In October last year, Garbang Singh (28) heard about auditions being held for a “grand” bhangra performance, to be held on the banks of the Yamuna, at a festival in Delhi. Singh, who has “done bhangra all his life”, decided to give it a shot. Six months later, he was at Art of Living (AOL) Foundation’s World Culture Festival, a member of the 1000-strong troupe from Punjab which performed at the event.
“It was a great offer. They said selected dancers would be taken to Delhi, and the event would be attended by VIPs. I am glad I got a chance to dance here,” says Singh. He says he is not associated with the Art of Living movement, but came here only for the experience.
His fellow performer, 23-year-old Harnam Singh, is a history student in MA final year. “I am here to perform. I am not a follower of Guruji but I am glad he has given us this opportunity. It was an amazing performance,” says Singh.
Like members of the Punjab contingent, artistes from across the country say they went through auditions, organised by local AOL units, last year. While the coordinators and organisers of almost all state performances are associated with AOL, many of the performers in these contingents say they heard about AOL founder Sri Sri Ravi Shankar for the first time after their selection.
Mukesh Thakur, a singer from Faridabad, is in charge of a troupe called Melody Music Entertainment . In August last year, he heard about auditions for the 35-instrument symphony from a musician in his group, associated with the AOL. The performance has become one of the highlights of the World Cultural Festival, he says.
“It seemed like a great concept… as many as 8,000 musicians playing 35 instruments from across the world,” he says, adding, “I had never heard of Sri Sri before coming here”.
Matching pitch with Thakur and other performers, Dr Richa Mishra, a music teacher from Kanpur, played the harmonium in the same orchestra. She heard of the auditions from Suparna Mishra, a friend associated with AOL who also played the harmonium in the orchestra. The orchestra music was composed by Charu Roy, who is associated with AOL. “It has been a great experience,” she says.
The Dhangari dhol troupe from Maharashtra, another contingent with over 1,000 performers, dances to beats of the dhol. Nikhil Patil (32), a student from Pune and a member of the group, has been associated with the AOL Foundation for the last four years. “I got my friends, who play the dhol, together… we organised auditions from among our members,” he said.
Artistes had been preparing for the performance months in advance, says Art of Living spokesperson Neema Kamdar. “Our AOL units engaged with artistes in their area for various months for this festival, and held auditions across the country and the world. The selected artistes have been brought here ,” she says.
Asked at a press conference if the artistes are receiving any kind of payment for their performance, Kamdar said she will check the issue and revert.