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February - March 2007


Human Rights Day Service

by Dr Raj Pandit Sharma

It was a cold damp winter evening in the heart of London that a multi-faith service of thanksgiving was held. Sunday 10th December was Human Rights Day, which marks the day in 1948 when Member States of the United Nations adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Rights and Humanity who organised the service was also celebrating its twentieth anniversary. It is an international organisation promoting awareness of human rights and responsibilities. International patrons include his holiness the Dalai Lama, Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu and other eminent leaders.

The tranquil setting of St Peter’s Church Eaton Square enhanced the truly spiritual gathering including representatives of most world faiths. Reverend Fergus Capie, Director of the London Interfaith Centre presided and invited the various faith representatives to offer prayers and supplications from their respective scriptures.

I selected four verses from the Prithvi Sukta of the Atharva Veda that reflected the Hindu ethos that we are all children of this Earth:

Earth in which lie the sea, the river and all waters,

In which food and cornfields have come to be,

In which lives all that breathes and that moves,

May she grant us the finest of her yield.

Thou art the vessel, the Mother of all nations,

The fulfiller of hopes far extending.

That which is wanting in thee is replenished

By the Almighty, Lord of all Creation.

For our wellbeing O Earth may those born to thee

Be free from suffering and devastation.

Wakeful through a long life,

Let us be bearers of tribute to thy glory.

Earth our Mother! Set us securely with bliss

In full accord with heaven. O wise one ,

Uphold us in your grace and splendour.

Atharva Veda 12.1 (verses 3, 61-63)

Other faith representatives offered thoughts and prayers of a similar vein and it emphasised that we all yearn for the same attributes in life. Reverend Fergus Capie introduced a wonderful episode into the service where he invited the congregation to disperse and meet each other with a bow, handshake or embrace. It filled us all with warmth and benevolence dispelling apprehension from our hearts.

The melodious voice of Lucinda Drayton from ‘Bliss’ haunted the atmosphere during the musical interludes and struck a chord with those convened.

The poignant address given by Mrs Julia Häusermann MBE, (Barrister-at-Law), Founder and President of Rights & Humanity, illustrated the headway made by the organisation since its genesis two decades ago. In the West, we often take our liberty for granted and are isolated from the veracity of human rights abuse that is prevalent in many parts of the world. Others perceive such organisations fighting for justice as inert and unable to alter the oppression existing today. However, through the endeavours of such bodies, real changes have transpired and they are now taken seriously by the former persecutors.

I recall a verse from a Franciscan benediction read by Annabel Beales during the service, “May God bless you with tears to shed for those who suffer pain, rejection, hunger and war, so that you may reach out your hand to comfort them and to turn their pain into joy.” This reminds us that surrounded by comfort , we sometimes become complacent and forget our neighbour’s distress. It is the duty of us all to help those less fortunate than ourselves and to practice the Vedic concept of ’paropkar’ - helping others.

The service was a veritable feast of spirituality and the various contributions from the diverse faiths were like individual courses, possessing a unique cuisine and zest. Our minds are similar to our palates, being used to a particular ethos or ‘cuisine’. We are reluctant to experiment with other flavours. This service demonstrated to me that just as the purpose of food is to nourish the corporeal body, prayer is to feed the soul (atma). In order to maintain good health, physicians advise us to take a balanced and varied diet. Similarly, in order to keep sound ‘spiritual health’, and enhance peace and understanding, we must open our minds to all faiths. ’ Aano bhadrah kratavo yantu vishvato’ Let noble thoughts come to us from all sides’ (Rig-Veda).

Dr Raj Pandit Sharma

Executive Representative - Hindu Ceremonies - Hindu Council UK

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