Lecture tag: Culture

IK Foundation Lecture: The Origin, Evolution and Role of Two Indian Dance Styles: Odissi and Bharata Natyam (MT 14)

IK Foundation Lecture

Inscriptions and texts from all over India suggest that dance was widely associated with temples, religious practices and social conventions in the past.  Currently, most classical dances performed on stage in India are based on dances that were earlier associated with both religious and secular practices. Hence they are assumed to share a common ancestry with the earlier temple and secular dances.

Bharata Natyam, the classical dance of Tamil Nadu and Karnataka, has the best documented history of all the classical styles. There are abundant inscriptions on temples, royal courts records and observations made by European and Indian travelers, as well as firsthand accounts from members of the hereditary dance community (Isai Vellala), the caste of the musicians and dancers.

 In contrast, despite a history of temple dance in the state of Orissa, Odissi, as seen on the concert stage today, originated in the 1950s-60s. It was a conscious creation by several theatre personalities, former gotipuas (boy actor/dancers) and Orissan nationalists, anxious to have recognition for the state’s unique artistic traditions and to place them within the framework of classical Indian arts.

 This illustrated lecture explores the different trajectories of the two styles and speculates about how the characteristics of the Odissi style may have been influenced by its unique history.

Anne-Marie Gaston (D.Phil Oxon, M Litt Oxon) is scholar and internationally recognized performer of several styles of South Asian classical dance: Bharata Natyam, Odissi, Kuchipudi, Kathakali, and Chhau. All of her training has been in India for over forty years, with some of the greatest teachers. Her dance repertoire includes both the traditional repertoire and innovative dance/theatre performances which seamlessly blend movement, original musical scores, text, video and images on a variety of themes: Environmental (Tagore’s Mother Earth, In Praise of Wilderness, images from Great Himalayan National Park); Greek (Athena Brahmani, Demeter and Persephone); Mesopotamian myths (Ishtar and Gilgamesh); Buddhist (Avalokitesvara [images from Ladhak], Environmental Wisdom of the Buddha); Yoga and Dance (Siva: Creation of Destruction,  Adishesha, Dance of Time, Dance Meets Yoga). 

Anne-Marie was invited by the Government of India to perform for state visit of Indira Gandhi to Canada and by The Government of Orissa to perform as state guest in Bhubaneswar. Some of her other performances include the Madras Music Academy (also lectures), National Centre for Performing Arts, Bombay (East West Encounter both sessions), India International Centre and Habitat Centre, New Delhi; Tropensmuseum, Amsterdam; National Arts Centre, National Gallery Ottawa and at numerous venues across Canada; Roundhouse, Commonwealth Institute, Edinburgh Festival Fringe, Dartington Hall, UK. She has lectured for the Oriental Institute and Centre for Hindu Studies, Oxford; Lancaster University In the US at Universities of Chicago, New York, Washington, Florida as well as Smith and Mount Holyoke Colleges.

She has published three books: Bharata Natyam from Temple to Theatre, Siva in Dance Myth and Iconography, Krishnas Musicians: music and music-making in the temples of Nathdvara Rajasthan. She contributed the chapter on Embodied Movement for the Oxford Handbook of Sacred Arts, as well as numerous articles for magazines and journals. She is a Research Associate with InterCulture, University of Ottawa, Canada. She recently conducted research in Indonesia on aspects of the Ramayana in traditional arts. www.culturalhorizons.ca.

How Widespread Was Skepticism in Ancient India? Did the Materialists Really Exist, or Were They Just Straw Men?

