A diverse festival of of cultural, athletic, musical and spiritual events concluded in Queens, New York just last week. The two-week celebration took place to commemorate 76 years in the life of Sri Chinmoy, who over the past forty years has gained international acclaim for his contributions to philosophy, world harmony and interfaith relations. The wide array of events was intended to serve as a living demonstration that every kind of human talent – including art, music, theatre, athletics, and poetry – has a role to play in bring about a better world.
The two-week festival was graced by the presence of the musician Boris Purushottama Grebenshikov, a household name in his native Russia, and whose band, Aquarium, were involved in many of the landmark steps towards full artistic freedom as Russia emerged from Communist rule. On August 29th, Boris played a solo concert in the United Nations to enthusiastic acclaim (see separate blog entry for more details); a few days earlier, the same building had also played host to an all-female ensemble from the Sri Chinmoy Centre who have performed concerts of meditative music to audiences all around the world for the past 25 years. Many other musical performances took place over the two weeks; one particularly notable performance on August 18th featured an 80-strong orchestra led by Swiss musician Panchajanya Burri, performing a multi-part arrangement of the legendary Bangladeshi composer Kazi Nazrul Islam’s immortal song He Partha Sarathi. A classical music evening took place on August 28th, where performers from all over the world performed classical and folk arrangements from their own countries.
An unmistakeable highlight of the event was the unveiling of the largest pencil ever created, a 76 foot long monster weighing in at an enormous 18,000 pounds, built by an international volunteer team led by Ashrita Furman (see separate blog entry for more details). During the two-week period, Ashrita also set four other Guinness records, including an amazing three in the space of just one day – performing 36 deep knee bends on a Swiss balancing ball without falling off, catching a water balloon thrown from a distance of 64 feet without bursting it, and running a mile in just over nine minutes whilst simultaneously bouncing three balls on the ground! A few days later he also achieved a long-cherished goal of breaking the record for balancing the most glasses on his chin. This record was a particularly gratifying one for Ashrita, as he had been trying unsuccesfully to break it for years.
A selection of Sri Chinmoy’s paintings created between 2004 and 2007 were also displayed as part of an ongoing ‘Art in the Garden’ exhibition series. Sri Chinmoy calls his paintings ‘Jharna-Kala‘, which means ‘fountain art’ in his native Bengali: the name describes the manner in which he composes the paintings in a spontaneous flow coming from the heart. For these particular paintings, Sri Chinmoy first wrote down a quality or ideal such as ‘Compassion’ or ‘Tolerance’, and then spontaneously created acrylic drawings based on his heart’s feeling about that quality. No less than ten of the paintings in the exhibition featured the name ‘World Harmony’ – Sri Chinmoy has been at the forefront of many initiatives to further the cause of world harmony, the most well-known being the World Harmony Run, a global Olympic-style torch relay run which passes through over 70 countries around the world bringing people together in a spirit of friendship and understanding.
Other events that took place included a stirring talk on the ideals of Thomas Jefferson, and a virtuoso theatrical production by American director Natabara Rollinson. The Sri Chinmoy Marathon Team, the sporting organisation founded by Sri Chinmoy in 1977, also held a marathon on August 25th which attracted almost 1,000 people; Sri Chinmoy has long been a believer in sport as a powerful instrument for bringing people together and creating a better world.
The organisers hope that the range of events have inspired the people who saw them to pursue their own dreams in life. “I feel inspiration is of paramount importance.“, Sri Chinmoy explains. “If I can inspire someone, and if that person also can inspire me, then we can do many good things for the betterment of this world. If I am inspired, you are inspired and he is inspired, then we shall be able to work together. When we are not inspired, we find fault with other human beings; we quarrel, fight and do many deplorable things. But if we are inspired, then we do many good things for the improvement of this world.”