“We look at India for guidance. We hope to defeat the modern cultural aggression and save our cultures with the help of India” was the most common notion of the 300 odd participants from 30 countries gathered for the 6th Conference of International Center for Cultural Studies (ICCS) held at Rambhau Mhalagi Prabodhini, Uttan, near Mumbai from February 1 to 4.
The participants were vocal and seemed aware of the importance of preserving their cultures despite the repeated cultural aggressions from the West. The most common ground of all the indigenous cultures across the world is that they believe that we — or the universe for that matter — are born of five basic elements that they worship. These elements—sky, water, wind, fire, earth—are exactly the Panch Mahabhootas believed in the Indian culture. They also believe in the concept of Mother Earth and a supreme spirit among all of us. They believe in the concept of two types of divinity essential for life—Feminine and Masculine. Many of these indigenous cultures, rituals and ceremonies and languages are “Banned by Law” in many Christian and Muslim countries, which generally shout for ‘Religious Freedom’.
Mirza Ismail, founder president of Yezidi Human Rights Organization International and his Yezidi co-participants Nihad and Hanifa told Organiser that their culture is very much similar to that of India. Their deity is similar to Lord Kartikeya or Ayyappa/Murugan/Shanmugam in India. Yezidis also follow the tradition of worshipping barefoot. They believe in strong united family structure. Their language contains many Hindi-Sanskrit words. The entire numbering system is Hindi-Sanskrit—Ek, Do, Teen, Char, Das… (one, two, three, four, ten…). They greet each other at birthdays and other occasions with the phrase “Hajar Saal Hushi” (khushi) – a sentence exactly like in Hindi – wishing a thousand years joy.
Elizabeth Araujo, a member of National Mayan Council of Elders in Guatemala, also talks on the same line. She says the correct word for their culture is May (मय) – same as we call ‘may’ in Mahabharata. She said from South America they established the culture in Egypt which was called Karmay or Karmaya. And thereafter the same people reached Cambodia where they were called Swarmaya or Sarmaya. The concept of five basic elements is the same in ‘May’ culture. Elizabeth says that they believe in the supreme spirit watching over them and protecting them every moment. She cites the examples of prayers for the five elements and the time when they are invoked. Many of their Gods or deities are similar to the Indian Gods. The cyclical concept of time which is also used in Hindu culture, is same and it runs into thousands of years. The Mayan calendar has around five thousand years in it and when one calendar ends, simply the next one starts – it’s as simple as that.” She has a grievance. She says although they are the indigenous people in South America, they are not allowed to follow their faith and are kept away from their own monuments. The Governments have laws barring ‘May’ and other indigenous people from performing their ceremonies and rituals. Their languages are neglected in the education system. They are not allowed to enter their own Mayan Temples to perform rituals.
Namagugui Ngobese is a school teacher by profession from South Africa who represented the Zulu culture. It was her first visit to India and she is well impressed by its culture. She finds similarities among Indian and the indigenous cultures world over as “stunning”. She talks long about how modern schooling is destructing their Zulu cultural values. “Our culture believes in strong family bond and we traditionally live together in large united families. The modern culture is breaking our family bonding,” she said observing that the Western culture (namely Christian culture) has created schooling in a way that benefits itself and makes other cultures its slaves. The Zulus and other indigenous cultures in Africa are fighting to preserve their identity through rituals. “Christians are trying to convert us with the help of Governments, which intrude our culture,” she says adding that there is no representation in Parliaments of any indigenous culture.
Namagugu finds indigenous people world over traditionally supporting the natural farming without harming mother earth and without the use of pesticides. She says Zulus are fighting to get back their traditional farming ways, as modern farm products are harmful. When asked what problem she finds common among indigenous cultures worldwide, she promptly replied, “Indigenous people are NOT FREE anywhere.”
Eldad Mahlon Kindseth from USA, who was born in US, but brought up in Odisha, is studying indigenous cultures worldwide vis-a-vis Christian and Muslim cultural aggression. He observes that the Christian Missionaries through their schools are destroying the indigenous cultures and forcibly converting the local tribes world over. He emphasises on preserving the indigenous cultures, languages and knowledge not only through documentation but through actually living them. He says his ancestors from Finland were also forcibly converted. “The politicised religion is a world problem,” he adds.
