From a fan’s point of view, a rain-soaked start to the Art of Living Foundation’s World Cultural Festival was a spoiler. Or was it?
Multitudes from around the world had taken their seats in huge stands, settling down for a lavish evening. But few took notice of the gathering storm until the drops fell.
On the ground, there was no trace of the raging controversy over the clearing of 1,000 acres of a no-construction ecologically-fragile floodplain for the venue. What mattered was an explosion of India’s soft power, colour and glitz.
Asked about the controversy, Rohit Gurukella, a coffee supplier to Bangalore-based Amalgamated Beans and Coffee Ltd said: “This is no permanent structure. So, what’s the problem?”
The problem was weather. People ran for cover. Artists still rehearsing made a helter-skelter dash. Someone threw a black tarpaulin sheet over a flower-bedecked spot. A painted dancer buried his face in the hollow of his palms. Flags of 155 nations, flapping high in the wind atop a sweeping gilded stage, froze.
This was only a momentary low. The rains stopped. A magnificent rainbow arched over the venue. The spirits soared again, as opening notes from 8,500 musicians hit a crescendo.
Art of Living Founder Sri Sri Ravi Shankar made a speech in which he seemed to respond to the criticism over the venue. “Sreyamsi bahu vignani,” he said, quoting a Sanksrit saying and translated it. “When you set out to accomplish something good, you face a lot of hurdles. When you want to do something bad, it’s easy.”
Controversy aside, there is no denying Ravi Shankar’s global influence and with him, India’s cultural reach. “Love of my life, my master, my inspiration,” said 27-year-old Buenos Aires-resident Magdelena Gravino. The guru’s spiritual lessons are popular in 150 countries.
As Prime Minister Modi said, addressing the event: “This is a cultural Kumbh Mela (pilgrimage). Fighting crises…that’s the art of living.” Show over, Guru Ravi Shankar has to now fight the charge that his event had caused ecological damage.