The 9th URI India National Assembly began on Friday, November 22, 2019, in the city of Varanasi (also known as Kasi or Banaras), on the banks of the river Ganges. The three-day conference took place at Banaras Hindu University. In addition to Dr. Rakesh Bhatnagar, the Vice-Chancellor, and a host of other dignitaries, URI's Executive Director The Rev. Victor H. Kazanjian, Jr. and URI Director of Global Partnerships Mussie Hailu were also present. In addition, there were more than 40 delegates of Unity Earth, under the leadership of Director Ben Bowler, and around 250 delegates from organizations around the world. Regional Coordinator Abraham Karickam congratulated National India Team Coordinator Biswadeb Chakraborty and North India Regional Coordinator Subhi Dhupar for their meticulous planning and organization.
Read excerpts from journals written by URI South India Regional Coordinator Abraham Karickam, sharing his observations below:
Saturday, November 23:
We became pilgrims today, visiting the world-famous Saranath Temple Complex and the Stupa, where Sri Buddha started his mission of teaching. It was here he founded the first Sangha of disciples, who later revolutionised the whole world with the teaching of Ahimsa and the eightfold path.
We had a wonderful session at the Saranath International Nyingma Institute, also where a Peace Pole was planted. Here we had representatives of a Battalion of the Indian Military, who planted several trees. This special Battalion is entrusted with the duty of Clean Ganga Project, under the guidance of Prime Minister Narendra Modi himself. We witnessed a unique sight: the military personnel helping the planting of trees and a Peace Pole. Let all the military officers become peacebuilders also. That is our fervent hope.
"Let all the military officers become peacebuilders also. That is our fervent hope." - Abraham Karickam
Two other attractions of the inaugural session yesterday was the flag ceremony and the musical performance of Pato Banton and Rootsdawtah, who were present at our Stanford conference and at the Toronto Parliament of Religions. The Unity Earth group will be presenting a concert on the banks of Ganges tomorrow.
As we converge at Varanasi for the 9th India National Assembly of URI, it would be nice to look back a bit to see how we started our journey in this great land, which gave birth to many religions of the world. “Vasudaiva kudumbakom” is the essence of our Vedic philosophy, which means the whole universe is one family. “Oikumene” later adopted by the World Council of Churches, means the same—encompassing the whole inhabited earth. So URI was very well received in India from the very beginning.
We had the first National Assembly at the Mar Thoma Orientation Centre, Kerala as early as 2004, which was inaugurated by the longest-living bishop in the world, Dr. Philipose Mar Chrysostom. He is my mentor and is 102 years old now, still healthy, but not travelling any more. The second National Assembly was again at the Mar Thoma Shanthigiri Ashram, Alwaye in 2007, in conjunction with the second International Holy Books conference. All the pioneers of the Interfaith Movement in India attended this Assembly viz. Swami Agnivesh, Justice Shamsuddin, Fr. Nambiar Parambil, Bishop Zacharias, Homi Dalla, Madam Meher Master Moos, Swami Chaturvedi, Dr. Mohinder Singh, Vijay Bhatkar and so on.
Hereafter, we could hold assemblies regularly. The third was organised by Biswadebji at Santhiniketan, West Bengal, the World famous University established by Tagore, the first Asian to win a Nobel Prize. Then Executive Director Charles Gibbs was the chief guest. It was the turn of Qutubji and West Zone to organise the next Assembly at St. Pious College, Mumbai. Our new Executive Director Victor Kazanjian was the guest of honour. Hira Paul and the team from the North invited all to the holy city of Amritsar for the fifth one. The venue was Guru Nanak Dev University. Sixth India Assembly was convened by South India region again and this time it was at the Ecumenical Christian Centre, Bangalore.
