World Culture Festival Experience: “Dancing at WCF was like Heaven on Earth” – Jagrati

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Indian Classical Dance at World Culture Festival
Indian Classical Dance at World Culture Festival

From the World Culture Festival, one can understand the meaning of Love, compassion, dedication, struggle, failure, success, achievement, aim. I could not even imagine it in Dreams. But the destiny decided it for me to present it as a precious gift and to make it a golden memory of my life.

As Guruji ( Sri Sri Ravi Shankar ) declared that WCF will going to be held in 2016, between 11th to 13th March, everyone was excited about it. Some were planning to do Seva (service) for this great purpose and some were planning to participate in the activities to make it world’s best event ever.

My friends and teachers were asking me to go for it and to do there. I always refused them as I knew that my family would not allow me as it was going to be held in Delhi, a place of crime, a place of no safety! So my parents would be worried for all the time, if I go for it.

One fine day, I spoke to one of my  friends, who lives in Vadodara. She asked me again to take permission of my father for the same. I replied, ‘Di, Pa will refuse and I don’t want to be scolded by him’.
She said, ‘just take a chance & leave rest things with Guruji’. Then I called my father, but due to fear, I cut the call in between. But he called me back and then I simply asked, ‘Pa, I wanna go to attend World Culture Festival and do there. May I book my tickets ?’ For my surprise for the first time in my life , he didn’t ask me single question, rather gave his approval. It was no less than a miracle for me!

Jagrati Sharma Khandelwal shopping in a Delhi mall after World Culture Festival
Me shopping in a Delhi mall after World Culture Festival

I booked my tickets for 10th of March 2016 and for 14th of March (return ticket) as it was planned that Guruji would do Rudrapooja on 14th morning, so I thought to meet Him on that day and offer him Chocolates which I was going to make for him.

With the help of banners and posters of WCF promotions, I also come to know that I can participate in dance too. So I called on the helpline number to register myself for it as I wanted to dance. But registrations were over that time. I tried to participate in singing, then too I found no place vacant for me.

I talked to an  teacher, Vikas bhaiya, and asked him for the same. He gave me few contact numbers of the volunteers who were making registration for Indore participants. But they said that I was too late. Then I thought to leave all this and and to do only.

After some days, Vikas bhaiya called me back and asked me if I would be comfortable in performing Ghoomar (a Rajastani folk dance form)? And there were rare chances of participating in Kathak but I can fill the online form at first stage for a try. I replied that I am ready for the both. But he wanted me to perform Kathak as he know that I do Kathak and semi classical dance forms. And Kathak has its own importance as for World Culture Festival. Our (Indian) prime minister Narendra Modi ji asked to start the event with a Kathak performance and that too it was choreographed by Padma Vibhushan Pandit Birju Maharaj ji, so it would be a great opportunity for me.

While filling the form and coordinating with another Art of Living Sri Sri Natya teacher, Dr Raja Shridhar, I came to know that for registration, I would require minimum 3 years of Kathak with certificate from any recognized Kathak academy. But I only learned Kathak in childhood and learnt various semi classical and classical dances and didn’t have any certificate. As per Dr Raja, I filled the online form and started going for the group practice.

Krishna Reddy, Jagrati Kandelwal, Akash Singh, Umesh Singh, Manogya Singh during World Culture Festival at Delhi
With our host Umesh uncle’s family and other friends during World Culture Festival

Another day I got a call from another Art of Living teacher, Garima ji who was a volunteer of Ghoomar group. As and when I picked the call up, she said with a loud and jolly smile, ‘Jai Gurudev Jagrati, you are very lucky that you can participate in Ghoomar as we need one more participant for completing a dance pair”. I was surprised, what Guruji was doing with me. And was so happy.

Now I needed to arrange my schedule according to the practice timing of Kathak and Ghoomar. The timing of Ghoomar was in between my office hours, so I took permission from CEO of my company. For that, he too was surprised about my participation in this prestigious event as he didn’t know about my hobbies and interests and he too appreciated me.

On the other hand, I was worried about Kathak performance as I have to face auditions and it’s been years, I was doing Kathak after a long time. So Dr Raja talked about me with Mr. Sunil, assistant of Sangeet Kala Academy of Birju Maharaj. He asked for any of my classical and so I recorded one and sent it. Sunil ji allowed me to participate in Kathak and asked to work hard as my was looking quiet stiff. So I asked one of the Kathak participants, Baby Urvashi, 15-16 years old girl, who has been learning Kathak for the past 5-6 years to teach me. I practiced early in the morning, then at noon, followed by evening group practice, then at Urvashi’s home and again before I go for sleep.

As I was left with only 20 days of practice for WCF performance, I danced for 60 hours in those 20 days, as I only wanted to give my best for my Dear G. It’s true that for Kathak we were targeting for Guinness world record as we were 1500 participants and it was the biggest stage of the world. But for me G was more important than the Guinness record while I was excited for this record too.

In between all this, I suffered from severe knee jerks, so Doctors advised me not to dance at any cost, especially to avoid steps which give pressure on knees.

