While all of India's traditional performing dances are unique and spectacular in their own way, yet a dance that is unparallel and unequalled in inciting an instant smile to the lips, vigour and verve to the arms and legs, and joy to the hearts is the bhangra.
The accompanying dhol music is such that revelry is spontaneous and with the first beat one feels like dancing and rejoicing. It is difficult not to feel the spring in one's foot at the sound of this instrument and spirit of camaraderie and creativity are natural by products.
As a part of the audience at the night in the Punjab at the Cubberley auditorium at the Stanford campus on Friday, November 10, I waited patiently for the start of the program. Once the dhol music begun, it was tough for me to keep seated.
As promised, the show displaying traditional music and dance forms including Bhangra, Jhumar, Gidda and dhol of Punjab in their pristine purity regaled the spectators to its utmost.
The event was a part of the Asian Performing Arts series organised by Asian Religions and Cultures initiative of Stanford University. The series is an effort to promote understanding and appreciation of Asia's rich cultural and artistic heritage as seen and interpreted by the contemporary performing artistes.
As the director of the program for the evening, Surinder Singh Dhanoa who holds the distinction of establishing the first Punjabi cultural organisation in California in 1977, spoke about the geographic vastness of Punjab in the pre-partition era and before and elaborated on the history and culture of the performing arts of Punjab. He said: "there are 33 documented folk dances of original Punjab. The need of the day is not promotion but preservation of the Punjabi culture."
The short preface was followed by the display of the music of the dhol and other instruments by Ustad Lal Singh Bhatti and his troupe of musicians. Spectacular foot tapping and hand clapping performances of bhangra, gidda and jhoomar followed the magic of the music.
Though all the performances were highly synchronized and sensual treats, my personal favourite of the evening was the gidda performance by the troupe of women dancers. Totally bereft of any musical instrument, the women danced and sang while tirelessly clapping and reciting witty rhymes throughout the performance. The vivacious applause was much deserved.
Dhanoa, while emphasising the need for preservation of the purity of the dance forms, opined that folk dances are primarily means of self-enjoyment and should not become a showcase of difficult motions.
Efforts and initiatives to promote cross-cultural understanding are vital for survival, sustenance and success in the globalised world. Genuine understanding and respect for each other's beliefs and traditions can no longer be optional. The murder of Alia Ansari in Fremont last month and other crimes of violence against Sikhs, Muslims, and other racial, ethnic, and religious groups since 9/11 in varied parts of US further reiterate that hate and bigotry are paths to perdition. In their response against such acts, people of Fremont observed a wear a hijab/turban day on Monday, November 13.
Besides such similar responses, other long-term efforts for promotion of cross-cultural understanding are the global need of the day. For adequate representation of South Asia in Stanford, a new Center for South Asia (CSA) has been created at the university, co-directed by Professors Carl Bielefeldt and Linda Hess.
This year, the center is co-presenting two films in the San Francisco International South Asia Film Festival titled Divided We Fall: Americans in the Aftermath directed by Sharat Raju and Stanford's Valarie Kaur and The Forsaken Land directed by Vimukthi Jayasundara.
In Divided We Fall, driven to action by the brutal murder of a man from her Sikh community in the aftermath of 9/11, Valarie Kaur sets out across America. Camera in her hand she crosses the country to discover who counts as "American" in a world divided into "us" and "them".
Whether on the streets of a still-shocked Manhattan, the steps of the US capital, or in the desert towns of Arizona, Valarie captures the untold stories of 9/11. In cafes, restaurants, homes, places of business and street corners across the country, people invite her into their lives and share their remarkable struggles with violence, fear and loss.
In her journey, she confronts the forces that divide people in times of crisis. How do we see one another? Who looks like an enemy? Who looks like an American? Who counts as "one of us".
The winner of Cannes' prestigious Camera d'or prize in 2005, The Forsaken Land is an exquisitely shot, visually stunning poetic drama. The film reveals its secrets gradually shot by shot with painterly stylised compositions reflecting the disorientation and desolation of unending civil war in Sri Lanka.