FROM THE FRONT PAGE
Fourth International Conference and Gathering of the Elders of Ancient Traditions and Cultures in Haridwar
“It is only through integral view and not compartmentalised view that we can bring about the change in attitude. It is our responsibility to show to the world that the age old traditions have solutions to modern problems. We have to become the instruments of change and for this we need to organise ourselves for the benefit of everything in this creation,” said RSS Sarsanghachalak Shri Mohan Bhagwat.
Shri Bhagwat was speaking at the concluding session of the four day fourth International Conference and Gathering of the Elders of Ancient Traditions and Cultures in Haridwar on March 7. The topic of the conference was ‘Nourishing the Balance with the Universe’. The Conference was jointly organised by International Centre for Cultural Studies (ICCS) and Dev Sanskriti Vishwavidyalaya and was co-sponsored by National Council of Elders Mayas Xnicas and Garifuna, European Congress of Ethnic Religions, World Council of Elders and Cultures and Children of Mother Earth. A total of 458 delegates from 33 countries including 178 from overseas participated in the conference.
Stressing the need to nourish the balance of Nature, Shri Bhagwat praised the efforts and resolve of the Elders in preserving their traditions and cultures. He recalled the priceless treasures of Indian thought like ‘live and let live’, ‘unity in diversity’, ‘world is one family’ and ‘let us ennoble the world’ and remarked that these have extreme relevance today. Universal outlook is the hallmark of Indian thought and the happiness and well-being of everyone is always sought, he reminded.
It was a Kumbh with a difference. There were Maoris from New Zealand, Mayans and Navajos from the Americas, European Pagans, Balinese Hindus, Romuva from Lithuania and many others. The delegates discussed the ways and means of preserving the priceless ancient traditions and cultures inherited from their ancestors and shared their experiences.
Since its inception at Nagpur in 1994, the International Center for Cultural Studies (ICCS) has been active in reaching out to all the ancient traditions of the world, exploring the commonalities in them and bringing them together to foster the sense of oneness in humanity. It promotes the preservation of these traditions and cultures and engages in academic research. From 2003, it organises an international gathering every three years which is now established as a platform for all such traditions to exhibit their heritage, find similarities existing in other parts of the world and resolve for efforts to sustain these traditions.
The first international conference was held in Mumbai in 2003 with the theme ‘Mitakuye Oyasin’—We are all related. It was attended by delegates from more than 30 countries. The second conference was in 2006 at Jaipur with the theme “Spirituality beyond Religions” attended by delegates from more than 40 countries. The third conference was held in 2009 at Nagpur with the theme “Renaissance of the Ancient Traditions: Challenges and Solutions” where more than 357 delegates attended from 32 countries.
This fourth Conference began on March 4 with a colourful procession by all the delegates in their traditional attires accompanied with rhythmic dances to the tunes of trumpets and beating of drums. The procession went around the campus of Dev Sanskriti Vishwavidyalaya (DSVV) and culminated at the spacious and modern Mritunjaya Auditorium. Latvians with their baritone prayers, Maoris in coloruful attire and dancing Damais from Karnali – Nepal were the attraction throughout the procession.
The inaugural session began with the welcome song by the students of DSVV. Prof Radhey Shyam Dwivedi, president of ICCS, USA, welcomed the delegates. This was followed by prayers by 23 representative individuals and groups of various traditions like, Mayan, Maori, Druid, Navajo, Cham, Romuva, Ramava, Pagan, etc from different parts of the world. These prayers invoked the universal spirit but in a variety of ways and languages.
Speaking at the inaugural session Swami Dayanand Saraswati, founder of Arsha Vidya Gurukulam, said that as ‘managing trustees’ of the indigenous traditions and colourful cultures we need to protect all that we have inherited from our ancestors. Everyone of us should be able to contribute in these efforts and nourish our cultures and traditions.