Shivdasani Seminar

Though ancient shastras such as the Arthasastra and Kamasutra pay lip service to dharma, and criticize the so-called Materialists (Lokayatas or Carvakas), their central arguments show a total disregard for dharma and a striking congruence with Materialist assumptions. Are the Carvakas straw men that allow shastras (and other texts, such as the Jabali episode in Book 2 of the Ramayana) to express skeptical ideas without taking responsibility for them? Wendy Doniger (M.A., Ph.D. (Harvard University)?D.Phil. (Oxford University) is Mircea Eliade Distinguished Service Professor of the History of Religions in the Divinity School, University of Chicago; also in the Department of South Asian Languages and Civilizations, the Committee on Social Thought. Wendy Doniger’s research and teaching focus on translating, interpreting, and comparing elements of Hinduism through modern contexts of gender, sexuality, and identity. Her courses in mythology address themes in cross-cultural expanses, such as death, dreams, evil, horses, sex, and women; her courses in Hinduism cover a broad spectrum that, in addition to mythology, considers literature, law, gender, and zoology. Among over thirty books published under the name Wendy Doniger O’Flaherty and Wendy Doniger are sixteen interpretative works, including Siva: The Erotic Ascetic; The Origins of Evil in Hindu Mythology; Women, Androgynes, and Other Mythical Beasts; Dreams, Illusion, and Other Realities; Tales of Sex and Violence: Folklore, Sacrifice, and Danger in the Jaiminiya Brahmana; Other Peoples’ Myths: The Cave of Echoes; Splitting the Difference: Gender and Myth in Ancient Greece and India; The Bedtrick: Tales of Sex and Masquerade; The Implied Spider: Politics and Theology in Myth; The Woman Who Pretended to Be Who She Was; and The Hindus: An Alternative History. Among her nine translations are three Penguin Classics—Hindu Myths: A Sourcebook, Translated from the Sanskrit; The Rig Veda: An Anthology, 108 Hymns Translated from the Sanskrit; and The Laws of Manu (with Brian K. Smith)—and a new translation of the Kamasutra (with Sudhir Kakar). In progress are Hinduism, for the Norton Anthology of World Religions (2013); Faking It: Narratives of Circular Jewelry and Clever Women; and a novel, Horses for Lovers, Dogs for Husbands.

Politics in Action: Gandhi, the Gita, and Modern Times

Majewski Lecture

While the Bhagavad-Gita justifiably receives scholarly attention as an ancient text, its modern history remains little explored. And yet the Gita is arguably the most important text of modern India, with many of the country’s great intellectual and political figures attending to it in new ways from the 19th century. How did the Gita become the key text among such figures to think not about India’s past so much as her present and future? This lecture will consider Gandhi’s lifelong devotion to the Gita as part of a larger project to create a modern political thought for India’s future. Dr Faisal Devji is University Reader in Modern South Asian History. He has held faculty positions at the New School in New York, Yale University and the University of Chicago, from where he also received his PhD in Intellectual History. Devji was Junior Fellow at the Society of Fellows, Harvard University, and Head of Graduate Studies at the Institute of Ismaili Studies in London, from where he directed post-graduate courses in the Near East and Central Asia. He sits on the editorial board of the journal Public Culture. Dr Devji is the author of two books, Landscapes of the Jihad: Militancy, Morality, Modernity (2005), and The Terrorist in Search of Humanity: Militant Islam and Global Politics (2009), and is currently writing a book on the emergence of Muslim politics and the founding of Pakistan. He is interested in the political thought of modern Islam as well as in the transformation of liberal categories and democratic practice in South Asia. Devji’s broader concerns are with ethics and violence in a globalized world, particularly with the thought and practices of Mahatma Gandhi, who was among the earliest and perhaps most perceptive commentator on this predicament of our times.

Cosmopolitan visions of the homeland. How Hindus in the diaspora are renegotiating multiple identities

Hindus in Britain are undergoing an interesting shift in their understanding of place within society at large. From multicultural parodies of ghettos, to the current appreciable cosmopolitan ethos within many Hindu communities in Britain, this paper shall evaluate some key elements that could explain why homeland inclinations may be evolving in the next generation. Cosmopolitanism is now increasingly being raised to avoid the drawbacks of essentialism or some kind of zero-sum, all-or-nothing understanding of identity issues within a nation-state framework (Clifford 1998). It is amongst the backdrop of an emerging cosmopolitan that we can attempt to find ways in which Hindus have been negotiating the public, private, and religious spaces within which identity creation has been occurring. By using the framework of cosmopolitanism, we can attempt to understand the emerging new rhetoric of identity creation, and how these identities have been evolving over the course of multiple generations (Amin 2012). Temple building has served as one pillar, amongst many, that have served in performing this renegotiation of identities. They have served as a response to the diasporic longings of a transnational community, but most importantly, in a way that is ‘recognised’ and ‘accepted’ by their host community (Kim 2007). Hindus, raised in the ‘West’, whom are encultured into the ‘Western’ notions of religion and identity, are often caught in the middle between their ‘Eastern’ transnational linkages, beliefs, and understandings, and their daily lived reality. This paper seeks to investigate this hybrid space between the West and East in the minds and lived realities of the Hindus in Britain.

