More than 2,500 people from all walks of life, including several US lawmakers, including Senator Joe Biden, Delaware Democrat and chairman of the powerful Senate Foreign Relations Committee, packed the Concert Hall of the John F. Kennedy Center for Performing Arts on March 28, to join in the celebration of 25 years of service to society by the Art of Living Foundation (AOLF) and its founder Sri Sri Ravi Shankar.
Patti Montella, communications director of the AOLF in Washington, DC, told rediff India Abroad that the response to attend the silver jubilee celebration was so overwhelming that ?we had to regrettably turn down several hundred people who were seeking tickets at the last minute after filling the hall to capacity.?
?We struggled to accommodate as many people as possible up to the last minute, but at a certain point, we had to cut off because the hall was filled up to capacity and we had to disappoint scores of people who wanted to join in the celebration,? she said.
Montella noted that several dignitaries, officials from embassies in Washington, DC, Congressional leaders and their aides were among those who unfortunately had to be turned down because the hall was filled to capacity. Besides, the US lawmakers, among those who
flocked to the gala event whose theme was ?Creating a stress free, violence free America,? included leading educators, scientists, professionals from a cross-section of spheres, ambassadors, judges and business leaders from the Washington, DC metropolitan area.
Biden, who keynoted the event, began by saying, ?President Kennedy had a great fondness for India and it was 45 years ago this month he made history by asking his well known and well-respected wife Jacqueline Kennedy to go on a goodwill tour to India. She visited hospitals, she met school children, and she spent time with Indian leaders,? he recalled.
Biden, then alluding to the significance of the silver jubilee of the AOLF, said, ?So here in this artistic shrine to our former President, it is fitting that we celebrate the 25th anniversary of one of India'sstars?the Art of Living Foundation.? Saying, he was ?honored to be part of this celebration,? the lawmaker lauded the AOLF for its 25 years of service ?of promoting peace, combating violence and drug addiction and empowering our youth.?
?Not many organisations that become so well known in a short 25 years, but this is one of them.? Biden said he was awed that the Foundation ?…now has volunteers in more than 120 countries and more than 20 million people have taken this program. It has an incredible following that cuts through all religions, cultures and background?a very, very difficult thing to do in today'sworld,? he said, and added, ?if there'sanything we need more of today, it'stolerance.?
Biden also emphasised the blossoming US-India relationship, and reminisced about how President Kennedy had once told Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, ?India and America are separated by half the globe, but there is a great love and affection and regard for your country and people in this country.
?As I?ve said on more than one occasion,? he said, ?if there'sone relationship that is critical to the world?not just for us but for the world?that we get right, it'sthe US-India relationship.? Biden declared, ?We are the twin-pillars upon which the civilised 21st century can stand,? and turning to Sri Sri Ravi Shankar said, ?We witness the affection referenced by President Kennedy everyday, and your Holiness, I want to thank you for your dedication and hardwork to make all this possible.?
Similar sentiments and praise for Sri Sri were expressed by the stream of lawmakers who came up to the podium to say a few words, including Congressmen Joe Wilson, South Carolina Republican and co-chair of the Congressional Caucus on India and Indian Americans, and
Luis Gutierrez, Danny Davis, and Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky, all Illinois Democrats.
However, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, Maryland Democrat, who was slated to keynote the event and deliver the welcoming remarks, didn'tturn up. The lawmaker'sclose friend, neighbour, physician, and major fund-raiser, Dr Vinod ?Vinny? Shah and his wife Ela Shah, who were seated immediately behind Sri Sri on the stage.
Michael Fischman, president AOLF, USA, in his welcoming remarks, said, ?Tonight is about human values. We are all here to be part of a historic event. It is a day that we unveil the universal declaration of Human Values and the inspiration behind this document is his Holiness Sri Sri Ravi Shankar.?
?We all can work toward a dual-goal, I would say a single dual-goal?one is protect our environment, our planet earth. The second thing is to protect the human values?compassion, friendliness, and cooperation.
?Let'shave a sense of belonging to each other,? Sri Sri implored, predicting, ?This will protect our minds, save our hearts?the soul of the planet. These human values need to be nurtured so we can have a stress free, violence free society,? Sri Sri said.
Floyd ?Shad? Meshad, president and founder of the National Veterans Foundation, presented Sri Sri with an award honoring his outstanding service to returning veterans and their families. Meshad, who recently participated in the AOLF's?Project Welcome Home Troops,? programme, said, ?Anything we can do to bring our troops peace of mind, and lets them come back and reintegrate into society, is worth its weight in gold.?
Ambassador Vijay Nambiar, chief of staff to United Nations Secretary General, Ban Ki-Moon, in his remarks after echoing the sentiments of those who spoke before him and showered kudos on Sri Sri, then read a message on behalf of his boss, which stated, ?At a time when some would seek to divide the human family by exploiting differences among peoples, we need more than ever the contribution of men and women of faith who defend and promote the human values that bind us together.? Moon said, ?It is reassuring to know that you?a diverse assembly of origins and cultures?have gathered to celebrate your commitment to global harmony and peaceful co-existence.?
The celebration concluded with Sri Sri leading the audience in several minutes of meditation, which was followed by both Indian and western classical music titled Symphony of Peace 1 and Symphony of Peace 2 performed respectively by a South Indian orchestra conducted by Professor T.R. Subramanium and Jaya Bala, assistant conductor, and an Urban Nation Hip-Hop Choir led by Dr Rickey Payton, senior co-founder and artistic director. Before the celebration in the Concert Hall, more than a 1,000 of the guests, including the US lawmakers, attended a private VIP reception with Sri Sri in the Kennedy Center Atrium.