This weekend, fans of South Asian music and dance will flock to the Center for the Arts (CFA) for the University’s internationally renowned Navaratri Festival. The annual festival is one of the World Music Program’s oldest and most beloved institutions.
“Wesleyan is really well known in the greater South Asian community,” said Sumana Murthy ’09, a member of Shakti, the South Asian student group. “People know to come here for great concerts.”
Navaratri, which means “nine nights” in Sanskrit, is a nine-night-long Hindu festival. It commemorates the victory of the goddess Durga after a nine-day battle with a demon that could not be killed by any man. The festival includes the worship of many goddesses through music and dance. It is one of the most important musical festivals in India, but the University is the only place in America where Navaratri is celebrated.
The festival began at Wesleyan in the 70s. It was initiated by the late T.Viswanathan, who was a leader in the University’s Indian music program, and the event has slowly grown in prestige. Navaratri generally brings important performers from India to the CFA.
“He knew everybody and was able to get people to come here because the Indian music program here has such an international reputation” says Artist in Residence David Nelson, “It was a way of doing something special.”
The festival kicked off on Wednesday with a talk by Adjunct Instructor in Music B. Balasubrahmaniyan on the importance of film as a medium for preserving, promoting, and developing the traditional music of Southern India, then continued on Thursday night with the faculty concert, featuring Balasubrahmaniyan, Nelson, and guest violinist Anantha Krishnam. The faculty performed Karnatak music, which consists of short songs called Kriti, and improvisatory pieces known as Ragam Tanam Pallavi.
Navaratri celebrations continue on Friday night, with a performance of a type of South Indian classical dance called Bharata Natyam by dancer and choreographer Anita Ratnam.
On Saturday afternoon there will be a performance of Hindustani music featuring a sarangi.
“It’s played in the position of a cello, with a parchment hide, like a banjo,” Nelson said. “The sarangi is a very interesting instrument which we almost never get to hear here.”
Saturday’s events will also include workshops on classical music and dance, as well as an evening performance of Karnatak violin by the brothers Mysore M. Nagaraj and M. Manjunath, as well as the Bhojanam feast in the World Music Hall.
The Navaratri Festival will end on Sunday morning with the observance of Saraswati Puja, a religious service.
“Saraswati is the goddess of wisdom and learning,” Nelson explained. “People bring instruments, book, computers, whatever they use to do what they do. We lay out all the instruments and a Hindu priest comes… and blesses all of them. And then we’re done.”
Detailed information about all Navaratri events can be found on the CFA website.