The world’s largest democracy, India gave birth to Gandhi, yoga, ayurveda, Kama Sutra, Natya Sastra, and the religious philosophies of Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, and Sikhism, to name a few. In this program we will study Indian dance and culture, examining its classical dance, music, and cinema in the context of Indian society, history, politics, and literature. Indian culture has integrated – syncretized – Asian and Middle Eastern philosophies that came from the outside, giving birth to an artistic tradition that seamlessly blended existing Hindu practices and beliefs with incoming Muslim ones. We will study much of the art resulting from this syncretic mix, including the works of such maestros as Ravi Shankar, Ali Akbar Khan, Kelu Charan Mohapatra in music and dance and early Bollywood director Raj Kapoor and auteur director Satyajit Ray in cinema. We will pay particular attention to the powerful women, religious and secular, who have contributed to Indian culture, through their song, dance, and literary and political pursuits. Lectures, readings, seminars and screenings will be accompanied by workshops in Indian dance and theatre.

In the fall, we will delve into early Sanskrit and Pali literature, the science of the Natya Sastra, the religious philosophies of Vedism, Jainism, Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, and Sikhism as well as the largely untold stories of women’s artistic traditions in dance and music. We will also view early Bollywood cinema and analyze these films in context. In workshops, we will engage in the practical study of theatre and dance in the Odissi tradition, a syncretization of the arts of the north and the south.

In the winter, we will further explore different cultural influences, including Sufi mysticism, Baul music, and Bhakti movement. We will study the development of powerful women’s traditions (mostly matrilineal) in music and dance. We will briefly touch upon British colonial rule, which caused a pause in the proliferation of the arts. Finally, we will focus on present day India, a democracy that encourages globalization, marketing of the arts, hybridization, and the influence of Bollywood and MTV. The practical study of theatre and dance, along with the analysis of films, will continue through winter quarter.

In the spring, students will engage in individual research projects that may lead to study options in India (the program is not going to India). The research projects would incorporate both written work and performative work. Both performing arts students and those with no previous background in the arts will gain a holistic, diverse introduction to South Asian history and culture in this program.