I was pleased to receive news from Veer Singh, founder of Vana, about a new festival that will indeed make history. Veer, via the Vana Foundation, has been busy curating the Siddhartha Festival, taking place November 11th through the 13th. What makes this historic? For the first time, many young Indians from all walks of life will join together at Bodhgaya, the place with the Buddha attained enlightenment. The festival, which is free and open to the public, will feature live performances, including puppetry, dance, music, arts, dharma discourses, and much more.
“This is perhaps the first time in the history of the sub-continent that such a coming together will happen,” enthuses Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse Rinpoche, world-renowned Buddhist teacher, filmmaker, and author who encouraged organizers to establish the festival. “This celebration draws from Indian wisdom and culture in a truly creative way, quite distinct from any religious gathering we have seen in the past.” Kudos to the collaborative organizing team, that in addition to Vana Foundation, includes representatives from Siddhartha’s Intent, Deer Park Institute, the World Centre for Creative Learning Foundation, Antara Senior Living, and Khyentse Foundation.
I asked Veer for more details, and here’s what he shared.
How did the Siddhartha Festival come to be, and what is your involvement with it?
Ideation began on the lunch table one day, when Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse Rinpoche was visiting Delhi, and quite casually with his usual smile said, “We should do a festival in Bodhgaya.” Of course, this wasn’t the first time he had thought about it!
I was deputed by Rinpoche and the festival stakeholders as being in charge of the curation, production, and execution of all festival arrangements. The Vana Foundation Team is therefore leading all the efforts, with my colleague Veneeta and I at the helm. The Festival was Rinpoche’s idea and intent, arising from his deep and longstanding interest in India, its heritage and youth, as well as his unfettered devotion to the Buddha and his wisdom.
What makes this Festival truly outstanding? What is its guiding mission?
It is the first time young Indians are organizing a program that honors the Buddha’s Indian heritage and his contribution to Indian wisdom, in Indian style and spirit, at the very spot where Prince Siddhartha Gautama became Gautama Buddha. Our intention is to curate the two and half days of talks, offerings, meditation, hymns, conversations, music and dance performances, and various sessions of chai and eating with understated Indian elegance. I suppose this is what will make the festival outstanding along with the diverse mix of people coming from all over India, and the world.
It’s mission or intent is to pay homage to the Buddha and his wisdom. To remind Indians of this inextricable part of their legacy. To set an example of what and how to do things in a place of such spiritual and religious relevance; to be simple, elegant, understated, sincere, reverent, and welcoming of all who are interested, Buddhist or not.
I think the Siddhartha Festival is a small awakening for us as young Indians. To realize that indeed the greatest wisdom, as in the understanding of the mind, intellectually, esoterically, and practically arose in our land. This needs to become the thread that weaves through our communities and gives us a subtle but unified identity.
What is the ultimate goal of the Festival?
All of the above, and I suppose, to also give an opportunity to those who aren’t familiar with the Buddha to get a glimpse of who he was and to celebrate him.
Will it set a new standard, and if so, how?
Bodhgaya is known for its slightly opulent displays of reverence. Flowers flown in from all over Asia, extravagant arrangements, inaccessible or incomprehensible to the non-Buddhist or the generally spiritually or intellectually inclined. And mostly not by Indians. The festival hopes to be an impetus to change.
You’ve put a lot of energy into this project. Why is it so important?
I think the Siddhartha Festival is a small awakening for us as young Indians. To realize that indeed the greatest wisdom, as in the understanding of the mind, intellectually, esoterically, and practically arose in our land—what we now call India. This needs to become the thread that weaves through our communities and gives us a subtle but unified identity. And then eventually, becomes our offering and way of being of service to all beings. The festival is one tiny step in this direction.
A complete itinerary of the event can be found here.
Learn more about Veer Singh and Vana.