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Ekal Vidyalaya and Gandhi Foundation support literacy in rural India

August 2007
Ekal Vidyalaya and Gandhi Foundation support literacy in rural India

The Path to Peace, a fundraising event for Ekal Vidyalaya and the Gandhi Foundation USA (GFUSA), held at the Rialto Center for the Arts on Saturday, June 23, 2007, was a one-of-a-kind evening, coordinated to enhance the legacy of Gandhi and Martin Luther King, as well as to promote the devotion necessary to bring better standards of living to the impoverished villages and tribal areas of India.

The program divided into two parts was emceed by Viren Mayani with introductions by Chander Aggarwal and Dr. Giriraj Rao from Ekal Vidyalaya and GFUSA respectively. The first part of the program, the Prelude, featured presentations by Anthony Thaliath on the mission and activities of the GFUSA, and by Dr. Basant Tariyal, Chief Executive of Ekal Vidyalaya Global, made a highly informative PowerPoint presentation about the Ekal Vidyalaya movement.

Ekal's philosophy is based on Swami Vivekananda's idea that ‘If the child cannot go to the school, let the school go to the child.' Literacy rates in India are about 65% for males, 40% for females. However, in tribal and remote areas of India, where schools are too far away for most to attend, these numbers drop to 12% and 5% respectively. A per capita income of $30 reflects the lack of education.

The mission of Ekal Vidyalaya movement is to empower these tribal and remote area populations. A Rupee a day educates a child, and a dollar a day educates a village with 30 to 40 children. Dr. Tariyal himself was educated in a one-room schoolhouse. Indian Americans are the richest community in the world today, one of the key factors being education in India, paid for by the people of India. However, these 100 million people in the remote areas of India do not get their fair share.

The prelude also featured a dance and vocal rendition of Mahatma Gandhi's favorite bhajan, "Vaishnava Janato," by Nritya Natya Kala Bharati Academy. The dance was choreographed by Kumud Savla and accompanied by Sandeep Savla on vocals and keyboard, Pankaj Bhargave on vocals and harmonium, and Dr. Shekhar Pendalwar on tabla. Dancers were Sapta Savla, Dina Thapar, Ishita Chowdia, Shreya Seth, and Jaya Mallik.

The Sur Srota Rabindrasangeet Choir reverberated the Rialto with three songs of Rabindranath Tagore rendered in mellifluous melodies and harmonies, to celebrate the music of peace and to call everyone to action. Singers were Nasir Ahmed, Nisha Ahmed, Riyadh Ahmed, Sharmeen Omar-Ahmed, Rupa Bhaumik, Saibal Sengupta, Santanu Kar, Suzanne Sen, and Amitava Sen. The music featured Amitava Sen on violin and keyboards, Tirthankar Dasgupta on the tabla, and Subra Viswanathan on the ghatam.

After a brief intermission, the main program, "The Path to Peace" by Arch Inc., New York City, kept the audience enthralled with superb dances, choreographed by Sridhar Shanmugam. Shanmugham is an internationally acclaimed dancer from Tamil Nadu, India, and recipient of dance awards bestowed by the Governments of India, Italy and Great Britain. The other dancers of this group were from South Korea, Haiti, Columbia, Taiwan, Thailand and Spain. The legacy of Gandhi inspired Shanmugham to take an extraordinary dance pilgrimage globally to tell the story of inner realization.

Shanmugham enthralled the rapt audience with his opening classical invocatory prayer dance to an outstanding score composed by Andrew Sherman, a brilliant musician long associated with Phillip Glass, which also included uplifting shlokas. It took almost a year to create this dance which was divided into segments emphasizing Truth, Faith, Love, Fearlessness, Satyagraha, Ahimsa, Freedom and Democracy & Peace.

Each segment was a tapestry of classical dances, yoga moves, combined with devotional and patriotic fervor. The live footage of historic events in Gandhi's illustrious life and Gandhi's insightful quotes provided a perfect background for the Path to Peace.

"Art is not the last priority in our life," explained Shanmugam, "but a necessity to bring all of us together, breaking boundaries, breaking borders, creating awareness, educating ourselves to understand that we need to be together forever, to create the peace which we are looking for deep within." The music was composed by Andrew Sterman, the lead musician of the Philip Glass Ensemble.

Swami Yogeshananda, introduced by Subhash Razdan, gave awards of appreciation to the artists, and said, "I am thrilled at the way in which the basic Indian concept of interpretive dance has been adapted and molded into international expression. I am proud to have been having my two feet one on each side of the ocean."

After a vote of thanks by Manhar Valand, the evening ended with a reception and dinner catered by Bhojanic. To learn more about Ekal Vidyalaya please visit www.ekalindia.org

~ Amitava Sen & Mahadev Desai

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