Bharatanatyam is a classical dance form, accompanied by music, which comes from the Tamil Nadu state of southern India. Based on an ancient text, the Natya Shastra (the foundation of all Indian classical music and dance forms), until the mid-1940s it was part of the rituals of Hindu temple worship. The dancers came from a caste of women who were bound to the temples and were considered married to the gods.
At the time of Indian independence in 1947, the tradition was on the verge of dying due to Western influence, but the work of people such as Rukmini Devi, Kalanidhi Narayanan and E. Krishna Iyer rescued it, secularlized it, and also made it possible for men to dance. Now, it is no longer associated with Hindu temples and some dancers are not even Hindus.
The dance is a form of sign language, telling stories of and praising the Hindu deities. It is a complex and exacting art form which takes years to master. A student is not allowed to dance solo until her/his guru allows it, at which time the dancer presents a long, solo performance called the arangetram.
The most common musical accompaniment includes a singer – who leads the other musicians – along with percussion (usually the mridangam drums), a flute (there are several kinds that can be used), a melodic stringed instrument (today, often the violin but in earlier times, the veena), the manjira (a kind of hand cymbal); and the tambura, or drone. The drone, which gives the pitch, used to be played as a stringed instrument but today, it is possible to use a nice little machine to do its work.
The term "Indian Diaspora" refers to people of Indian heritage who live outside of India. In some cases, this means that family members four, five, six or more generations ago left India to settle in a new land. In other cases, it is a matter of people who left India yesterday; but all identify themselves as of Indian cultural heritage.
There are approxiately 30 million people that fall into the category of "Indian diaspora." They live on every habited continent in the world, with the largest number living in Nepal (where they number some six million people), and the second largest, the United States (with almost three and a half million). As a group, they are very diverse, not only in terms of how far back they trace their connection to India, but also in religion, economic condition, and many other factors.
To give an idea of the variety found in the community, it includes taxi drivers, medical doctors, owners of small shops targeting the "Indian Diaspora" community, owners of huge IT companies, and almost everything in between. In areas where there are large concentrations of these people, you can find Hindu temples, Moslem mosques, Christian churches, Sikh temples and other houses of worship that cater especially to them. Many areas have colorful cultural festivals and cultural organizations directed towards the "Indian Diaspora" community. It is a community proud of its cultural heritage, and most of its members are deeply religious...although of varying religions, of course.
Palomino Productions (legal name Palomino Pro, LLC) is the production arm of filmmaker Eve A. Ma. Productions include her more than 15 documentaries, several experimental shorts, and a one-hour drama.
Ma’s work has been in festivals and events in eight countries on four continents (North America, South America, Europe and Asia). Her work has won awards, and much of it is presented in two languages – English and Spanish. Her principal concerns are ethnic and cultural diversity, the arts, and communicating across community boundaries. As she explains, “I’d like everyone to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes.”
This film is part of her series of broadcast one-hour documentaries about world music and dance, including Of Beauty & Deities as well as A Zest for Life: Afro-Peruvian Rhythms, a Source of Latin Jazz, and Pearls from the Sea: Music & Dance of Tahiti. Some of her work has also been broadcast over national PBS. Finally, other work includes a drama shot in Spain, and experimental shorts shot in Spain and the United States.