Indian Embassy commemorates Swami Vivekananda’s birth anniversary

Elaborate cultural program held at Kennedy Center.

By Deepak Chitnis

WASHINGTON, DC: The Embassy of India hosted a cultural event at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts on Wednesday night, in commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the birth of Swami Vivekananda.

The event – entitled “Arise, Awake! In Celebration of the 150th Birth Anniversary of Swami Vivekananda” – kicked off with a 20-minute speech from India’s Ambassador to the US, Nirupama Rao. Rao spoke about the impact of Swami Vivekananda both during his life and in the 111 years since his passing in 1902.

“Vivekananda believed that as different streams having different sources all mingle their waters in the sea, so different tendencies, various though they appear, crooked or straight, all lead to God,” Rao said in her remarks. “His message of oneness is vital in today’s age where religion is increasingly used by misguided and radical elements to create divisions among people and spread hatred. It is through [Vivekananda’s] idea of spiritual oneness that we can seek to promote peace and harmony in the world.”

The Ambassador’s speech was followed by a two-hour cultural program, which featured singers and dancers performing routines that were inspired by and dedicated to the memory of Vivekananda. The performers included:

  • Riya and Sara Mani Kapoor, twin thirteen year-old Bharatanatyam dancers.
  • Sonya Subbayya Sutton, the music director of the World Bank/IMF Chorus, who conducted a rendition of Swami Atmavidyananda’s “Vivekananda Oratorio,” an operatic choir piece.
  • Bharathanatyam virtuoso Vidhya Subramaniam, who performed a stunning half-hour tribute to Vivekananda’s teachings on yoga.
  • Sugata Bose, the Harvard University Gardiner Professor of Oceanic History, who has written books and recorded CDs of poetry by Vivekananda, as well as Bengali literary legend Rabindranath Tagore, whose work Viveknanda was an immense fan of.
  • Alif Laila, the world-renowned sitar player who trained under the tutelage of Ustad Mir Qasem Khan in Dhaka, Bangladesh.

The event also featured performances by the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, the Dakshina Dance Company, and Alicia Graf Mack, a Maryland-based dancer who has performed with celebrities such as Beyonce and Alicia Keys.

In attendance at the event were local Indian-American luminaries such as Benoy Thomas – who was recently appointed to head Maryland’s Commission on Environmental Justice and Sustainable Communities – and Manjula Kumar of the Smithsonian Institute.

Swami Vivekananda was a native of Calcutta, born there on January 12th, 1863, and a well-learned man who studied the works of social, religious, and political philosophers from all around the world. He is considered a key figure in modern India and Hindu society, and is credited with bringing Hinduism, yoga and Vedanta to the world stage. Vivekananda died on July 4th, 1902 while meditating, the official cause of death speculated as being a ruptured blood vessel in the brain.

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