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Forthcoming lectures

The Temple Tradition in Three Styles of Classical Indian Dance: Bharatanatyam, Odissi and Kathak

Dr Anne-Marie Gaston
Wednesday, 24 May 2017 -
2:30pm to 3:30pm
OCHS Library

This illustrated paper/lecture demonstration, will examine the changing importance of religious expression in three classical Indian dances (Bharatanatyam, Odissi and Kathak), from their traditional (up to 1947), to their modern context.

Bharatanatyam originated in Tamil Nadu state. It was the hereditary profession of devadasis, women who danced in temples as part of religious ritual and on secular occasions, where they also played an important secular role as professional dancers and singers. Devadasis were taught by hereditary male teachers. In the 1930s, these teachers began to teach the dance, with some modifications, to non-hereditary dancers, both women and men, who were instrumental in creating the modern stage version of Bharatanatyam. Early stage presentations, although including much devotional repertoire, generally eschewed religious trappings. Recently this has changed, with increasing emphasis on temple associations.

While the Bharatanatyam of today evolved from a preexisting classical style, Odissi, from Orissa State, was created as a classical dance style in the 1960s and differed from Bharatanatyam in many ways. Unlike Bharatanatyam, it did not constitute a unified dance style but was assembled out of pre-existing elements of which the most important was the gotipua tradition, a dance-drama style performed by prepubescent boys. Many of the chief architects of Odissi had been gotipuas and spent their youth dancing, studying percussion and performing in theatres and villages. Unlike the devadasi tradition, where some dances were performed as part of temple ritual, gotipua performances took place mainly in secular venues, except for certain very sporadic specific events associate with the Jagannatha temple in Puri. While their repertoire centered on Hindu mythology, especially Krishna, the gotipuas were essentially itinerant entertainers. From the late 1950s, girls and women started to perform the Odissi of the gotipuas which induced a group of teachers to formalize the style, borrowing their format from Bharatanatyam. From the 1980s, many men also began to perform Odissi. In recent years there has been an attempt to trace Odissi’s roots to a pre-existing temple tradition. However, historical records for the temple tradition of female dancers/musicians (maharis), dedicated to Lord Jagannatha in Puri, lacks clear documentation. While their dance was largely ignored in the 1960s, during the creation of Odissi, there has been a recent trend by a few high caste women towards recreating their vision of the mahari’s dances which emphasizes the religious component. A similar tendency is apparent among Kathak adherents. All accounts ascribe the origin of Kathak to Hindu temples and princely courts, but the temple connection remains tenuous and most dancers of the post-independence period studied within traditions associated with the Muslim court of Wazir Ali Shah in Lucknow (Oudh) and the courts of some of the Hindu Rajas of Rajasthan, especially Jaipur. Despite this, modern practitioners generally claim that the dance originated as a religious presentation, whatever the immediate antecedents may have been. As in the other dance styles, records indicate that all of the Kathak teachers were men. Historical records, with very few exceptions, list only men as performers, despite the fact that there was an important parallel tradition of women dancers and singers in the courts and wealthy houses.

I will discuss the origins for each of the three dance styles, their presentation in the early post-independence period and subsequent trends towards increasing religiosity in repertoire and presentation.

Anne-Marie Gaston (D.Phil. Oxon, M. Litt. Oxon) (Anjali) is a scholar and internationally recognized performer of several styles of South Asian classical dance: Bharata Natyam, Odissi, Kuchipudi, Kathakali, Mayurbanj and Seraikella Chhau . All of her dance training has been in India, over fifty years, with some of the greatest teachers. Her dance repertoire includes both traditional repertoire and innovative dance/theatre performances which seamlessly blend movement, original musical scores, text, video and images on a variety of themes: Environment Yoga, Buddhist, Greek and Mesopotamian myths. For these mixed media productions, which include professional quality images and video, she collaborates with composers, musicians, mask makers, dancers and actors. As part of the 500 years of Shakespeare’s birth celebrations, in collaboration with her long time Kathakali Guru, Sadanand Balakrishnan, she created Lady Macbeth, a mixed-media presentation, set in Rajasthan, which includes an original musical score, video and images. She has performed and lectured in theatres, art galleries and museums across Canada, USA, Netherlands, Greece and in Paris.

She has published three books: Bharata Natyam from Temple to Theatre (Manohar), Siva in Dance Myth and Iconography (Oxford University Press), Krishna=s Musicians: music and music-making in the temples of Nathdvara Rajasthan (Manohar). Another book, Bharatanatyam Evolves, will appear shortly. She contributed the chapter on ‘Embodied Movement’ for the Oxford Handbook of Sacred Arts, as well as numerous articles for academic journals. She is a Research Associate with InterCulture, University of Ottawa, Canada. In 2016 she was a member of their delegation to Chengdu, China for the International Conference on Matralineality.

She is the artistic Director of Cultural Horizons www.culturalhorizons.ca.

