Remembering Mahatma Gandhi on His 136th Birthday
Like five fingers forming a strong fist, five leading organizations (the National Federation of Indian American Associations, India American Cultural Association, the Hindu Temple of Atlanta, the Gujarati Samaj of Atlanta, and the Jain Society of Greater Atlanta) lent their solid support to the Gandhi Foundation of USA (GFUSA) in celebrating the 136th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi in the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic District. And to strengthen this gesture of togetherness were the following organizations: Senior Citizens Inc., Victory over Violence International Campaign, Georgia Indian American Republican Council, the International Farmers Market and other supporting individuals. The joyous celebrations began on the crisp, sunny morning of Saturday, October 1st. The Honorable S.M. Gavai, the newly appointed Houston Consul General, graced the occasion.
Composed and confident Master and Mistress of Ceremonies, Viren Mayani and Vinita Thaper, GFUSA Board members, welcomed all. Petite Krishna Shah (daughter of Ms. Minal Shah of the Jain Society) recited "aum namo arihantanam," the best-known namokar mantra of the Jains, in her sweet voice.
Hon. Gavai, flanked by the attendees in their colorful Indian attire and cheerful school children in their smart uniforms, lighted the traditional lamp (diya) and garlanded the resplendent Gandhi Statue. GFUSA Assistant Executive Director and Gandhi Center USA Director of Operations, H.V.Shivadas, led the audience in singing Gandhiji's favorite bhajan "Raghupati Raghava." In his speech, Honorable Gavai remarked that both Gandhi and Dr. King were not only great men but were ideals. Complimenting the GFUSA, he said that the statue establishes a very visible link between the two great world icons, which touched the souls of millions around the world. He referred to the recent natural disasters ? Tsunami, Katrina and Rita ? which wreaked unimaginable havoc and of how India rose to the occasion every time and contributed its help on each occasion, exemplifying the legacy of Gandhiji and Dr. King.
Consul General Gavai then led the audience in a Peace March through the King Center to the historic Ebenezer Baptist Church where the main program was staged. At the Ebenezer, where Dr. King preached, H.V. Shivadas once again led the audience into singing "Let there be Peace on Earth," which carries a message of unity through diversity. Shivadas introduced Dan Sanborn, a teacher in Dallas, Georgia, for the Department of Juvenile Justice, who will be working with the Gandhi Foundation of USA in non-violent conflict resolution programs for troubled school children. The Deputy Executive Director, GFUSA, Antony Thaliath welcomed the gathering. He also made an appeal for donations for the proposed Gandhi Center, USA, creating a "Triangle of Peace" in the MLK National Historic District, which would include the King Center, the Carter Center and the Gandhi Center.
Guest speaker Frank Catroppa, of the National Park Service, alluded to the "Let there be Peace on Earth" hymn and said, "Like Gandhi and Dr. King, we must strive for peace on earth. You have to believe in yourself. One person can make a difference. Both Gandhi and Dr. King proved that."
NFIA President Dr. Rajan Anand began by thanking the GFUSA and the NFIA's past and present officials who had traveled from all over the nation to participate in the Gandhi's birthday celebrations. Gandhi's core philosophy was non-violence. But to Gandhi, non-violence was not mere absence of violence, but non-violence coupled with absence of hatred, and absence of any thoughts of retaliation, or revenge, for he had said, "An eye for an eye would only make the whole world blind." To Gandhi, secularism meant respect for all religions. When asked, "Are you a Hindu?" he had replied, "Yes, I am a Hindu, but I am also a Muslim, I am also a Buddhist, I am also a Christian and I am also a Jew."
In her thoughtful speech, Ms. Minal Shah, a practicing Jain, spoke about Shrimad Rajchandrabhai, a friend, philosopher and guide who instilled in Gandhi a strong sense of reverence for all living beings, including animals. Jain philosophy had a huge impact on Gandhi's worldview. Ahimsa (non-violence) is compassion, understanding, truth, tolerance and non-aggression. She described it as something to be practiced in daily life, in one's thoughts, actions and non-actions. Gandhiji was a true embodiment of ahimsa.
Subash Razdan, the founding member and currently the acting Chairman of the GFUSA, thanked the NFIA representatives for attending the program and then introduced the special guest, the Honorable Consul General, S.M.Gavai, who was born in Pune, Maharashtra and has a highly impressive track record of service in the Indian Foreign Service, including as High Commissioner, Maldives, before joining the Houston Consulate. The Consul-General echoed Frank Catroppa's remarks that individuals can make a difference. He said he was heartened to see many youngsters in the audience and complimented GFUSA for inspiring the young generation, who would keep the legacy of Gandhi and Dr. King alive. As a jubilant tribute to Gandhiji, the talented Megan Philkana and Tanya Kasmvis of Ravihri Komanduri School of Dance performed a scintillating classical dance. The GFUSA's annual awards were presented by Consul General S.M.Gavai in the presence of community leaders.
In her eloquent address, Dr. Uma Majmudar, a Gandhian scholar and recent author of her debut book, Gandhi's Pilgrimage of Faith: From Darkness to Light, spoke about Gandhi and his faith. Gandhi was influenced by the thoughts of intellectuals like Thoreau, Emerson, Tolstoy, Tagore and Ruskin. He also had a spiritual mentor in Shrimad Rajchandra, the Jain scholar. Faith according to Gandhi is not something to be grasped, but is an inner quest of the soul. "It must begin with you. Be the change that you wish to see," Dr. Majmudar concluded.���
Giriraj Rao profusely thanked all the participating organizations, community members, and steadfast members of the GFUSA, whose collective efforts are making the celebrations better and better. He complimented H.V.Shivadas for designing the colorful and artistic program and the new GFUSA Poster, which will serve as the visual representation of the GFUSA for the next decade. The image, titled "Pillars of Peace, The Inspiration and Legacy of Mahatma Gandhi," features a photo of Gandhiji surrounded by photos of those who influenced the development of his philosophy, as well as those who were influenced by his life and legacy and continue his work today. "I urge the youth to come forward and carry the torch. And finally I seek your support for the Gandhi Center USA," he concluded.
All the attendees stood up and joined hands in singing the Civil Rights song "We shall overcome," led by H.V.Shivadas. After the ceremonial cutting of Gandhi's birthday cake, the congregation was served a delicious lunch catered by Atlanta's well-known South Indian Caf�.
- Mahadev Desai
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