World Culture Festival to focus on mental health crisis and gun violence

Gurudev Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, founder of the Art of Living, during a press conference at the Art of Living Center on August 28, 2023, in Washington DC. PHOTO: T. Vishnudatta Jayaraman, News India Times

Washington DC: Gurudev Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, founder of the Art of Living (AOL) and a globally renowned spiritual leader, humanitarian, and peacemaker said the Fourth World Culture Festival (WCF), from September 29-October 1, 2023, at the National Mall in Washington DC will coincide closely with the anniversary of the Martin Luther King’s historic march in Washington, during which he delivered the famous “I have a dream,” speech. Gurudev asserted WCF “will rekindle that dream and rekindle hope in people” encouraging collective efforts towards a society that is devoid of violence and mental stress.

During a press conference at the Art of Living Center on August 28, in response to a question from News India Times, whether WCF will focus on the ongoing gun violence and mental health crisis in the United States, Gurudev affirmed, “Yes, our main focus this time will be on mental health issues. That’s the biggest challenge the world is facing today. Post-COVID we have aggression on one side, and depression on the other side. Societal violence on one side and suicidal tendency on the other side,” while noting that artists are 17 times more susceptible to depression than others, and that AOL is providing budding artists a platform to come and excel in their fields.

With respect to the role of volunteers at this mammoth event, Gurudev pointed out, “This whole event is driven by volunteers. In fact, the whole Art of Living is run by volunteers with very few full timers. And one more thing is if all these artists [participating in WCF] have to be brought to this place, it would have costed billions [of dollars]. But it’s the gracious cooperation of all the artists that everybody comes here, pro bono. They all want to contribute to the society and uplift the world consciousness. So, they are all participating willingly and whole heartedly.”

Close to 400,000 people have already registered for WCF.  There will be over 17,000 artists from around the globe presenting performances such as Indian garba dance, Irish step dance, global guitar ensemble, and traditional gospel choir. Current and former Heads of State and Government from around the world, United Nations officials, US Members of Congress along with other dignitaries are expected to participate in the celebrations.

During WCF, according to Gurudev, AOL will be taking a vow to plant 42 million trees, in addition to the 90 million trees already planted. The event will also serve eco-friendly food, there will be 80 trucks, representing food from around the globe, at the National Mall.  Underlined

He emphasized that Washington DC was chosen as a venue since “It’s most needed here today when there is so much polarization, and so much violence… 2.9 mass shootings per day in this country. It’s unprecedented. Nowhere else there is so much violence like here. So, the message of peace and message of non-violence are more relevant when there is more violence.”

Regarding mental health issues, he said “[In America] 27 veterans are taking their lives every day, and every 40 seconds one person is committing suicide” adding that a part of the solution lies in events such as this that are focused on reestablishing self-confidence and bringing a sense of belongingness and togetherness. Further, he encouraged everyone to undertake projects that uplift societies, whether it is to eliminate poverty, violence, mental distress that many communities are facing right now.

About ways to dealing with depression, anxiety, and loneliness, Gurudev said challenges like these are also a way to express one’s valor, compassion, dynamism, and commitment to a greater cause. Challenges are merely steppingstones, but if people don’t have the energy and self-confidence, they will have difficulties handling them, he added.

According to him, that’s where AOL can help to build upon sole self-confidence and inner power to see how they can reduce the suffering, reduce the loneliness, and create a sense of belongingness. He went on to say that AOL focuses on practical tools and techniques, rather than theories and lectures to confront these challenges.

About WCF’s achievement over the years, Gurudev underscored this is a festival to bring people together and empower them. He said, AOL pioneered this in India back in 2006, introducing mass group singing, playing instruments and dancing. Today, it’s an achievement, even governments and organizations are trying to emulate the idea of bringing many people to perform on one platform. He said that the world needs more such festivals.

With respect to Chandrayaan-3 moon landing, Gurudev said “It’s a proud moment for not just India but the entire humanity that we could very successfully land with such short duration and with a small budget.” He commended the role of women in this historic moon landing.



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