Aarati Festival, Lanhydrock House, Cornwall

Written by: Plum Woodard

Submitted: 6th May 2008

Cornwall has long been associated with alternative life-styles. As the laid back demi-island continues to bloom in economy and business, so does it's festival circuit. The county's played home to numerous gatherings including the Rip Curl Boardmasters, Beachbreaks and the Eden Sessions. With the herald of the Eden Project, the site even had a stab at Womad. Quite rightly so, it's beautiful, full of fields and neighbours that are more likely to join in than kick off. Where all festivals boil down to a need to celebrate life, the emphasis is, more often than not, on the arts: music, theatre and literature. What about life itself?

The National Trust / Rupert Tennison & Lee Searle

The National Trust
Rupert Tennison & Lee Searle

Two Women Shine a Light on Good Living

On 31st August this year, Rhoda McGivern and Aimee Blackman shall be playing host at Cornwall's Aarati Festival at the National Trust's Lanhydrock House. With all proceeds going to The Global National Health Care Trust, the girls remark that the festival has taken on a life of its own. Having seen a chink in the festival scene, Rhoda, a yoga teacher, and Aimee, a holistic therapist, took the bull by the horns to get the ball rolling with an innovative and much needed celebration of green and healthy living.

"We both wanted to organise a festival," explains Aimee, "but originally it was more of a yoga focussed thing. We were attending an event at Truro college one day, and then Rhoda came across a leaflet for The Global National Health Care Trust." As the girls exchange wry glances, they both start giggling; "I'd gone to the loo, that's where I found the leaflet!" As Rhoda splutters, Aimee takes over to explain that, "it was just too much of a co-incidence to ignore. We knew any event we organised had to support this charity. We got in touch with Annette [Montague-Thomas, founder of GNHCT] and one thing led to another. It got bigger and bigger as the idea expanded."

Aarati Festival Poster

Aarati Festival Poster View Poster

Having initiated the organisation process in November 2007, Rhoda and Aimee weren't able to sink their teeth totally in until The National Trust gave them the go-ahead to use the site. Since the donation of the site came through in February, "all hell broke loose!" With 45 in-festival features already confirmed, the highlights continue to grow. Aimee is hard pressed to contain her enthusiasm: "We're not just covering yoga and exercise, but the whole holistic lifestyle. We've got everything from environmental issues through to Ray Mears-style bush-craft." Brigit Strawbridge, of BBC 2's series It's Not Easy Being Green, will also be in situ all day at Aarati, talking to punters and answering questions.

Music won't feature this year, bar some drumming, "and hopefully some acoustic performances." enthuses Rhoda, "Because we don't have a budget - not a penny! - everything that's happening is being donated. The equipment needed to put on music is too much of a cost, and we can't expect bands to turn up for free. People have been really generous with donations and their time. But we want to have music next year." Yes indeed, neither Aimee or Rhoda intend Aarati to be a one-year wonder. Although tickets haven't yet gone on sale, both the girls are amazed by the reaction so far. "People's responses have been really positive, and folks are really excited about it. We've got lots of volunteers, keen to be involved in any way they can. It's fantastic, and we're doing everything we can to get it there."

'There' is a point of recognition and awareness which both Rhoda and Aimee seemed to have hit already. Even as our chat takes place, the girls turn their attention away from my questions to discuss business, reminded of a batch of posters and flyers that need collecting from the printers when I ask them about their advertising. I'm very aware that this is as much a chance to commune for them as it is an interview for me. Both women have full time jobs and young children. Both look a little frayed around the edges, but tiredness doesn't manage to dampen their enthusiasm. When I ask them how they're managing with what effectively are three full time jobs each, Rhoda replies, "Yeah, we've got huge amounts of work to do, but the festival is kind of happening on its own, like it's got its own energy... Everything that we need for it and everything that we want to achieve from it seems to be coming together bit-by-bit, by itself. Amazingly (and touch wood) we haven't had one stumbling block yet."

So, what do they want to achieve from the festival? "Firstly, to raise money for GNHT," Rhoda explains; "Annette has plans for a children's centre in South Africa, and we want to help make that possible. Secondly, we want to raise awareness of holistic lifestyles and green living, how everybody can do their bit to live naturally." When I ask if it's likely that the majority of the people who attend might already be quite aware of this type of thing, Aimee is quick to elucidate: "Sure, there's no point preaching to the converted, and we don't intend to preach. There's always something new to learn, though, and there'll be enough diversity of interest for people who haven't yet jumped in with both feet. We want to inspire people more than anything, help them learn how to live a happy, healthy life."

As our conversation continues, it's apparent that both Aimee and Rhoda have a passion for unity. "It's not a competition. The focus is working together. That sense of one-ness... Aarati doesn't feel like it belongs to us, we're just guiding it along, tucking in the corners. Just being able to put it out there is reward enough for us." And sure enough, it's clear that baying for glory is more of a repellent notion than an attractive one. When Aimee mentions that there's likely to be a film crew recording the day for the benefit of GNHCT, Aimee and Rhoda both bluster at the thought of being filmed. "I'll definitely be hiding," says Aimee. "I might wave, if I'm not too busy pretending to be one of the crowd!" adds Rhoda.

On the back of massive political buzz, Aarati is a topical event. With the likes of The Big Green Gathering, I ask how Aarati sets itself apart from what might be considered a fashionable venture. "We've got a massive emphasis on education. With the number of speakers we've got, and all the things that will be happening, it's an awful lot for a one-day festival." The girls joke that for the amount of organisation they're doing, the festival feels more like it would last a month.

Aarati will be opening its gates at 10am on 31st August and quietly shutting them at 8pm. The location is perfect: a sprawling stately home, lovingly tended by the National Trust, boasting grounds peppered with Roe Deer. I comment on the how incredible the close of the day will be concurrent with a summer sunset. "It'll be spine tingling," agrees Aimee." We're hoping, at closing time, to get one of the yoga teachers to lead a chant. Imagine! 3,000 people Om-ing. A sunset Om!" With the way interest is already unfurling for Aarati, I'm confident Rhoda and Aimee will get their mass Om. Their enthusiasm and sentiment is infectious. And where the ubiquitous string of festivals tend to leave revellers caked in mud and hobbling from a weekend in a tent, Aarati will send its public home with nothing less than a nourishing, peaceful glow to the solar plexus.

Tickets for Aarati go on sale on 1st May and are priced at £25 per adult. Entry is free for children.

For more information, visit www.aarati.co.uk