New Delhi: Art of Living’s World Culture Fest on the second day at Yamuna floodplain here started on Saturday with around 150 pandits chanting vedic hymns following a grand orchestra with 8,500 musicians playing 50 instruments.
As the event began today, 250 folk dancers from Madhya Pradesh performed traditional ‘Gudum Baja’.
Speaking at the event, Swathantranand Maharaj from Rishikesh said that the religious leaders play a huge role in bridging the distances of hearts.
Pakistan’s former I&B minister also participated in the event today. “All great nations can take the world to a future of prosperity,” she said.
Meanwhile, addressing at the event, Art of Living founder Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, whose cultural event on the floodplains of Yamuna is mired in controversy over violation of green norms, today once again sounded defiant, saying he will not pay any fine or penalty.
But, he said, he would wholeheartedly support the “developmement and restoration” of the venue where the event is being held.
Sri Sri further said, “The amount the National Green Tribunal had asked the AOL to pay was for restoration and not as a penalty.”
“All through, I have lived a spotless life. I have never been late to school. I have never paid fine, even of a single paisa. So, we said we will not pay any fine. But then I was told that this is not a fine or penalty. It was wrongly reported in newspapers.
“They said it was for the development here. We said, if this is for development and restoration, then we will whole-heartedly support this and put everything into this,” Sri Sri Ravi Shankar added.
Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh and External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj lauded Sri Sri Ravi Shankar today for conveying the message of “Indian spirituality and heritage” to the world.
Participating in the ongoing Fest, they said that the spiritual guru has “made all Indians proud with his work”.
“This is the biggest cultural event happened anywhere in the world ever… Gurudev Sri Sri Ravi Shankar has made us all proud as he has conveyed the message of Indian heritage and traditions to all over the world,” Singh in his address
Echoing similar sentiments, Sushma Swaraj said: “India is lucky as Sri Sri was born here.”
“The dias of Sri Sri Ravi Shankar is a perfect stage of secularism. Spiritual leaders from all the faiths are here and they are giving a message of religious harmony and respecting all the beliefs,” she said in her speech.
Prominent BJP leaders including Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Maharashtra Chief Ministers, Shivraj Singh Chouhan, Raman Singh, and Devendra Fadnavis respectively also shared the dais with the spiritual guru.
Delhi Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia was also present on the stage.
The NGT had on Wednesday allowed Art of Living Foundation to hold the festival but asked it to pay Rs 5 crore as environmental compensation for ecological damage.
However, yesterday the relief to the AOL Foundation came with a stinker from the green panel which took strong exception to Ravi Shankar’s remarks about refusal to pay Rs 5 crore and instead saying he would prefer to go to jail.
“When a man of his stature makes such statements, it hits the very rule of law. If anybody hurts the image of the tribunal, he will be taken to rule of law. Don’t treat tribunal as subject to your controversy with regard to the event,” a bench headed by NGT Chairperson Swatanter Kumar said, while directing AOL to pay Rs 25 lakh immediately after the organisation expressed difficulty in arranging Rs 5 crore in such a short period.
A spokesman for AOL Foundation today said the organisation has already deposited Rs 25 lakh.
The World Cultural Festival was inaugurated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi yesterday evening.
The three-day cultural extravaganza is being attended by thousands of people and delegates from a number of countries.
Being organised by Ravi Shankar’s The Art of Living Foundation (AOL), the festival, however, has been embroiled in controversy as environmentalists alleged that the event has damaged the ecology of Yamuna flood plains and demanded that it be stopped.
The National Green Tribunal (NGT) had on Wednesday asked AOL to pay Rs 5 crore as environmental compensation while clearing decks for the event.
However, yesterday the NGT asked them to pay Rs 25 lakh and the rest in next three weeks time after the AOL counsel said it was an NGO and not in a position to pay the amount in such a short period of time.