The conference began on February 1 at 7:30 am with the ceremonies in which the Elders invoked blessings for success of the conference. It was followed by a procession at 9:30 am in which the delegates participated in their colourful traditional attire. Local people also joined it with their traditional music and dance. Later, the conference was formally inaugurated by RSS Sahsarkaryavah Shri Dattatreya Hosabale, Padma Vibhushan Dr Sonal Mansingh and Padma Bhushan Prof. Ved Nanda. The conference focused on Feminine Divinities among all ancient traditions across the world.
Mumbai Declaration 2018 : This Gathering recognizes that worshipping the Divine feminine is natural and common to most ancient cultures. The higher spiritual truth is that the Divine can express through both feminine and masculine energies. It also recognizes the ultimate spiritual oneness of the two energies. This Gathering emphasizes the importance of renewing and establishing the balance in these two complimentary principles in individual, family, and social life. Especially bringing back the focus on the sacred feminine will help in creating a more caring, compassionate and just society. This Gathering emphasizes the centrality of motherhood in human society, in accordance with the values of ancient cultures. Mother is not only a ‘life-giver’ but also the nurturer and the first teacher. In a family her role is critical in the furtherance of goodness, creativity, and inclusivity. The active participation of mothers in the communities ensures overall better cooperation and harmony in the society. This Gathering seeks to restore the right place of women in society not necessarily through the ideas like “women’s rights” and “empowerment”, which are seen as steeped in a patriarchal narrative, but by women coming to the fore in all fields of human endeavor on their own accord. That is by awakening the innate power in women rather than some external agency trying to empower them. This Gathering believes that Mother Earth is but the manifestation of the Universal Divine Mother. It implores all the children of Mother Earth to unite in the movement to build deeper relationships with each other and with nature. The current paradigm of domination, excessive competition and consumerism is destroying the ecological balance. The Gathering urges everyone to consider it a sacred duty to serve Mother Earth by protecting and nourishing her self-sustaining ecosystems. Adopted by all the Elders of Ancient Traditions present (Full text of the Declaration adopted at the Conference on February 4, 2018)
Dr Sonal Mansingh brought out various forms of feminine divinities in the Hindu way of life and elaborated on their importance and role. The equilibrium in looking and worshiping the Divinities in all its forms comes out of the concept of Ardh-nareeshwar, she said. While Nature has been depicted to be in masculine and feminine form in India and across various traditions of the world, the conference aspired to pursue primarily the expression of the feminine at the forefront of discussion with the great gathering. The leaders shed light on the significance of creating balance and harmony through their practices and strong beliefs in their ancestral folklore. Later, many other speakers als shared their views on Feminine Divinity.
Day two began with a sacred folk song and prayer from the elders of Colombia in the presence of the “central fire” that remained lit throughout the duration of the conference. The ceremony was embraced by the audience and further to the day, elders of ancient cultures expressed their insights on ‘Evolving stages of Feminine Divinity’ and exploration of divinity through feminine aspects with additional keynote speeches of customs and ideologies around mother Divine. The presentations were impressive for all to hear and connect their own traditional stories in a newer perspective. Shakti, Durga, Kaali, Krishna, Mahesh and others were part of creative expression to focus the different aspects of Feminine Divine Nature.
On day three, Nepal and Latvia representatives respectively opened the morning prayers in their native traditions. In all the corners of Prabodhini Bhavan, drums and beats, songs and singing were heard everywhere leading everyone cherish the customs. The idea to understand the importance of being connected to the roots of one’s origin on the deeper levels was the main drive of these traditions. Speakers spoke on various inquisitive topics in relation to the Feminine Divinity and how to create balance in nature.
The soulful experience of the conference came to an end on February 4 with a gathering of thousands of individuals at Keshav Srushti for Shri Satya Narayanan Maha Puja. Addressing the gathering RSS Sarkaryavah Shri Bhaiyaji Joshi elaborated on respecting various forms and ways of worshipping the Divine saying “India not only tolerates different religions, but also accepts all ways of worship”. He stated “Bharat is a land that led no invasion of cultures and religions. History is witness to it”. “The global diversity will flourish when vibrant Bharat will take the leadership based on millennia old time-tested culture,” said Shri Bhayyaji Joshi to assure the ancient cultural Elders.
Shri Vinod Tawade, Minister for Education and Culture, Maharashtra appreciated the ICCS for bringing ancient cultures together. The delegates returned back with the renewed energy to revitalise their cultures in their respective countries.
-Rajesh Prabhu Salgaonkar in Mumbai