Friday, July 14, 2006

Citizens for Peace: Prayer Service

Jahan daya, vahan dharm
Jahan log, vahan paap
Jahan krodh vahan kaal
Jahan kshama vahan Aap

[Where there is mercy there is religion,
Where there are people, there is sin,
Where there is anger, there is death,
Where there is forgiveness, there You are.
-- Kabir
An interfaith prayer service for peace was organized today by a Bombay non-profit, Citizens for Peace. I saw this on Mumbaihelp last night, and since I was going to be in the city [the flight was an hour late, the airport crawled with cops, but otherwise the PM's visit didn't intrude], decided to stop by. Just before leaving Andheri, I saw a notice in the Times of India that the service was at 5:30 pm, not 6:30. Oh well. I alighted at Churchgate at 5:35(more on the trainride later) and got to KC College at about 5:45 or so. The service had just started. Leaders of various religions on the stage, who shared prayers, hymns and some thoughts. [Photo coming up later. The computers internet cafe I'm at at the Asiatic don't have USB ports!]

In order:
--A Buddhist gentleman (he was speaking when I came in).

--Bishop Bosco Penha, Apostolic Administrator for Bombay, who shared a reflection on Galatians 5:16-26 (Can't recall where it ended). [I must say that it was ironic that in St. Paul's "vice-list" in this passage, one of the evils listed is idolatry. Or "worship of idols" in the translation the Bishop used.]

-- Pt. Joshi from Siddhivinayak Temple in Prabhadevi, with a chanted sloka praying for peace for those who lost their lives.

-- Maulvi Mohammedmiya Ansari, who started out by chanting the Fatiha (the opening verses of the Qu'ran) and then said the following (based on my hurried translations from the Urdu):
On behalf of all Muslims I'd like to clarify that Islam teaches brotherhood. The Prophet Mohammed was s ent for the whole world, not just for Muslims. God has created us all. The Prophet was sent out of compassion (rehmat), to show us the way, the path. He was sent because God loved the world. Muslims live well in India. We can practice our faith freely. We do not desire enmity with anyone. Those who do such horrible things are the true enemies of Islam. We should love everyone and live in brotherhood (bhaichara) with all. We desire peace and harmony (aman), and we wish to save our country from destruction.
Towards the end I thought that his voice wavered a bit with emotion.

-- Smt. Niruben Shah for the Jain community [Apparently Jain priests cannot leave their homes during the choumasa, the monsoons.] who chanted a Sanskrit sloka, a bhajan in Gujarati and a prayer in English from (I think) one of the Upanishads.

-- Baba Jarnail Sing for the Sikhs, with a beautiful Punjabi hymn (perhaps from the Guru Granth Sahib?) and a few words in Punjabi, which, if I followed correctly, were on the lines of: we are all God's children, made from the same clay (mitti). A little bit of sin (paap) ruins the whole batch. Those who do evil will get their desserts, and will never be happy.

-- Erwad Espundiyar Dadchandji (I did not catch his name and this is a phonetic recollection), a Zoroastrian priest. Reading from the Zend Avesta, prayer to the Great God Ahura Mazda. This is the first time I've heard the ancient Persian liturgical language, and the resemblance to Sanskrit is remarkable. A few words in English: pray for all departed souls, and a reading from the Avesta, that peace should overrule war, charity avarice, humility pride and truth falsehood.

There followed two minutes of silence, and one of the organizers shared a couplet from Kabir, and another composed by a citizen of Bombay after the blats.
Wo jab jab aatank failayenge, ham aman aur ummeed ki aag jalayenge (Whenever they spread terror, we will light the fire of harmony and hope. [My recollection, not verbatim]
This was followed by a recording of the National Anthem. That was, for me, perhaps the most moving part. Citizens of a nation coming together in a time of turmoil.

The media seemed to be present -- cameras, TV cameras and so on. The hall was pretty full -- maybe 200 or 300 people (I'm horrible at estimating crowds) of a variety of ages.

There's a certain artificiality about such prayer services, in my experience. That's a given. The message is the same, that we're all human beings, we should love one another. [Of course, the various religions cannot just be boiled down to a series of irenic messages, but that's a separate issue] Of course, any effort to promote communal peace and harmony is to be welcomed.

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