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Streams of Spirit – Water Music From South Asia

// May 15,2014

Curatorial Fellowship
Curated by Professor Afroz Taj, Department of Asian Studies

As part of our Arts@TheCore initiative, Carolina Performing Arts is proud to present the inaugural Curatorial Fellowship. Fellows are selected from interested Tenured Associate Professors in any department at UNC and tasked with curating a mini performance series that represents their academic interests which will then be presented as part of our season.

The performing arts in South Asia incorporate many images of water. There are bhajans that praise water deities like the river goddess Ganga and the rain god Indra. There are Sufi and Bhakti songs that narrate the riverside romances of Radha-Krishna and Sohni-Mahiwal and transform human love into an image of divine love. Indian classical dance drama portrays the descent of the Ganga from heaven, the churning of the cosmic sea, and the peacock dancing at the onset of the monsoon rains.

The social fabric of India itself is described in reference to the two mighty rivers, Ganga and Jamuna, that flow parallel across hundreds of miles of north India to finally join at the Sanga confluence. The Ganga is sacred to Hindus from the moment it emerges from the Gaumukh glacier, while the Jamuna serves as the backdrop for the epitomes of Indo-Islamic architecture, the Taj Mahal, and the Red Forts. As these two radically different civilizations interact and merge over the past millennium, we speak of the development of “Ganga-Jamuni” culture, the rich mixture of Hindu and Muslim arts that reflects centuries of cross-inspiration.

By exploring South Asian evocations of water in performance, this series adds a significant cultural dimension to the intellectual engagement of students, faculty, and community. Portrayals of water in art can profoundly deepen our cultural understanding of the role of water in our societies and lives. South Asia faces pressing water issues: most of its major rivers cross one or more international boundaries leading to conflicts about usage rights and flood control. Sacred rivers draw millions of pilgrims, and as a result, are critically polluted but still considered spiritually pure. Global warming has chased the Himalayan glaciers further up into the mountains; the day may not be far off when they disappear entirely even as mega-cities downstream fail to plan for future growth in water needs. In short, water both divides and unites, pollutes and cleanses, brings life and takes it away.

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