Inculcation through Performance—Chinmaya Mission’s Republic Day
As the little girl shyly smiled and walked up on stage in authentically designed attire, her tea-picking basket bounced gently behind her. The girl, dressed like a typical Assamese woman, was a carefully executed slice of miniature art, a result of generous research by the parents and teachers in charge of showcasing that Indian state.
On the morning of January 27, 2013, at Chinmaya Mission Alpharetta (CMA)’s Republic Day celebrations, the large auditorium at South Forsyth Middle School was brimming with immaculate craftsmanship—scores of youngsters from grades pre-K to 2 bustling around, each sporting representative pieces from various parts of the country: Punjab, Gujarat, Rajasthan, Maharashtra, Karnataka, etc. The large audience lapped up every moment as children walked on stage dressed as national icons like Tipu Sultan or broke into a folk dance or waved their placards or mouthed powerful one-liners, egged on by Arvind Malhotra, the master of ceremonies.
“A concept gets ingrained deeper into the kids’ minds when viewed as a performance. We always pick topics that are meaningful, as young minds are very impressionable,” says Sudha Malhotra, a teaching coordinator at CMA. This might be true even for adults, who probably took home a few nuggets themselves, e.g. Assam is the source of 25% of India’s petroleum. Darshan Shah, an active CMA member for the past seven years, sees these events as “an opportunity for kids to make friends outside school in a safe environment while learning about our culture.” Darshan’s two kids, Nilshika and Dhaumya, show great enthusiasm for the class, held almost every weekend.
Strikingly apparent was the amount of effort that had gone into this Republic Day function, from planning the states, selecting the specific features to flash on stage, recordings songs and voices, orchestrating the kids’ movements, coordinating the background music, synchronizing exits and entries, to managing the ever-eager parents who often need to be reminded of ground rules. Although the whole process has been honed over the years, no praise is adequate for the Celebration team that included Raji Ramchandra, Bhairavi Chandramouli, Subha Janakiraman, the logistics management team, preK-2nd grade teachers, and parent helpers.
It is selfless volunteering like this that has allowed CMA to burgeon from 25 kids in March 2001 to several hundred today. A spiritual organization, CMA’s main goal is to teach and practice, through various programs, the philosophy of Vedanta to people of all ages. Its Bala Vihar program, tailored for young minds, inculcates Indian history, festivals, leaders, languages, states, saints, idols, and other values in an attempt to preserve the inherent cultural roots in children. Darshan says, “As we are living away from India, these functions educate the next generation about where we came from, and the importance of learning our heritage.” CMA’s success has given them reason to dream big—of owning their Ashram space one day where they can conduct programs in their own backyard and invite spiritual leaders from the Chinmaya Mission organization, worrying little about the constraints of space and funds.
On Republic Day, while the little ones frisked and basked in traditional glory, youngsters 3rd grade and up indulged in writing and art competitions (coordinated by Bhavana Subramanian) on topics like “India through My Eyes,” and older ones 8th graders and up participated in hands-on seva projects and discussion forums.
Around late morning, with powerfully sung patriotic songs playing in the background, the door to the auditorium opened and a zealous line of children marched through systematically. The audience clapped, the announcers applauded, and the energy in the room was palpable. A little child waved a flag at her father in the audience and he waved back passionately, a spark of hope in his eyes, a hope that somehow all these activities will infuse an Indianness in young blood, an Indianness that is in danger of being lost in a foreign country.
It is this hope that all CMA members bear in their hearts as they envisage big days ahead where the organization can play grander roles in enriching lives, young and old.
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