I have a smile that has not left my face for the past week. I am high from being in the midst of over a million people from all over the world – people from different ethnicities, countries, and cultures – who came together in one place to celebrate Unity in Diversity at the World Culture Festival (WCF), 2023.
World Culture Festival
From September 29 to October 1, 2023, the verdant lawns of the National Mall in the heart of our nation’s capital, Washington DC played host to the WCF. This festival represented the teachings and vision of Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, spiritual leader of the Art of Living Foundation, fondly referred to by his disciples as Gurudev.
The Art of Living Foundation is a largely volunteer-run non-profit organization teaching yoga and meditation based on a simple breathing technique developed by Gurudev called the Sudarshan Kriya. For 42 years, it has transformed the lives of millions by alleviating stress and creating a sense of belonging among the participants.
This monumental event brought together hundreds of thousands of people from over 150 different countries with 7,000 diverse cultural artists, entertainers and speakers celebrating Unity, Love and Peace. The dazzling tapestry of colors, dances and songs representing different cultures of the world was a feast to the senses.
The speakers included dignitaries from the US and other parts of the world. US Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy thanked Gurudev for his deep wisdom and for bringing the world together. He noted that the current mental health crisis in the US is a result of loneliness and isolation and that events like these are necessary to remind us of our connection to one another.
Hundreds of Art of Living volunteers gave their time and energy to organize events that brought a smile to every face.
Euphoria and energy in the air
Euphoria and positivity filled the air. Rows of tents lining both sides of the lawns offered a variety of activities. A Kid Zone area had arts and crafts tents for kids. Meditation Oasis tents offered guided meditation sessions to those interested. At multiple stands, people were given heart cutouts and markers to write down what their hopes for the world were and hang them on a banner titled “Love Moves The World”. One common theme emerged from the words written by thousands of attendees – “Kindness, Acceptance, Love, Dignity and Peace.”
A taste of world cuisines
At the event lawn, the World Cafe served tasty snacks and beverages including masala chai and mango lassi. Beyond the lawns of the National Mall, streets lined with over 85 food trucks offered tasty cuisines from around the world. I tried food from Haiti, Lebanon, and Thailand.
On Friday evening, DC Mayor Muriel Bowser warmly welcomed thousands of people who came to DC to attend the festival. Several heads of state and speakers shared their thoughts on world peace including former Secretary of the United Nations, Mr. Ban Ki-Moon. Several heads of state from Columbia, Argentina, Poland, and Japan invited Gurudev to host the next WCF in their country.
On Saturday morning, Gurudev led yoga and meditation at the Lincoln Memorial. It was a treat to watch thousands of people practicing yoga side by side.
A celebration of diversity
The evenings celebrated diversity with scintillating dance and music performances from around the world. A Saturday evening sunset cast an ethereal light across the thousands of people sitting on the lawns of the Mall. I felt a sense of oneness and peace permeate the crowd – a breathtaking scene that will forever be etched in my memory.
The catchy music of the Go-Go band had people dancing on the lawn. I especially loved the vibrant energy of the African drums and dance performers. During the Ukrainian folk dance, the lead singer thanked the world for the love and support of his country. From Afghanistan, dervishes swirled to mystical Sufi music that sounded very similar to the Sanskrit notes of Sa Re Ga Ma Pa – it spoke to my soul.
On Sunday morning, Hip Hop bands celebrated 50 years of Hip Hop culture with energetic performances. The Hip Hop and K-pop dancers got everyone in the audience dancing to their tunes. This event ended with another meditation led by Gurudev as the deep and magical sound of Swiss Alp horns played in the background. This was perhaps the largest gathering of people meditating together in Washington DC. After the meditation, once again I could feel a palpable sense of calm and joy permeating the audience.
One world family
I have been practicing the Art of Living’s kriya and meditation techniques for the past 20 years and have watched myself transform into a happy, calm, and grounded person who can face the vicissitudes of life with a smile. I feel blessed and privileged to be a part of this historic three-day event. I left the event with a sense of expansion and universal love that I hope will remain with me for several days.
We are all different in so many ways but there is just one common string of humanness that binds us all together. It’s a concept that Gurudev constantly refers to as “Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam” or “One World Family”.
We belong to each other.
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