Imagine a Graduate School, which has all the major world religions being taught side by side on one campus. Imagine Jews, Christians, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Jains, Sikhs and a great many others studying in classrooms, learning about each other’s religions and traditions, in common classrooms, working on their MA and PhD programs. Welcome to the Graduate Theological Union (GTU), the world’s largest multi-religious Graduate School, situated in the University of California, Berkeley campus.
Dharma Civilization Foundation was instrumental in launching the first ever Center for Dharma Studies in the Western world at the GTU, in December 2015, thanks to a generous gift of $4.4 million from Dr. Ajay and Mira Shingal.
Now imagine this: 150 singers; on stage; clad in coordinated sarees or kurta-pyjamas. Brown, white, black faces among them, singing Sanskrit verses and songs. A full western chamber orchestra. And 40 dancers: ballet, Indian classical, martial arts.
Welcome to an encore performance of Shanti – A Journey of Peace, brought to the Bay Area by Dharma Civilization Foundation. The creator of Shanti, Dr. Kanniks Kannikeswaran, has a PhD in Music from Madras University, and is trained in the classical music traditions of India – both from the South and the North. He discovered the discipline and beauty of arranged music as exemplified by the western Choir and Orchestra, when he was a student at the University of Cincinnati and set upon a mission to put the two together. Shanti was born in 2004 and since then has seen many incarnations, but with a difference: Rather than have a dedicated set of artists that travel to perform, Kanniks draws from the local community (desi and non-desi) where Shanti is being presented.
Kannikeswaran, summarizes the spirit of Shanti, “When I envisioned Shanti, the picture I had in my mind was that of a large choir of Indian and Western singers in the center, an Indian orchestra on one side, a western orchestra on the other and dancers in the center, in front, and multimedia on the side. The music expresses the story, the message, and the dance brings an additional dimension to the expression.”
This message of Shanti resonated with Dharma Civilization Foundation, which was trying to create for the first time, an MA and PhD program in Hindu Studies at the Graduate Theological Union, and complete the table of the world’s religions in one educational campus. “Shanti embodies the possibilities for concord amongst the world’s civilizations rather than their clash,” says Prof. Shiva Bajpai, President, Dharma Civilization Foundation.
Usha Srinivasan of Sangam Arts volunteered to put together the dance elements of Shanti, which she achieved by pulling together numerous groups: dancers with Yokayam led by Surabhi Bharadwaj; Guru Shraddha (odissi) led by Niharika Mohanty; Xpressions (folk) artistically directed by Srividya Eashwar; Tarangini (kathak) led by Anuradha Nag; NewGround Theater, led by Coleen Lorenz. There are also independent dancers, including Ganesh Vasudeva, Vinay Srinivasan, Navia Natrajan, and Samidha Satyam. “Sangam Arts is about creating social connections, Shanti presented an opportunity to do this on an unprecedented scale,” adds Srinivasan.
Artistic Director Colleen Lorenz who founded AUM (Arts Unity Movement), a name she especially liked because of its namesake aum – the primordial sound and vibration in Indian culture, brought her New Ground Theater to Shanti and will perform a piece called “Gange” depicting the great river of India. “Gange is a profoundly moving composition for me! I sense both the strength and grace of Gange’s current flowing through me when I hear the music. For me, Gange expresses the dimensions of our own soul,” says Lorenz.
Shanti is a celebratory production with many dimensions. Dharma Civilization Foundation would like to dedicate honor the person who inspired the creation of the Center for Dharma Studies at the GTU, Pujya Swami Dayananda Saraswati,Convener, Hindu Dharma Acharya Sabha and Founder, Arsha Vidya Gurukulam. “Shanti is a grand theatrical performance involving many artists and musical instruments, all brought together to enjoy the experience of harmony of different expressions of culture, without losing each one’s individuality. This is what is required by humanity—a capacity to enjoy each other, without the pressure to change and bring others to the melting pot of one’s own culture. A program like “Shanti” makes us appreciate the riches of global culture, ” adds Swamiji.
Please join the Shanti team for its encore performance on October 1st, and experience the magic of Shanti!
October 1st, 3-5.30 p.m., Oakland Mormon Temple, Interstake Center Auditorium, 4780 Lincoln Ave., Oakland. $40-$100; Tickets:www.purplepass.com/shanti2016