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Body, the Shrine

My legs are pillars, The body the shrine, The head a cupola Of gold. Things standing shall fall, But the moving ever shall stay. –Basavanna


In this new work by choreographers Ranee, Aparna, and Ashwini Ramaswamy, choreography, mythography, and Bhakti poetry entwine to connect the spiritual, the immediate, the intimate, and the transcendent. Set to an original score by Prema Ramamurthy, played live, Body, the Shrine will premiere at The Cowles Center for Dance (Minneapolis, April 2018).

The Bhakti literary tradition—beginning in 6c southern India and continuing into the present day—has always been radical in utterance and approach. These mystical poets—male and female, singing in their mother tongues rather than the Brahmanical Sanskrit of court and temple—re-framed relationships between the self, the community, and the divine, claiming a profoundly personal relationship with God. Using their voices explicitly as a social commentary on inclusion, they emphasized that spiritual equality superseded the burden of class and caste, and instead colored themselves in the image of God. In this direct communication with the divine, the poets upended established ritual and used the power of art—song, dance and poetry—to traverse the landscape between the infinite and the intimate.

The Bhakti poets erased any dichotomy between the sacred and the personal, and seamlessly interweaved the two to express deep longing, anguish of separation, ecstasy, and the desire to merge the soul with the Supreme Consciousness. In Body the Shrine, we excavate the visceral and primal wisdom of this poetic tradition—a tradition that strikes a chord in people across centuries and continues to be a powerful commentary on societal intolerance.

As choreographers, Bhakti poetry inspires in us a dynamic world of contemporary interpretive possibility—the literal, the subtexual and the inverted. Our hybridic voice as Indian-American artists will illumine the cultural fluidity inherent in these artistic genres. We are eager to approach the poetic, visual and aural elements of the work as a sort of prism—different upon each viewing—to explore the sacred sanctuary that exists within each of us.

The work will be comprised of four sections, inspired by the writings of four Bhakti poets—from Andal (9c), who feels entitled to claim the divine as her lover, and whose writings flow between plea and command, and shine with sacredness, eroticism, rage, and vulnerability; to Subramania Bharati (20c), a staunch nationalist, whose passionate writing for his land, for his country, and for his divine revealed his utopia of a shared humanity.

With Body, the Shrine, we hope to embody the perfect tension that exists between the inner and the outer, and to find the radical within bounds of convention, just as the poets did.

In setting the lyrics to song and in creating the performance architecture of the work, we will work in close collaboration in which choreography and music are constructed simultaneously in a constant artistic dialogue with our collaborators. Performed in solo and ensemble sections with five women dancers, the work will be accompanied by a four-piece musical ensemble: vocalist Preethy Mahesh, C.K. Vasudevan on nattuvangam (vocal percussion and cymbals), Sakthivel Muruganantham on mridangam (percussion), and South Indian Carnatic violin.

Project Media

Nocturne (2016) – 5m of a 60m work
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Concept/choreography: Ashwini Ramaswamy (with Ranee and Aparna Ramaswamy); Score commissioned from composers/musicians Shubhendra (sitar) and Saskia Rao (Indian cello); Musicians: Preethy Mahesh (vocal), Rajna Swaminathan (kanjira), Rohan Krishnamurthy (ghatam/kanjira) – Inspired by the natural, emotional, and spiritual migrations that occur after nightfall, Nocturne summons the different facets of the night—the natural world of flora and fauna, the emotional world of anticipation and longing, and the heightened spiritual potency of pre-dawn.

Start and End Dates



Minneapolis, Minnesota

Project Created By

Minneapolis, Minnesota
Ragamala Dance Company creates interdisciplinary dance works that explore the intersection between the ancestral and the contemporary. Under the direction of Ranee Ramaswamy and Aparna Ramaswamy (mother and daughter), Ragamala’s approach to Bharatanatyam as a dynamic, living tradition has resulted in work that speaks across boundaries of language, culture, ethnicity, nationality, and faith, and has…

In Collaboration With

Minneapolis, Minnesota
Minneapolis, Minnesota


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