New Delhi: Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s message to critics of the mega cultural event organised by Sri Sri Ravi Shankar’s Art of Living was delivered not just in his brief speech today, but also in the time he spent at the festival, which began in Delhi this evening.
For about two hours, the Prime Minister watched music and dance performances and sat through many speeches before he made his, saying, “India has a cultural heritage that the whole world seeks…If we keep denigrating ourselves, criticise everything, then why will the world look at us? That is only possible when we are proud of our heritage.”
The three-day extravaganza has been cloaked in controversy for days with environmentalists alleging that the festival, spread over 1,000 acres on the Yamuna river’s floodplains, has done irreversible damage to the delicate ecosystem.
Opposition parties have accused the Narendra Modi government of going out of its way to facilitate the function, being attended by lakhs from around the world and described by spiritual guru Sri Sri Ravi Shankar as a “cultural Olympics.”
The three-day extravaganza has been cloaked in controversy for days with environmentalists alleging that the festival has done irreversible damage to the delicate ecosystem.
“I want to congratulate Sri Sri Ravi Shankar that within 35 years of the mission it is working in over 35 nations with this strength and has made them its own,” PM Modi said.
He repeatedly spoke of the “art of living”, which he described variously as “walking firm with your ideals…walking with your dreams in difficult times…living for others not for yourself…and, when we move from I to we.”
Organisers said the festival – which also features mass meditation sessions and prayers led by Sanskrit scholars — is being webcast in 12,000 cities in 134 countries.
“Yes, this is a private party, because the entire world is my family,” said Sri Sri in his speech, appearing to respond to his critics. He has emphatically denied that his festival has caused environmental damage.
Art of Living has been ordered by the country’s top environmental court to pay Rs. 5 crore towards restoring the area. The foundation said it could not pay 5 crore before the festival began at 5 pm today, as directed by the NGT, but promised to pay Rs. 25 lakh first and the rest over three weeks.