Dr Pranav Pandya, Chancellor of DSVV, thanked the organisers for providing his university a chance to host such a wonderful conference at its premises. He observed that it is our duty to preserve the precious diversity. A souvenir was also released. ICCS representative and Vishwa Vibhag convener Shri Saumitra Gokhale and Prof SC Bagri representing Indian Hospitality Congress also spoke at the inaugural session. RSS Sahsarkaryavah Shri Suresh Soni, Dr SD Mishra, Vice Chancellor of DSVV and Dr Chinmay Pandya, Pro VC of DSVV also shared the dais along with various dignitaries.
The typical daily schedule started with the demonstration of ceremonies and rituals of the different cultures. Several similarities like use of fire, water for their performance was quite evident. There were also many that were unique. The rituals performed by the delegates exhibited the harmony of cultures, traditions and customs of different groups. Worshipping Nature was the underlying principle of these cultures and traditions. Though in different ways, they all worshipped the five basic elements of Nature i.e. Earth, Air, Water, Fire and Sky. “Love Mother Earth” was the message that emanated from all these rituals and religious ceremonies.
At the plenary session the scholars from various traditions spoke on the topics and issues relevant to all. This was followed by three parallel sessions that included paper presentations on various sub-themes by speakers from various traditions. Many papers generated a lot of interest and lively interaction as well. Just to quote some paper headings; ‘Lasting World Peace for Every human being’ – Nina Meyerhof, ‘Finding Balance in a Chaotic World’ – Rev Patrick McCollum, ‘Yoga’s Approach to Universal Balance’ – Rajen Narayanan, etc.
On March 6, four parallel workshops were conducted in which practical topics that needed more hands-on participation were included. Some topics were ‘Elemental approach to conflict resolution—the Eastern Way’ by Deidre Combs, ‘Native Indian Story telling’ by SD Young Wolf.
The much awaited event used to be colourful and spectacular with evening cultural programmes that were held from 8 to 10 pm. These were most entertaining and the performers would always amaze the audience by their talent and skills.
Five dynamic and promising young elders namely Inra of Vietnam, Cholponai of Kyrgyzstan, Katrina Pihera of New Zealand, Ghulam Asgar Zaidi of DSVV, Haridwar and Lyla Johnston of USA spoke about their dreams, ideas, aspirations and expressed their feelings that they have experienced in the four-day conference. Each of them admitted that the four days of interactions have been their finest experience in life and a great learning opportunity.
Setting a new precedent, University of the World Ancient Traditions and Cultural Heritage, USA (UWATCH) awarded Honorary PhD degrees to five eminent personalities for their knowledge of the tradition, distinguished leadership and outstanding social service to their respective traditions. Dr Pranav Pandya and Shri Mohan Bhagwat conferred the degrees to the recipients. The five recipients included Kenneth Kennedy of New Zealand, Alejandro Cirilo Perez Oxlaj of Guatemala, Jonas Trinkunas of Lithuania, Grand Chief Stan Beardy of Canada and Shri Jagdev Ram Oraon of Akhil Bharatiya Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram, India.
Presiding over the concluding ceremony Dr Pranav Pandya remarked that incomprehensible damage has been done to ancient cultures and traditions by a few groups who could not appreciate the diversity. He recalled the Mayan belief that a new era is due in 2012 and proclaimed that the DSVV would be the epicentre of the same and hoped that differences would melt and future is sure to be of humanity seeking welfare and wellbeing of everyone.
The four-day event transformed the delegates who arrived as strangers but returned as relatives. They felt empowered with the new connections and network. They could communicate with each other not with the help of a language but by their love, warmth, respect and affection for each other. The delegates returned with a renewed vigour and a greater clarity as to why the revitalisation of their traditions is the need of the hour for the welfare of the world through a balanced and holistic approach.
Like Inra Jaka, who represents the small community of native Cham Hindus of Vietnam, convincingly stated that his struggle to retain everything that he finds closer to Nature including arts, clothing, and philosophy is strengthened through this conference. His conviction for preservation of his tradition has grown thousand fold now.
Dr Gulnara Aitpaeva attended such gathering in Bharat for the first time and before setting off for her group’s journey back home to Kyrgyzstan said, “We would be attending the next conference in larger number and would also try to get representation from our neighbouring countries. This conference has bolstered our self-confidence.”