The Eastern region of India welcomed us to another holy city - Puri in Orissa - for the Seventh Assembly, and the eighth one was at Ajmer, yet another holy city. It may be because we are all pilgrims that we always converge at these renowned holy cities and now we are here at Varanasi. In between, we had two Asia Assemblies also—one in Pune in 2009 and the second in Sri Lanka in 2018. The first Asia Pacific Assembly was convened by Sally Mahe in Bali, Indonesia in 2001, which was our starting point in the URI journey in the Asian soil, following the footsteps of Bishop Bill Swing who travelled all over Asia with this idea of a United Religions in the latter years of 1990s.
2020 National Assembly will be a landmark for us again, as it will be our tenth Assembly and URI will be celebrating its 20th year then. Over to South India again, the seat of Adi Sankara.
Sunday, November 24
The 9th India National Assembly concluded with a series of presentations yesterday at the Department of Ethics of Banaras Hindu University. Dr. Victor Kazanjian gave a beautiful PPT review about the Global URI, as it is making its vibrant presence today in about 110 countries. He shared about the vision and our mission for the next decade. This was followed by an eloquent appeal from our global ambassador Mussie for unity and for practicing the golden rule. He enlightened the audience about the potential of our global partnerships also.
All the regions in India presented their reports in the afternoon. We could listen to the delegates from Afghanistan, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, too. The concluding session was again on the banks of Ganga, with the Unity Earth envoys presenting yet another musical feast in conjunction with the Kabira Festival, Panto and Antoinette leading.
We have to praise all the efforts of everyone concerned for the Herculean task of cleaning the Ganges, especially the initiatives taken by the Honourable Prime Minister. Ganges flows through many states of India and it is to be protected by all means, as a life-giving entity. A few years ago when I visited Varanasi, I could see dead bodies and floating cows and so much waste all over the body of the Ganges, but today it has become clear and clean to a great extent. It is wonderful to see the efforts of even our military to make this project successful.
It is amazing to see the millions of lives floating in this holy city of Kasi. There is confusion, but a serenity is visible woven into the texture of life here. Yesterday we visited the Kasi Viswanath temple, but you will have to be in a queue for hours to gain an entry. What makes all these people to struggle so much to pray at this spot? Religion and spirituality are that strong, and people don’t mind the sacrifice to any extent. Kasi has so much to teach us about the concepts of moksha, which is the ultimate goal in life.
Monday, November 25
The 9th Assembly of URI witnessed the amazing talents of youngsters. Our movement is safe in their hands. Bishop Swing and our pioneers can relax now. You have sown the seeds in a fertile field.
All the volunteers whom Subhi deputed were just amazing. Day and night they waited for us the delegates in the Airport, Railway Stations and bus stops. I was in close touch with only Pawan, Mahinder and Aikesh, but there were a good lot at several meeting points. Aikesh is the son of our veteran leader from Bundelkhand, Mr. Shiv Vijai Singh.
Saumya Aggarwal, a young girl originally from Nepal, won a big round of applause when she announced that her “Youth for Peace International” has bagged a project grant of half a million Euros from the European Union. Tanya Sablok is a student of Peace and Conflict studies at Nelson Mandela Centre for Peace and Conflict Resolution, Jamia Milia Islamia, New Delhi. Her passion for peace initiatives is extraordinary. Nirmalya Chakraboti from Kolkota, Manoj Ram, President of Peace4Dalits Foundation from Nepal (one of our CCs there), Touseef Raina, a young man from Jammu and Kashmir, who is Chairman of Global Youth Foundation are people with superb talents and initiatives. Ahmad Shah Karimi from Afghanistan is the founder of Afghanistan Youth Empowerment and Peace Building Organisation (a URI Cooperation Circle). Sohini is a young lady, who heads the Euphrates Institute, India Chapter, Janessa’s find.
These are only a few whom I encountered during different sessions in the Assembly. There are many. The spark in the eyes of these young ones gives us hope for the future. We have invited all of them to attend the Students’ Summit of Religions in January in Kerala. Kehkashan Basu and others can definitely inspire them and they can all be united for peace. These “Voices” cannot go unheard. Their plea should not go as a cry in the wilderness. URI is a wonderful platform for the convergence of spirit full youth, who will steer the world out from darkness. Thank You all.
Regional Coordinator for URI-Asia: India, South Zone