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Kapila Vatsyayan

Perhaps one of man’s earliest awareness was the need for a harmonious peaceful life with all living beings. In India the Vedic seers evoked ‘peace’ (santi) in many hymns. They inchanted the verses, invoking peace on earth, with the vegetative, the animal and the human world. Over the millenniums, the more strife man creates, the more he (she) calls out for peace.

Modern civilisation lives in the paradox of ever increasing capacity of man to comprehend the universe ascend to spaces unknown and the imminent threat of total annihilation.

The late Mrs. Indira Gandhi had eloquently summed it up:

Development, independence, disarmament and peace are closely inter-related. Can there be peace alongside nuclear weapons? Without peace, all our dreams of development turn to ashes. No peace today, no life tomorrow.

The interface of development and peace, and of course disarmament has been the subject of many international conferences and global debates. The Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts (IGNCA) cannot address the question of nuclear weapons and non-proliferation, but it is concerned with the cultural fabric of societies, life-styles and their interface with development models which create disharmony and ruptures at the human level. On the occasion of Mrs. Indira Gandhi’s martyrdom anniversary, the Centre considered it appropriate to hold an international conference on the Culture of Peace, as a tribute to her. The volume is dedicated to her memory.

The conference was also in continuation of other initiatives taken by the Centre to study the interface of culture with other domains of life. Three conferences and seminars and workshops addressed a variety of issues, such as identity, indigenous knowledge system, the interface of culture and ecology, culture and education. As early as 1989 an international workshop on Cross-cultural Lifestyle Studies with Multimedia Computerizable Documentation was organised under the aegis of UNESCO. The proceedings of the Workshop have been published in two volumes. The deliberations on general concepts, theories and methods were followed by a series of pilot studies of various cohesive communities in different parts of India. In 1993, the UNESCO responded again to this concern of the IGNCA and facilitated another international seminar which went a little further in exploring the Interface of Cultural Identity and Development. The proceedings of this seminar constituted the First Volume of the IGNCA’s Culture and Development Series. The Second Volume, Integration of Endogenous Cultural Dimension into Development, aimed at suggesting positive strategies for intergrating all that could be understood by the term ‘indigenous cultural knowledge’. The Third Volume, the Cultural Dimension of Education, addressed itself to a cross-cultural comparison and assessment of problems involved in the modern system of education. The Fourth Volume, the Cultural Dimension of Ecology, devoted itself to critical issued pertaining to the natural environment. The Fifth Volume, Lifestyle and Ecology, emerged as an outcome of some pilot studies on the inter-relationship of nature, social structure, world view, cosmology, daily routine, lifecycle, annual calendar, knowledge, skills and traditional technologies. Closely linked with the fluid dynamics of a culture is the issue of peace. The Sixth Volume presents the proceedings of the Asian conference on the Culture of Peace, held in 1996.

I must hasten to acknowledge that in organising this conference we have received moral support and encouragement from H.E. Dr. Felix Marti Ambel, Director of the UNESCO de Catalunya, Barcelona, who has pioneered a series of dialogues on ‘The Contribution by Religions to the Culture of Peace’. Professor B.N. Saraswati is associated with this dialogue since its beginning in 1993. Dr. Marti could not attend our conference, but I am indeed very gald that he has contributed to this volume a very valuable prologue which brings to light the importance of making such dialogue a fundamental practice and a living part of all traditions. The fact that six participants of the Barcelona dialogue took part in the IGNCA conference clearly shows that we have moved a step further towards realising this goal.

Although in a certain sense this conference was a renewal of the Barcelona dialogue, its framework was different in so far as it did not aim at evaluating the role of the religion in building a culture of peace. It was planned with intention of sharing the experience of beauty and peace and working toward the moral basis of experiments in peace as reflected in the wisdom tradition of Asian peoples and cultures.

The distinctive nature of the culture of peace in the present volume is treated at several different levels by eminent peace researchers, educators and actors in peace, Gandhian scholars, religious leaders, spiritual luminaries, philosophers, poets painters, artists, choreographers, musicologists, archaeologists, anthropologists, indologists, doctors, and other professionals coming from different cultural traditions and background. The presence of this impressive group of participants, who came from Bangladesh, China, India, Iran, Japan, Russia, Sri Lanka, Thailand, the USA and Vietnam, was the proof and the confirmation that this world driven with war and violence is in need of a new culture of peace.

While addressing themselves to various themes of the conference, the participants came out with several formulations; Peace is not absence of war, rather it is a state of integration with Nature. Peace is the condition of mind. The vision of peace is countered by materialism and consumerism. Art is the best means of spreading peace. Meditation helps the art of peaceful living. The awareness of peace starts from childhood and motherhood. Peace is a basic requirement of every living being. Peace is scarce these days, it has been threatened by internal forces and external powers. Peace is a state of being, culture is an expression, and religion is the source for both state and expression. Major religions of the world such as Hinduism, Buddhism, Christianity and Islam have contributed to the culture of peace. The method and the message of Mahatma Gandhi have given a healing touch to the ailing humanity today.

It is my sincere hope that through diverse voices of the participants there will be a renewal of the sense of urgency to adopt plural paths for the single goal of establishing a culture of peace in this our strife-torn world of our own making.


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