A Briefing About the Virtual Book Launch of Devotional Hindu Dance: A Return to the Sacred
Guest Blogger: Dr. Sabrina D. MisirHiralall
On Sunday, June 27, 2021 I hosted a virtual book launch on zoom for my third book, Devotional Hindu Dance: A Return to the Sacred. After a blessing from Pt. Ravi Ratan from Shaanti Bhavan Mandir of Queens, New York, I presented a book talk that focused on key concepts of the text. My goal was to share an overview of the book along with a summary and an analysis of each chapter. I presented the problem that provoked me to write the text, discussed why the problem is important, and explained why individuals, especially devotees of Hinduism should read the book.
I wrote this text because I am deeply concerned with the problem of Hindu dance as primarily cultural. My problem is that Hindus especially have come to view Hindu dance with a Westernized lens. Hindu dance is no longer performed primarily by students to worship the Supreme Being. Instead, students perform mostly on stage for cultural events. The solution here is to return Hindu dance to a sacred art that is not “performed” but rather used by devotees to engage in worship. I illustrate how to return Hindu dance to a religious, sacred, dance form. I show how dancers, regardless of whether or not schooled in Hindu dance, could dance devotionally. Those who view Hindu dance should view the dance through a religious, sacred lens. Viewers of Hindu dance ought to focus on having a phenomenological experience, which may involve a religious experience, spiritual experience, or aesthetic experience.
Many texts today discuss Hindu dance as a cultural dance form of India. However, this book is original because it focuses on Hindu dance based on its origin. I explain why Hindu dance is religious, how to engage in devotional Hindu dance, and how to negotiate the boundaries of religion and culture to position Hindu dance in the West. Postcolonialism is a main theme throughout this text since religion and culture do not remain static. I keep in mind the hybridity of religion and culture as I position Hindu dance in the West.
The book provides guidance on how students should prepare to study Hindu dance. I, set my expectations and prerequisites for students in this text, which is why I ask that all potential dance students of mine and/or their parents read this book before they begin to learn dance from me. Hindus should read this text to gain clarity on the role of Hindu dance in Hinduism. Non-Hindus should also study this book to understand the theological links between Hinduism and Hindu dance.
Following the book talk, a number of attendees contributed commentary on the problematic nature of viewing seemingly Hindu dances today that do not focus on a spiritual connection to the Supreme Being. Other commentary encouraged me to move past the criticisms of being a dance guru and a scholar and instead focus on pursuing the goals of my spiritual dance journey.
The virtual book launch was a great success. The book was well-received by the participants who understood the problem that provoked me to write the text. The attendees urged me to continue to present the book in a variety of pedagogical spaces within and outside of the Hindu community because this will shed light on the problem of Hindu dance as primarily cultural. I aim to return Hindu dance to a sacred art form as I teach about Hinduism through Hindu dance that centers attention on Hindu philosophy.
Dr. Sabrina D. MisirHiralall is an editor at the Blog of the American Philosophical Association who currently teaches philosophy, religion, and education courses solely online for Montclair State University, Three Rivers Community College, and St. John’s University. She is a Kuchipudi Indian classical Hindu dancer who frequently presents and dances in higher education as she confronts Orientalism through a variety of pedagogical spaces. Aside from several journal publications, she published Confronting Orientalism: A Self-Study of Educating Through Hindu Dance, and also served as the lead editor for Religious Studies Scholars as Public Intellectuals, which is published in the Routledge in Religion Series.
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