Caitanya and the Gosvāmīs of Vṛndāvana

Early Modern Hindu Theologies Seminars
Dr Rembert Lutjeharms
Thursday, 25 May 2017 -
2:00pm to 3:00pm
OCHS Library

The writings of the Gosvāmīs of Vṛndāvana have, since the early seventeenth century, been the foundation for all Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇava theology, and it is hard to find in the tradition any figure that is invested with greater authority than these authors. Some of the best scholars of the Gauḍīya tradition, such as Sushil Kumar De, Ramakanta Chakravarti, and Hitesranjan Sanyal, have argued that unlike the Vaiṣṇavas of Bengal, who composed several hagiographies of Caitanya, the Gosvāmīs of Vṛndāvana cared little for Caitanya, at least theologically. Though the Gosvāmīs of Vṛndāvana offer homage to Caitanya in most of their writings, their theology centres on Kṛṣṇa not Caitanya, and it is not until the early seventeenth century, when their student Kṛṣṇadāsa Kavirāja composed the Caitanya-caritāmṛta and used their ideas to develop a comprehensive theology of Caitanya's life, that the Bengali tradition of Caitanya devotion was synthesised with the Kṛṣṇa theology of Vṛndāvana.

This lecture aims to challenge this view. First I will attempt to demonstrate that these authors did indeed have a theology of Caitanya, and will examine how Caitanya figures into their theology of devotion to Kṛṣṇa. In the light of this, I will then explore the reasons why the Gosvāmīs sometimes chose not to emphasise Caitanya's divinity in their writings. Drawing on their own works as well as other early historical sources, I will argue that they envisioned a non-sectarian Vaiṣṇava culture in Vṛndāvana, that included the various other Vaiṣṇava groups active in the region at the time.

Rembert Lutjeharms (DPhil, Oxford 2010) is the Librarian at the OCHS and a Tutor in Hinduism at the Faculty of Theology and Religion.

What does it mean to be a playful agent? The Kashmiri Śaiva reformulation of Naṭarāja

Dr Aleksandra Wenta
Monday, 5 June 2017 -
2:00pm to 3:00pm
OCHS Library

This lecture focuses on the Kashmiri Śaiva reformulation of Naṭarāja—Śiva as the Dancer—found in the work of Maheśvarānanda (12‐13th century) who lived in Chidambaram during the rule of the Cōḻa kings. Maheśvarānanda’s concept of the Dancer has a structural complexity that leads him to an alternative formulation of the problem of the agency of consciousness. Moreover, this implicit complexity is additionally complicated by the existence of the all-encompassing metaphysical axiom of play that is presupposed in the Dancer’s ontology. Play offers a site to performative reality that constantly watches the character of the Dancer’s own transformation. This is the play of bondage and liberation understood as the self‐given laws of the actor’s dance. For Maheśvarānanda, play suggests the theatricalization of reality in which the identity of the Dancer is ascertained by his capability of assuming all the roles. Thus, the Dancer is the Actor displaying the cosmic drama that presupposes the capacity to enact or perform diversity. Maheśvarānanda begins his exposition of the play of bondage and liberation with a depiction of the Dancer who constitutes the essential nature of both Śiva and the individual self (puruṣa). Maheśvarānanda advocates the view that Śiva/puruṣa is a Dancer, a free agent because of his agency to constantly perform the Five Acts. This lecture will concentrates on five thematic sections: 1) What does it means to be a playful agent? 2) The play of bondage and liberation. 3) The dance of Śiva, the dance of puruṣa: Discovering the autonomous agency of the Five Acts. 4) Maheśvarānanda’s critique of Sāṃkhya’s unmoved mover. 5) Śiva the magician and the deception of his Māyā.

Aleksandra Wenta is currently pursuing her second DPhil in Oriental Studies at The Queen's College, University of Oxford. She is also assistant professor in the School of Buddhist Studies, Philosophy and Comparative Religions at Nālandā University, India. She has co-edited [with Purushottama Bilimoria] Emotions in Indian Thought-Systems, Routledge (New Delhi, London, New York) and published several peer-reviewed articles. Aleksandra is also a researcher at FIND (India-Europe Foundation for New Dialogues), Italy.

Haribhaktivilāsa as the meeting of Vedic, Tantric and Puranic ritualism

Lectures of the J.P. And Beena Khaitan Visiting Fellow
Dr. Måns Broo
Thursday, 8 June 2017 -
2:00pm to 3:00pm
OCHS Library

The Haribhaktivilāsa (HBV) is an extensive Sanskrit ritual compendium written around 1534 by Gopāla Bhaṭṭa Gosvāmin, a grand-disciple of the celebrated Bengali mystic and reformer Śrī Kṛṣṇa Caitanya (1486–1533), the founder of the Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇava saṃpradāya. Though being one of the oldest of the Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇava texts, the HBV has received little academic study so far. No doubt this has been partly because scholars of Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇavism have largely focused on the saṃpradāya's theology, especially in relation to the concept of rasa, but also because so little of this text is original. More than 90% of its verses are cited from other texts.

In this talk, based on my present text-critical work with this book, I will try to shed light on some of its vexing questions, such as its authorship, primary and secondary sources, purpose, Tantric influences and neglect or downplaying of practices thought typical for Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇavism. Further, by looking at its manuscript history, I will offer some tentative thoughts on the spread of Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇava texts in the early 17th century.   

Dr. Måns Broo is a university researcher in comparative religion at Åbo Akademi University, Finland. His main research interests include yoga – both its history and contemporary forms – and the intersections between Vaiṣṇavism and Tantrism in pre-modern Bengal. He is at present engaged in compiling a critical edition and translation of the mediaeval Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇava ritual compilation Haribhaktivilāsa