World Culture Festival: Heart-Stirring, Breathtaking, Life-Altering

Art of Living Instructor

World Culture Festival is a global event series organized by the Art of Living Foundation and Gurudev Sri Sri Ravi Shankar. These festivals celebrate the diversity of culture on this planet, with the aim of increasing peace and belongingness through meditation and celebration. 

The most recent World Culture Festival (WCF) was held in 2016 in New Delhi, India, and was attended by more than 3.5 million people. The festival also set a world record for having the largest stage in history, seven acres! 

Here’s Charlie Baldwin’s personal story from WCF, culminating in an unexpected experience on that historic seven-acre stage.

Charlie’s story

In December 2015, I heard a rumor. Whether it was something Gurudev said, or something someone made up to get more people to attend the event, I don’t know. But I heard that for the people who would attend this upcoming World Culture Festival in India, the direction of their lives would be forever changed.

At that point, it wasn’t really even on my radar to attend this event. But as fate would have it, by January 2016 not only was I attending, but I ended up in the front row of the dance team that would represent the USA.

From the US to India… With love

New Delhi World Culture Festival

After months of driving to dance practices hours away, I found myself in Delhi walking toward the enormous main stage for the combined dance in which dozens and dozens of countries would all be partaking.

To be honest, up to this point in my journey with the Art of Living, I really thought I was participating in an organization that was for Indians and a few westerners who were interested in learning about yoga and meditation.

But as we started walking toward the stage to take our places for this dance, our USA team started interacting with the dance groups from other countries right around us. It turned into such a joyful and comical ordeal, as we talked and played charades to communicate with the people from the Philippines, Brazil, Hungary, and other countries about how wild this experience was. 

World Culture Festival performance

There was this collective sense of amazement. Everyone was in awe that other groups of people from around the globe also felt it was important to be here at this event, celebrating Art of Living’s 35 years of service, and celebrating a one-world family.

I guess I knew that people from all over the world would be here. But now that I was talking to these people who had also traveled immense distances and endured many challenges just to be here, it opened my heart in a way I didn’t expect. I never knew I could feel so connected to people who I didn’t even know, and who, on the surface, seemed so different from me.

A glimpse of the big picture

World Culture Festival dance performance

I finally got a taste of just how big Gurudev’s vision for the Art of Living was. The fact that one person could inspire millions of people from all over the world to make the effort to travel to this riverbank in north central India for such an uplifting event overwhelmed me with joy and optimism for the future.

Celebrating culture and diversity are buzzwords used by leaders across the world. But to experience firsthand an event that truly embodied the deepest meanings of these words was absolutely breathtaking, and the most inspiring thing I’ve ever been a part of. Never have I felt more of a sense of optimism about what humanity can be.

The power of the World Culture Festival has stuck with me to this day, and in some ways has been my compass in life. That experience is constantly stirring in my heart as a reminder that my “family,” my sense of belongingness, extends beyond my bloodline, beyond my country, race, and culture. And that this connectedness of humanity should be celebrated.

So although I can’t confirm that rumor for everyone, the trajectory of my life really does seem to have been altered by that trip to India in all the best ways.

Editor’s note: 

The U.S. will host the next World Culture Festival on September 29th – October 1st, 2023 in Washington, D.C. on the National Mall. Save the date!