One of the path-breaking highlights of the recent World Culture Festival in Delhi was the unwavering commitment of the artistes. Usually, artistes would refuse to perform on a wet or unsuitable floor. In this case, they stood committed to their performance despite being fully drenched and having to perform on soaking carpets on the opening day of the festival. They did it as a tapasya. The artistes who came from across the globe, spending their own money, waited hours to perform for the few minutes allotted to each country. With overwhelming requests from celebrity artists and groups, the team in-charge of the cultural programs had a tough time juggling to accommodate each country’s rendition.
The Cosmic Rhythm dance drama got over 4,600 dancers to perform 30 dance types in perfect synchronization with just one physical rehearsal! The beautiful performance was pulled off only through virtual rehearsals for months over video conference.
Managing to accommodate all the performances, dignitaries and over 2500 religious leaders with unique requirements was not an easy task. A senior cleric of a religious sect insisted that he could not be on the stage while there was music playing. So, we had to set aside one hour for talks only with no music! The people’s eagerness to be part of the festival was tremendous. We had to organize a Veena ensemble in Bangalore on 19th March 2016 to accommodate 2000-odd artists who were eager to join the Grand Symphony of over 50 instruments, but couldn’t do so owing to the logistical difficulties. Since the conclusion of the festival, requests to organize the next edition have been pouring in from several governments around the world.
Reports of possible terror attacks kept everyone on their toes. Five unidentified people came to our office posing as intelligence officers and wanted 50 all-access passes for themselves. Intuitively our person in charge, called the Intelligence office only to be told they have not sent anybody. By then, these people had escaped!
There were also rumours of some politicians trying to create disturbance by bringing rowdy elements to the ground, which gained credence as the politicians had got a few tutored farmers who owned no land in the area to come on camera and sit on a so-called dharna (protest).
Some people also made a lot of noise about the Indian Army constructing pontoon bridges to facilitate easy movement of the public. The Army steps in even when a child falls into a well. It’s the duty of the governments to ensure the safety of the public and the Delhi government did the right thing by approaching the Defence Ministry to construct the bridges. The Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand governments also constructed bridges.
Contrary to the perception created by few activists that the event was harmful to the area, it actually brought multiple benefits to the city. Many people from remote places in North East and South India saw Delhi for the first time and so did many of the 20,000 international visitors. The live webcast which was simultaneously translated in English and other languages was watched by 1.8 billion people in 7 lakh locations.
An Engineering Marvel
Amidst all this, we also pulled off an engineering marvel by building such a gigantic stage without a foundation. To meet the guidelines of not digging the ground, we came up with a design to hold up a 40-feet high stage on just long tubular structures that were fitted onto large metal plates on the ground!
The idea of a floating stage was initially met with skepticism from engineers and authorities who all thought it was simply a joke. Even the court didn’t believe that we had erected such a stage without digging the ground. We had to even create a separate stage for the Prime Minister in just eight hours as his office would not let him take the stage due to safety considerations. It’s understandable that innovative ideas usually attract initial resistance.
An event with many lessons
On the morning of the second day of the festival, the main organizers came to me urging to shift the venue to Yamuna Sports Complex as the forecast predicted further thunderstorm. They reasoned that rainwater would have seeped into the LED screens, there were chances of short-circuits and the place had become very wet and muddy as we had not done any compaction. I could see a shadow of worry on the faces of these people trying to convince me to shift the venue to a place which could hold only 15,000 people.
I just smiled and said the program will go on at the same venue. Usually we are very democratic and take the opinions of everyone but in this case I put my foot down. In seconds, all the concerns disappeared and they said they were ready to take on the challenge. From then on, it was a great show and Nature fully cooperated. It was a historic mega event with many lessons! We hope people who were expecting the program to fail also got the lesson that truth will always prevail and anything done with a clean heart will always be successful.
The event was full of interesting anecdotes regarding the venue, housing, security, transportation, passes, parking, food and most of all, seating arrangements. A fortnight later, when Dr Rakesh Ranjan, an environmentalist and a scholar, met with me, he mentioned that the place where the WCF was held is where Adi Shankaracharya wrote the Yamunastakam and that the char dham yatras used to begin from there. It’s no coincidence that the area is still called Ashram. Everything that is material has an ethereal component. While the physical phenomena focus on the immediate cause and effect, the ethereal component which is ruled by subtle and sublime karma needs a deeper insight and understanding. Once you understand this, nothing can shake you.
What would have happened in the worst-case scenario? The NGT could have stopped our event and we would have probably marched down the Rajpath with the thousands of artists who had already arrived from all around the globe. Our message of a One World Family would have gone out anyway.
Though the Art of Living is a victim of conspiracy even now, it would have become very apparent then and probably the whole media would have been on our side.
All the way what shone through was the undying smile and the confidence on the faces of the thousands of volunteers. On one hand it was stunning and on the other, it was expected.