This weekend, fans of South Asian music and dance will flock to the Center for the Arts (CFA) for the University’s 34th celebration of the internationally renowned Navaratri Festival, which will be held from Wednesday to Sunday, Oct. 27-31. The annual festival is one of the World Music Program’s oldest and most beloved institutions.
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.
The festival began at Wesleyan in the 1970s. It was initiated by the late T. Viswanathan, 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 and expose students, staff, and members of the community to one of the oldest musical traditions in the world. This year should prove no exception.
Wednesday, Oct. 27
The first day of Navaratri features an open colloquium at 4:15 p.m. in the CFA Hall with Adjunct Assistant Professor of Music B. Balasubrahmaniyan and Hari Krishnan entitled “Weaving Sound and Image: Integrating Bharata Natyam and Carnatic Music.” The Bharata Natyam is an Indian dance that incorporates hand and foot movements in order to tell a story. Carnatic (also spelled Karnatak) music is classical music from South India that traces its roots back to ancient times. Whether Carnatic songs are sung or played on instruments, they always have associated lyrics, which are devotional in nature and must be understood to properly perform the piece.
Thursday Oct. 28
Thursday night’s performance features Ranjani and Gayatri performing Carnatic music. The sisters have both performed as violinists since a very young age, but only began giving vocal concerts in 1997. Since then, they have become famous for both their virtuosic violin playing and singing. Given that text is so vital to South Indian musicians, it should be fascinating to hear how the singing and playing influence each other during the sisters’ performance.
Friday Oct. 29
Once again vocalist and professor B. Balasubrahmaniyan will be performing, singing vocal music from South India. He will be accompanied by Artist-in-Residence David Nelson on mridangam, a two-sided South Indian drum that serves as the primary percussion instrument in Carnatic music, and K.V.S. Vinay on violin. B. Balasubrahmaniyan teaches a number of South Indian voice classes at Wesleyan, and David Nelson teaches classes in South Indian percussion and rhythm. The concert will open with a performance by some of their students.
Saturday Oct. 30
At 2 p.m. the World Music Hall will host the Natya Mela, an Indian Dance Party/Showcase. In the evening, Zakir Hussain and Niladri Kumar will perform music from North India. Zakir Hussain plays the tabla, a series of pitched drums that are a cornerstone of Hindustani (North Indian classical) music. He is considered one of the best living Hindustani tabla players. However, Hussain does not restrict his performances to classical Indian music; he has also played with jazz tenor saxophonist Joe Henderson, cellist Yo-Yo Ma, George Harrison, and recently toured in a trio with eclectic banjo player Bela Fleck and world-renowned bassist Edgar Meyer. Sitar player Niladri Kumar is called one of the “young lions” of Indian classical music. The sitar, a large string instrument with a hollow neck and a gourd resonating chamber, can have between 21 and 23 strings, six or seven of which run over the frets and are played. While the sitar is primarily used in Hindustani music, Niladri Kumar has developed his own type of fusion music, occasionally playing on a combination of the sitar and guitar of his own invention named the “zitar.”
Sunday Oct. 31
The Navaratri will conclude with the Saraswati Puja, a Hindu ceremony celebrating the continuing victory of good over evil. The day of the Saraswati Puja is considered the best day in the year to embark on new endeavors in learning and the arts. A.V. Srinivasan, who will be leading the ceremony, will bless musical instruments, manuscripts, or other items brought by the audience.