July 25th-27th, 2003
Shunya was invited to perform at the Global Dharma Conference 2003 in July in Edison, New Jersey. In the international concert, Shunya shared a stage with STEM Dance, Shanti Shanti, and a headlining performance by Ustaad Zakir Hussain, L. Shankar & Gingger, and Shivamani!
Shunya brought a touch of theatre to the over 1500 strong audience by performing “Without A Script” written & directed by Soham Mehta and featuring Rishi Goswami, Radhika Dinavahi, Ninaad Vaidya, and Soham Mehta.
History was made at 11:00 AM on Friday, July 25th as NJ Assemblyman Upendra Chivukla officially inaugurated the Global Dharma Conference that was held in Edison, NJ this past weekend and as former NJ Senator Leon opened a cultural exhibition on dharma that was prepared by youth volunteer Utsav Chakrovorty. The spectacular three-day even t was the largest event ever organized by the second-generation Indian American community and brought together approximately two thousand primarily youth attendees from across the world. The Hindu Students Council (HSC), with over seventy unive rsity chapters nationwide, was the primary driver behind such an attempt to introduce the universal concept of dharma to the larger community and initiate dialogue on important global concerns. World-renowned speakers, fulfilling discussion sessions , and exciting cultural programming captivated conference attendees as they engaged the topic of dharma and interacted with likeminded individuals.
The main Friday afternoon attraction was quite appropriately a diaspora session where youth leaders from five different continents narrated their personal experience with social service work in different communities. Dharmesh Mistry, president of the National Hindu Students Forum, U.K. informed t he audience about the role of South-Asian youth in raising awareness on Hindu heritage and spiritual lifestyle in Europe and Australia. Saumitra Gokhle, a social activist from Caribbean, presented a pictorial history of the evolution of different co mmunities in Guyana, Surinam and Trinidad. Anand Shah, a Harvard graduate who has been working with tribal communities in India through Indicorps emphasized, “a common belief in the effort to understand ourselves is what brings us together to ; search for the meaning of dharma. As Indians who live abroad it is essential that we understand what India means to us as Individuals, and more importantly what we mean to India.”
Friday evening activities continued with a plenary session that highlighted the relevance of dharma to various aspects of life. New Jersey Governor James McGreevey opened the session with an explanation that “Dharma is the law of the universe, and of life, mind, and consciousness” and that “you must be the change that you want to see in this world.” Dr. Murli Manohar Joshi, India’s Human Resource Development Minister, similarly urged second generation Indian Americans to utilize their heritage from the e ast and resources from the west to show a new path to the world: “Principles of Dharma will help you to strike the golden balance of your rights and duties.” Internationally acclaimed speaker Dr. Deepak Chopra echoed these sentiments as he emphasize d the close relationship between modern science and spirituality and that it would frankly be irresponsible if “upholders of dharma, do not usher a new age of humanity.”
Friday night bhangra/raas festivities and special performance by international pop-star Apache Indian continued until 1:30 AM, but conference participants were awake and ready early the next morning for an intensive day of workshops, debates, and discussions. Leading experts in a variety of fields explored the themes of dharma and self, dharma and family, dharma and society, and dharma and the world as nine different breakout sessions occurred at one time and covered topics ranging from Brainwaves of a Yogi to Dharma for Sustainable Development an d Good Governance. Participants found Saturday’s parallel sessions especially fulfilling as they were able to interact with speakers and attendees in groups that ranged from as small as ten to as large as three hundred. Among the large num ber of
incredibly rich sessions that were offered, participants were especially impressed with Kiran Bedi’s talk on crime and punishment, Brother Reuben Thuku’s views on religion and conflict, Rita Sherma and Anju Bh! argava’s discussion on dharma and women, Jeffrey Armstrong’s ideas on Personalities of the Mahabharata, and Subhash Kak and George Sudarshan’s understanding of the close relationship between quantum physics and religious realities.
Following the afternoon sessions, an international concert was held where respected artists Zakir Hussain, L. Shankar and Gingger, and Shivamani played together for the very first time. Their combination of tabla, double violin, and percussion absolutely spell bounded the audience as did a performance by STEM dance theatre that explored dharma through nonverbal communication. In a play titled “Without a Script”, the Houston-based Shunya theater group enacted the moral dilemma faced by the young generation in daily life an d actress Goldie Hawn addressed conference participants via live videoconference. The Shanti-Shanti sisters stole the hearts of everyone with their melodious chanting of mantras and particularly inspired Indian America! n youth to learn more about their heritage. The Shanti Shanti Sisters are of American origin and are the only Sanskrit rock band in the world. They kept the audience cheering till 1 am in the morning.
The final day of the conference was also me morable as an interfaith panel discussed the universal appeal of dharma and importance of international harmony. Some of the panel speakers included Gurudev Chitrabhanu – spiritual head of the Jain Meditation Center; Swami Dayananda Saraswati -spiri tual head of the Arsha Vidya Gurukul and head of the advisory council for the conference; Dr. David Frawley (Pt Vamadeva Shastri), Director of Institute of Vedic Studies, Anand Amarjit Singh, Honorary-Affiliate of the Sikh tradition at the United Nations; and Mr. Bawa Jain, Secretary-General of the World Peace Summit. Following the panel, the President of India, Dr. A.P.J.
Abdul Kalam Azad, addressed participants via live videoconference and exhorted Indian youth l! iving in different parts of the world to become ”enlightened citizens” and contribute to the cause of a “happy, prosperous and peaceful India.” His interactive style and insightful comments undoubtedly contributed a great deal to the conference experience . Live video messages from Jagadguru Sankaracharya of Kanchi and Pramukh Swami of BAPS were also an important part of Sunday’s ceremonies and especially significant considering that Sankaracharyas are not meant to cross the boundaries of ocean and space.
The first-ever Global Dharma Conference came to an emotional close as key conference organizers shared their own sentiments and commented on the success of the conference. Conference public relations director Nikunj Trivedi, in his vote of thanks, urged all attendees to act dharmically, quoting from scriptures and speaking in Sanskrit “Those who protect Dharma, Dharma will protect.” Kanchan Banerjee, coordinator of HSC and chairman of the Dharma Conference Committee, offered, “that the gathering of youth in the Dharma Conference would create a momentum that would have global impact.” He also recognized the incredible amount of effort that youth volunteers from all of the country had investe d in the success of the conference. Rakhi Israni, who was the conference program director and one such volunteer, commented that this was a “life time opportunity to work with and to see that the efforts of the young generation made such a huge impa ct in the minds of young and old alike.” Conference transportation and accommodations director, Rishi Bhutada, echoed such emotions: “This conference was totally organized by youth, and the conference organizers felt it was a smashing success. The time and energy put in by the youth volunteers, especially from the Hindu Students Council, coupled with advice from adults, made this conference a tremendous achievement.” While the Global Dharma Conference! 2003 came to an end on July 27th, it was obvious from the excitement and motivation of the youth volunteers and organizers that another such event is certainly in the near horizon.