Swami Vivekananda and the Transformation of Indian Philanthropy

Arising from research towards a history of Indian philanthropy, the lecture examines the influence of Swami Vivekananda. Briefly, the argument is that Indian philanthropy was transformed from its focus on temples and priests (with occasional charity to the poor), to take in “modern” concerns such as schools, hospitals, orphanages and other areas of public interest; and that Swami Vivekananda’s impact prepared the way for the expansion of the ambit of Indian philanthropy to national and international concerns.

The Roots of Early Hindi Literary Culture

The theoretical framework of Hindi literature today is still defined by the almost century-old History of Hindi Literature (1929) of Ramchand Shukla. This History, written at the time of the Indian freedom struggle, created the image of a national literature extended in time and space. Rejecting claims for a 1000–1500 year old history, my talk examines the emergence of vernacular literature in the Gangetic Plain in the fourteenth century,and argues for continuity in poetic genres, forms and language between the Jain-inspired Maru Gurjar literature and the poetic idioms of Avadhi and Brajbhasha. Using reliably dated literary material, it documents the spread of Maru Gurjar literature beyond Gujarat and Rajasthan into Central North India (Madhyadesha) and presents how non-Jains used this trans-regional literary idiom to develop it into more localised ones that in modern times came to be considered literary dialects of Hindi. Dr. Bangha is a Lecturer in Hindi. His research has focused on early modern Hindi poetry and he has produced editions and translations of early modern Hindi texts. His research interests include the emergence of Hindi as a literary dialect in various scripts, textual transmission and Hindi manuscript culture, riti poetry and the continuity of classical Sanskrit aesthetics in court literature and individual poets such as Vishnudas, Kabir, Tulsidas, and others. He publishes his work in both English and Hungarian. Among his publications are Hungry Tiger: Encounter between India and Central Europe – the case of Hungarian and Bengali Literary Cultures(Sahitya Akademi, New Delhi, 2007) and a translation of Indian short stories into Hungarian (E. Greskovits ed., Tehén a barikádon: Indiai elbeszélések (The Cow of the Barricades: Indian Short Stories) Pallas Akademia, M. Ciuc/Csíkszereda, 2008). He is currently working on several editions and translations of early modern Hindi texts including ‘Love, Scorpion in the Hand’: Late Brajbhasha Court Poetry from Bundelkhand: Th?kur-kabitt?vali (critical edition accompanied with an introduction and English translation of selected poems).

Strangers in the temple: An ethnographic study of the Nanakpathi traders in a Chinese textile city

This paper aims to examine the processes by which the collective migrant identity of the Nanakpathi (the followers of Guru Nanak) traders is inhibited even though these traders regularly get together in the Sikh Temple. I will explain this process through an ethnographic study conducted in the Sikh Temple at the Shaoxing county of Zhejiang province in China. Shaoxing is now the largest fabrics wholesale market in Asia, in which over 10,000 Nanakpathi middleman traders are based. These Nanakpathis are mostly Sikhs or Sindhis, specializing in the transnational trades of fabrics and having lived in China for some years. These Sikhs and Sindhis often visit the Sikh Temple for their individual religious needs. Based on my long-term observation in the Temple, I found these traders rarely interact with each other despite their public religious engagement in the temple. In other words, neither collective migrant identity nor substantial form of social organization has been formed among these young Nanakpathis. Drawing light from their business practices in China, I argue that these traders indeed have legitimate reasons not to make local Indian friends in the Temple, thereby enabling their middleman business to thrive.

Muslim Representations of Women in Medinah Newspaper, Bijnaur

This paper will look at the representation of female sexuality in the “women’s newspaper” sections of the Urdu language newspaper Medinah, published in Bijnaur district of Uttar Pradesh, India. The paper’s analysis focuses on the Urdu-language newspaper Medinah, which was published in Bijnaur district of the then United Provinces, India from 1912 until 1975. In 1912, Maulana Majid Hasan started a new publication named Medinah, named for both the holy city of Islam and the boat that carried George V to his coronation darbar in Delhi. Despite Hasan’s nod to royal authority, complete with sketches glorifying the boat Medinah that had brought the English king to South Asian shores, the newspaper became sympathetic to the Khilafat Movement and, eventually, the call for self-government. The newspaper published columns from adherents to the Deoband reformist movement, other prominent ‘ulama, and laymen in an attempt to establish a space where South Asian Muslims could carry on discourse on issues of spiritual and social importance in their native tongue. Medinah grew into a significant voice for Muslims, loyal to the British Empire but nevertheless critical of the West. As social and political realities rapidly transformed society, the editors and contributors in Medinah sought not merely to report on the diverse attitudes of Muslims toward these changes, but more importantly it sought to shape discourse on what it meant to be Muslim in the first half of the twentieth century. Women remained a major focus for the newspaper, which boasted a “women’s newspaper” section regularly published on issues of particular relevance to women. Through reading these women’s newspapers, as well as Medinah‘s coverage of newsworthy women, a portrait of female sexuality emerges as being closely tied to the well-being of the Muslim community.

