Shanti - A Journey of Peace Enchants Atlanta!

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The much acclaimed musical theater production ‘Shanti – A Journey of Peace’ was performed to a packed house and a rousing response at the Ferst Center, Georgia Tech on Saturday the 8th of November.

Shanti: A Journey of Peace is the first ever oratorio in Sanskrit that explores the meanings and message of peace, joy, and the interconnectedness of us all through dance, music, and images of India.

Representing the ultimate meeting of Western and Eastern cultures, Shanti premiered in 2004 in Cincinnati and has since been performed in Houston and Allentown PA. This is the 10th anniversary of Shanti and the Atlanta performance is its 10th. To date, Shanti has touched the lives of over 1200 performers and has been seen by over 12,000.

Shanti saw the coming together of a large choir of singers from the Indian community in Atlanta, supported by a traditional Western choir drawing singers from various local groups. They were accompanied by a western chamber orchestra and an Indian instrumental ensemble. Huu Mai of Atlanta was the featured choral and orchestral conductor. The entire musical score was choreographed to multi-genre classical dances such as Bharatanatyam, Kuchipudi, Kathak, Odissi, and from all over India, performed by dance schools from the area.

Shanti is the brainchild of the visionary composer Kanniks Kannikeswaran based in Cincinnati, Ohio. Kanniks is hailed as the pioneer of the Indian American choral movement and is credited with the creation of a new soundscape – that of Indian voices singing raga based choral music along with a traditional western choir. His work has been performed around the world and he has been instrumental in building Indian community choirs in several cities across North America and now in Europe.

The Atlanta performance of Shanti, like the other previous performances is a grassroots movement. Composer Kanniks Kannikeswaran has been traveling for several weekends to Atlanta to teach the music score of Shanti to the newly assembled group of singers. The singers varied in musical abilities and varied from trained professionals to casual singers. Each Shanti session was a workshop exploring several areas of Indian ragas and Indian culture and history in general. This group of 80 singers then started rehearsing with a western choir at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Metropolitan Atlanta North. Various dancers entered the scene and worked directly with the composer on the visualization of the music.

Shanti powerfully portrays the ancient Indian approach to life and recognizes the state of interconnectedness where ultimate creativity prevails. It also addresses the cycle of greed that is at the core of ‘Ashanti’ or the lack of peace. It showcases the cultural diversity in India and presents imagery of monuments seen all over India.

‘Shanti is all about the message of universal peace’, says composer Kannikeswaran. Powerful multimedia imagery accompanies the music and illustrates the idea of Shanti and Ashanti. ‘It is also a portrayal of 5000 years of Indian cultural history and it is a representation of the community coming together to represent India in a powerful manner’.

Although Shanti has been created in other places before, Atlanta Shanti was special in marking the 10th performance of Shanti globally. The Atlanta Shanti experience was a very moving experience for the audience and performers alike, bringing the message of peace through soaring choral music and beautiful dances, anchored by a powerful narrative. Feedback from the Atlanta audience has been extremely positive, ranging from the power of the message of interconnectedness that Shanti emphasizes, to the rich tapestry of dances and choral music that provides a grand Shanti experience. Workshops and rehearsals for Shanti have also resulted in building a local community around music in an amazing way. In many ways, Shanti has broken barriers between the musical traditions and communities of the Indian diaspora and the West.

Ambassador Ajit Kumar, the chief guest at the event, released the CD recording ‘Sacred Choral Chants’. Raksha, a Georgia-based non-profit sponsored Shanti. that promotes a stronger and healthier South Asian community through free and confidential services, education and advocacy is a recipient of proceeds from the event.

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Ajay Madwesh

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