was also held on September 30 at the Grand Hyatt in Washington DC. The Summit highlighted three key areas of corporate and societal challenges and innovations, bringing together leaders from the global business, government, and international institutions to share ideas and explore potential solutions.

Several world leaders, US Members of Congress, US officials, and others also spoke during the three-day festival where over 17,000 cultural artists from across the globe showcased various performances.

Notable among them were 10,000 garba dancers danced in a spirit of celebration with live singing from Grammy Award Winner – Falu Shah; Chenda Melam, a Kerala Percussion Ensemble that showcased beats and rhythms of Kerala; and Kashmiri Rhapsody, a vibrant dance highlighted tradition of Kashmir, India. Panchabootham, a grand musical ensemble featuring 300 instrumentalists playing sitar, veena, tabla, mridangam, flute, ghatam, and violin, accompanied by a mesmerizing display of Indian classical dance styles performed by 700 dancers, was also presented.



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