From Under the Tamarind Tree: Hereditary Performance and Sectarian Identity in South India

The temple of Alvar Tirunagari in the deep south of India is a unique archive of hereditary performance traditions in India. Whereas the seismic shift in patronage that occurred in the post-Independence period ensured the rapid erosion of temple-centered performance cultures, the insularity of Alvar Tirunagari ensured the preservation of multiple hereditary performance traditions—liturgical recitation, gestural interpretation, and ritual singing are just three examples—into the present century. But the performers of Alvar Tirunagari have not been untouched because of the shift in patronage, from local, elite landowners to State supported funding. Many performers have left temple service for more lucrative employment, while others supplement their meager temple income with white-collar jobs in major cities. In this paper I take up the example of Araiyar C?vai, just one of Alvar Tirunagari’s several performance traditions, to explore the ways in which members from both within and from outside the hereditary families have sought to reshape it for a contemporary, urban audience. Dr. Archana Venkatesan is an Assistant Professor in Comparative Literature and in Religious Studies at the University of California, Davis. She completed her PhD at the University of California, Berkeley in 2004. She has worked mainly on Andal, the female Alvar poet-saint, and published an award-winning translation of her poetry with OUP in 2010 (The Secret Garland: Antal’s Tiruppavai and Nacciyar Tirumoli). She is currently working, with Prof. Francis X. Clooney (Harvard), on a translation of the Tiruvaymoli, one of the most important collections of Tamil devotional poetry.

The snān-yātrā of Salkia: Contrasting voices on possession and animal sacrifice in contemporary Bengal

The snān-yātrā is a pilgrimage celebrated once a year in the town of Salkia (Howrah district, West Bengal). Attracting thousands of pilgrims, the festival is the occasion to celebrate Śītalā as Choṭa Mā, a loving and benevolent protective mother. The yātrāemphasises devotion but is also an arena for tense performances. Phenomena of individual and collective possession (bhar) are extremely common and are viewed as a much needed proof of the auspicious presence of the goddess. But possession is also a way to claim (or challenge) power in and across specific contexts (family, jāti, gender, political circles, etc.). It is thus not unusual that many (especially women, or non-Bengali migrants) are accused to cheat, to enact fake possessions, or to be ‘mad.’ Contention also features the day after snān-yātrā, which is dedicated to Bao Mā. This form of Śītalā is radically different. Bao Mā is believed to be potentially dangerous, and is a hungry goddess. The ritual killing of animals (balidān) is the distinctive feature of her service, a performance aiming at pleasing, feeding and thanking the goddess. Regardless of its importance, balidān does not enjoy much popularity. Temple attendance is limited to locals and the sebāits of the temple are indicated by outsiders as ignorant and violent. Such views are validated on a broader scale. In contemporary Bengal practices such as possession and sacrifice are objected by intellectuals and teachers, the middle class, the media and religious authorities from all faiths. In this climate, many facets of local folklore are increasingly dismissed, diminished and ridiculed (often aggressively) as a heterogeneous bunch of backward practices and superstitions. The snān-yātrā is not just an occasion to experience local variations of Śītalā and the gentrification of the goddess. This paper, part of a larger study on Śītalā and medical folklore in North India, reflects on the meaning and destiny of vernacular culture in contemporary India.

Professor Ferrari was educated in Indology and South Asian languages and literatures (Hindi and Sanskrit) at the University of Venice (Italy) and received his PhD from the School of Oriental and African Studies (University of London) for a study on Bengali folklore. After teaching South Asian religions and Religious Studies for two years at SOAS, he joined the University of Chester in 2007. He is an active fieldworker and regularly conduct ethnographic research in India. He specialises in the study of vernacular Hinduism and folklore and is particularly interested in ritual healing and therapeutic possession; ritual theory and Marxist approaches to the study of religion.