Because of my zeal, I tried hard. Now the day came for the Bhopal audition of Kathak. I with participants of Indore went for it. That day we practiced for 5 hours continuous dance without any break. Totally broken down and at last when audition started I was unable to give the right moves. Hence, the mentor asked me to work hard or else I would be rejected at the time of main audition in Delhi.

With tears in eyes, I got confused what to choose. I wondered why I was really not able to do such simple moves?! Or should I leave this journey to this place? But all the Indore participants and my doctor advised me not to give up. My doctor said, ‘let the Delhi people decide about your performance’.

Now I had to reach Delhi on 10th of March instead of 11th , as our auditions and final rehearsal was going to be held at Sangit Kala Academy with Ms. Shashwati Sen (from whose we learnt Kathak on the song “Jai Bhagawati Devi”). So I canceled my ticket of 10th and booked for 9th. Make arrangements for the costumes and jewelry.

Jagrati Khandelwal Sharma eating a delicious meal at her host Umesh Singh's home during the historic World Culture Fesival 2016 in Delhi
Relishing a yummy dinner at our host Umesh uncle’s home during the historic World Culture Fesival 2016 in Delhi!

Finally it was the day to catch train to Delhi, and I forgot that the railway station was renovated and thus was unaware of the line where I had to reach. Got quiet late to leave home as the rickshaw-wala ( rickshaw driver) whom I booked refused to drop me at the last moment. In the hassle, I got a rickshaw with the help of my landlord and friend, Sonali Didi, who was the most supportive landlord, I have ever met.

As we left for railway station, rickshaw got stuck in Traffic Jam. Only 10 minutes were remaining for the departure of the train, tears rolled down my eyes. I thought if I miss it, I miss the chance to get selected in final audition and to perform. I called Urvashi’s father, Nilesh Bhaiya, an Art of Living teacher; he too was worried about me. He guided the Rickshaw guy on where to drop me. Soon, the traffic jam got cleared and I reached station. But in a hurry, I went to the wrong coach, now only few minutes were left and I had to walk back to my coach. As and when I got into my coach and just placed my luggage and sat down, the train started immediately.

I was alone in the coach, while knowing that thousands of people are there in the train who were going to attend World Culture Festival. So after some time, got a call from Nilesh Bhaiya asking about my dinner and invited me to their coach. In the way I found people doing Satsang, playing guitar, singing bhajans (devotional songs), all sounded awesome. I along with Nilesh Bhaiya and family joined the Satsang and enjoyed it fully.

Finally reached Delhi on 10th. Now it was the day I never ever had imagined. Was going to visit an academy of cultural activities. Wow! Wore a decent Indian suit and reached the academy. My heart was beating faster when I reached at its door. It was so natural and beautifully designed. A theater surrounded by nature and an open stage, beautiful art work was there on its wall. And here comes the time, Ms. Shashwati was teaching steps to all the participants who came from all over the world. A lady 45-50 years old, with her sweet voice and mesmerizing expressions, was scolding the participants at their wrong moves. She corrected us many times and gave warning that if we didn’t make correct steps, then she could reject us from the final performance! That day I was in fear of loosing that golden chance. But I gave my best and left the rest in Gurji’s magic box.

Finally I got selected for giving my performance on world’s largest ever stage with thousands of participants and performed in front of millions of people, especially in the presence of Sri Sri Ravishankar ji and our Prime Minister Narendra Modi ji.

11th March, 2016. The date carved in my diary. After a long rehearsal of day and night, we I was finally ready with a white skirt, golden top and Orange dupatta; kundan tika, bindiya, jhumka, necklace, chudiya and Ghoongharu on. Never looked so beautiful as I got ready for giving my best moves with my best expression of Love and Devotion.

Oh, it was raining, hail stones too. At the stage, we got drenched in the rain of love, emotion and oneness. It was raining and the sun was too shining like He also wanted to watch us dance by looking though the veil of clouds and hence the beautiful rainbow appeared to give the final touch to our “natural stage” made by the combination of clouds, rain, sun rays and flawless breeze. It was like a heaven on earth.

Finally rain stopped and the announcement of our performance was made. Cameras, light, and here we started. Lakhs of people watch it in person and many more from across the world watched it through live webcast. I can’t forget that day and that feeling, which gives me goosebumps whenever I sit and think about it.

Similarly, I had the final stage performance of Ghoomar. Waited for long hours for our turn, we gave the end to WCF by our ultimate performance as our group has participants of all age group from young to the old, no age bar. Older ladies were more energetic and excited. It was a colorful and joyous performance. With the lyrics “kesariyo balma padharo mhare des”, I really invited G to my home, to live in my heart forever. At the end of our performance, G gave compliment to us by saying, “Adbhut” (wonderful, miraculous!).

What else one want when one gets such precious and invaluable moments and opportunities. It’s not about guinness world record certificate only but it’s about self satisfaction. I only wished to dance some day for G and He gave me such a big stage (of 7 acres!) and enjoyed our performance while He too got drenched in rain.

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