Peace Through Dialogue 2007 - Peace Through Performing Arts

by Naresh Jain

This article was originally published on December 20, 2007 by HereNow4U

by Naresh Jain

This article was originally published on December 20, 2007 by HereNow4U

Outside my office window, the sky on September 11, 2001, was clear blue and beautiful. Shortly before 9 AM, while checking e-mail, I heard that a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center. I almost ran to the other side of our floor. In next two hours, we saw the second tower hit and collapse. Since then, September 11th has become a new date with a new meaning. In the weeks and months that followed, the thirst for knowledge took a different direction. People wanted to know more about Islam and other religions. They want a life where they understand each other and where there is hope for a better future.

When people were recovering from the disaster at the World Trade Center, where many New York and New Jersey residents perished, the Monmouth Center for World Religions and Ethical Thought held its first 'United We Sing' program to bring different faiths and communities together to start the process of healing. Children in colorful costumes from International Jain Sangh of New Jersey recited Namokar Mantra in that program attended by 14 faith groups. Since it was a big success, this program has been repeated every year on the last Sunday before Thanksgiving.

Bharatiya Vidya Bahvan organized the second Ahimsa Diwas (Day of Nonviolence) program in New York on May 11, 2003. A highlight of this program was an interfaith seminar on "Ahimsa: A Religious perspective". We included a prayer "Iswar Allah Tero Naam" choreographed by a Bharat Natyam artist Divya Jain. The dancers in the background had placards of many religious symbols. The item was very well received. Artistic performances and colorful costumes seemed to be doing the trick. After all, art and music know no political and religious boundaries.

The gyrating motions of the 'Whirling Dervishes' dance from the Sufi sect of Islamic mysticism in the 2004 Barcelona Parliament of World's Religions were spellbinding. The Sacred Music Concert held outdoors in the Sagrada Familia Church premises was the most attended event during the eight-day Parliament. Over 5,000 participants from around the globe representing every religion practiced on earth rose from their seats listening to the beats and rhythms of the Sheva, Jewish and Muslim music ensemble from Israel with roots in Hebrew, Arabic and Tribal cultures. They sang, clapped and danced together that evening. JAINA had sponsored two youth in the Barcelona Parliament Academy Scholarship, Nirav Shah from Connecticut and Karishma Shah from U.K. In the closing ceremony we were amazed to watch Nirav perform on violin at the stage with other youth. Later we learned that music had made him popular among youth from around the world. Dance and music is a great way to keep the youth connected with our traditions.

Watching the reaction of participants in several interfaith events, we learnt that performing arts is a great communication media to promote peace and harmony. A Jain symbol included with other major religions on stage generated curiosity among those unaware about the existence of this religion.

When JAINA decided to participate in the "Global Congress of World's Religions After September 11" to be held in Montreal in 2006, we discussed that the Jain community should host an entire evening divine music program 'DharmaMusic Concert'. The Executive Committee agreed and the Montreal Jain Association, Jain Society of Toronto and International Jain Sangh of New Jersey offered their artists. The two hour program coordinated by Hemali Ajmera of Montreal included a rhythmic dance on a favorite prayer of Mahatma Gandhi, a classical dance on human values, a dance for unity, chanting of mantras and short plays sharing ahimsa and inter-religious experiences; among other items. The audience rose and danced to the music and lyrics of the last item embracing all religions by the Satya Sai Center of Montreal. The performance by the beautifully costumed artists had incredible choreography by Jaya Srivastava-Chawla, a Bharata Natyam dance teacher from La Troupe Lasya of Montreal; Puja Amin, an Artistic Director of the Sanskriti Dance and Yoga Center in Toronto; and Divya Jain, a dance guru from the Creations Dance Academy in Edison, New Jersey. The items included English, French, Sanskrit and other Indian languages. Translation in English and French was provided.

The Montreal Dharma Music Concert was very successful. Those who attended can hardly forget that evening. The opening ceremonies of the UNESCO Forum in Monterrey, Mexico, will be held during September 2007. Based on the performance in the Montreal event, the Monterrey organizers have invited JAINA for an artistic performance item depicting peace and harmony. The next (fifth) Parliament of World's Religions will be held in Melbourne, Australia in December 2009. For Jains that could provide an opportunity to bring Mahavir's message of Nonviolence to the worldwide community through organized participation including performing arts.

In essence, dance, music and rhythms have no barriers. We may identify ourselves as Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Jain or a Muslim, but we are humans first. If we all could sing and dance happily together, the world would be a wonderful and peaceful place to live.

Published with the author’s permission

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