46th Annual Navaratri Wesleyan Festival Celebrates Diversity of Indian Music and Dance

The Hindu religious festival Navaratri holds a special place in Indian arts and culture.

According to popular mythology surrounding the festival, over the course of nine nights, Goddess Durga engaged in epic combat with a demon bent on destroying. As the heavenly conflict raged around them, ordinary people comforted themselves with music and dancing, sharing their talents with their neighbors. With the demon’s defeat, the moment became known as a chance to ask for further blessings.

“The festival has always had a special connection to the arts,” said Hari Krishnan, teacher and head of Wesleyan’s dance department.

Historically, the Wesleyan Navaratri Festival has focused on classical Indian music and dance, but in recent years we have aspired to expand into more critical and alternative performances, to expand what is considered the canon of Indian arts and to rigorously engage with contemporary socio-political issues through creative lenses.

“We present multiple possibilities for how South Asian arts can be seen and how they can be current, relevant, available, accessible and valuable to Wesleyan in 2022, while respecting its historical origins,” Krishnan said. .

This year’s festival took place from September 29 to October 2. The Wesleyan Festival is the nation’s oldest multidisciplinary Navaratri festival and serves the Indo-American and South Asian communities of Middlesex County and Connecticut, as well as the Wesleyan campus community.

“It has become a valuable example of how Wesleyan and community partners can build trust and fellowship to co-host and produce a highly respected and celebratory event,” said Fiona Coffey, Associate Director of Programming and performing arts at the Center for the Arts. .

Film and visual arts are now part of the festival’s offering, in addition to Indian music and dance. Particular attention is given to the representation of art from all over India. Dance offerings now explore classical and contemporary aesthetic representations, the relationship of American Indians to India itself, and the complexities of a diasporic Indo-American existence. Coffey said an evolving, living festival represents the best of Wesleyan values ​​of inclusivity and an embrace of global ideas.

“We bring together politically engaged artists who reflect on the world and their place in it,” Coffey said.

Ustad Shahid Parvez Kahn performs at the Navaratri Festival. Photo by Tom Dzimyan.

The Navaratri Festival emerged decades ago from the strengths of Wesleyan ethnomusicology and world dance programs. “The art forms that Wesleyan students learn are presented at the festival at their highest professional artistic level, allowing students to connect the curriculum with high-level practice,” Coffey said.

The festival holds a special place in Wesleyan culture as something that sets the university apart. Some faculty and staff make it a point to attend every year. Over the past two decades, singer and Adjunct Associate Professor of Music B. Balasubrahmaniyan joined Adjunct Associate Professor of Music David Nelson on mridangam. The roots of Navaratri run deep in Wesleyan.

Navaratri Festival.  Photo by Sandy Aldieri.
Art exhibition on kinetic visualizations. Photo by Sandy Aldieri.

The local Indian community embraced the festival as an opportunity to revel in aspects of their culture that are not easily accessible in America. “We had a lot of families with young children. These parents want to pass the traditions on to the next generation. Coffey said.
All of this talk makes the experience of watching these gifted performers seem academic. This is certainly not the case.
A slight gesture of the hands or eyes during a dance performance. The complex conversations about the creative process from the post-performance Q&A with the artists. The versatility and expressiveness of vocal music. Every moment transports you. “We hope you will be blown away by the beauty and urgency of the moment created by these inspiring artists,” Krishnan said.

Navaratri Festival
Nrithya Pillai performs at the Navaratri Festival. Photo by Sandy Aldieri.

The festival is presented by the Center for the Arts, Department of Music, Department of Dance and Department of Film Studies, with support from Madhu Reddy Endowed Fund for Indian Music and Dance at Wesleyan University and additional support from Jon B. Higgins Memorial Fund.

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