The Mahatma at Miller Outdoor : Gandhi Jayanti Celebrations in Houston

Walk for peace                                             Photos: Navin Mediwala

Walk for peace Photos: Navin Mediwala

By Malay Vyas

HOUSTON: Miracles do happen in the modern World. Wars can be won without a shot being fired, freedom can be acquired without animosity between the ruler and the ruled. Non-violence can be used as a weapon. These words were transformed into real life by Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi. The sun indeed set on the British Empire because of one “half naked fakir” with his “lathi”.


Consul General of India, Parvatheneni Harish

Consul General of India, Parvatheneni Harish

No wonder, even 144 years after his birth, in places far away from his birthplace, his birthday is still celebrated with awe and respect, not just for a day but for an entire Month. On Sunday, October 6, the Mahatma Gandhi Library of Houston once gain successfully organized Gandhi Jayanti with 1000 Lights For Peace as a culmination of month long activities in memory of the Mahatma.

For more than 1500 Houstonians who gathered at Miller Outdoor Theatre and many more who took part in the month long celebration, Gandhi isn’t just a name, it’s a way of life. It was as if the sunshine of non-violence just won over the violent rain on Saturday night as the skies opened up to a beautiful evening on the Miller hill. Sesh Bala lead the Walk for Peace from Miller Outdoor Theater to the Gandhi Statue at 5 PM. After honoring the Mahatma by garlanding his picture and lighting up the authentic 1966 Olympic Torch. During their 5 kilometers (3.2 miles) walk through the Hermann Park, voting for peace with their feet and demonstrating that a life of peace is a daily steadfast commitment and a process requiring extreme patience of a person trying empty the ocean with a cup, they displayed signs of peace, truth and nonviolence, the Mahatma’s message being spread across Houston.

When the Gandhians returned to Miller Outdoor Theater, they were welcomed on the stage by melodious musical performance by the very talented Katy McMeans Junior High band conducted by George Liverman. The 8th annual 1000 lights for peace finale even began with the Mahatma’s philosophy of equality of religion with invocations from Acharya Suryanarayan Nanda of Arya Samaj of Greater Houston, Rabbi Steve Gross of Houston Congregation for Reform Judaism and Rev Daniel Dominguez from Christian Family Center and Spanish Bible Fellowship.

Left: Atul Kothari, founder of Mahatma Gandhi Library with Helen Sharkey-Gebhard who was the special guest for the evening.

Left: Atul Kothari, founder of Mahatma Gandhi Library with Helen Sharkey-Gebhard who was the special guest for the evening.

On stage, radio diva, Meena Datt was a very entertaining Mistress of Ceremonies for the evening and kept the program flowing. The show started off with students of Anjali School of Performing Arts dancing to “Raghupati Raghav Raja Raam” – one of Gandhiji’s favorite bhajans. This was followed by a dazzling speech by Rishika Sawale, the winner of the middle school speech competition. Consul General of India, Parvatheneni Harish, spoke about the ever-lasting legacy left by Gandhiji, adoringly called ‘Bapu’ – the Father of the nation.


Unity in Diversity being the theme and Bapu’s message, the cultural program that followed epitomized this as eloquently explained by the coordinators, Alpa Shah and Shefali Jhaveri. The opening sequence of the show starts with a boy, played by Tony Jha, and Gandhiji, played by Suresh Shah, who meet each other in the boy’s dream. In the dream, Gandhiji explains to the curious boy the meaning of Truth, Non-violence, Love and Service. Alongside these simple but meaningful explanations, the crowd is taken on a tour of Bharat, India with dances from various regions, including Gujarati Garba by Natya Upasana Dance Academy, Kerala Folk Dance by Sunanda’s Performing Arts, Bengali Folk Medley by Piyal Sengupta and an upbeat Punjabi Folk Dance by Naach Houston.

Shreetika Singh, winner of the high school speech contest, then inspired the crowd by reciting her winning speech titled “Is Pen Mightier than Sword?” The special guest for the evening Helen Sharkey-Gebhard also addressed the crowd talking about the importance of listening to your inner voice.

Kiran Bhutada, Houston philanthropist, and  Atul Kothari, founder of Mahatma Gandhi Library, presented the awards to the winners of various contests held by Mahatma Gandhi Library. 1000 Lights For Peace is culmination of month long activities beginning with display of a photographic exhibition titled “Gandhi Darshan” at the Downtown Central Public Library for 3 weeks in September and for 2 weeks at Nolan Ryan Junior High School. The exhibit portraying the chronological lifetime of Gandhiji with actual photographs from that era was also displayed at Miller Outdoor Theatre and was enjoyed by many visitors.

The finale of the cultural program was a mesmerizing performance by all the groups coming together on stage with all the contestant winners and the Board of Directors of the Mahatma Gandhi Library.  The spectacular evening concluded with the lighting of a candle by each person in the audience a pledge to observe peace in their own lives. The first candle was lit by Suresh Shah who dressed up as Gandhiji. As the 1500 plus candles lit up, the Miller outdoor theatre lit up in the evening sky and in the backdrop of the green hill, the atmosphere created was one of peace and tranquility. During the candle lighting ceremony, the onstage screen showed “The History of Non Violence” – the winner of multimedia contest for high schools.

The candles may have been put out soon after but Mahatma Gandhi’s message resonated strongly amongst the attendees and once more, the spirit of truth and non-violence prevails in this world in its better sense. The Mahatma Gandhi Library of Houston strives to continue to spread Bapu’s message and teachings to the city of Houston and the world beyond. “A man is but the product of his thoughts, what he thinks.. he becomes” said the Mahatma… the Gandhi Jayanti celebrations inspired a lot of us to think and hence to become a true Gandhian.

To view and learn more about 1000 Lights for Peace, visit

(Article inputs from Dr. Manish Wani)