World Arts West
SF Ethnic Dance Festival


Natya at Berkeley

ARTISTIC DIRECTORS: Ishani Joshi, Sameeha Rau
First appearance in SF EDF: 2017

Natya at Berkeley is the premier bharatanatyam team at UC Berkeley. Founded in 2013, Natya cultivates artistic talent and cultural awareness within the community. The team was founded for students highly experienced in bharatanatyam to continue their art form while in college and spread the appreciation to larger audiences. The team invites members to incorporate their extensive bharatanatyam training by contributing to choreographies.


DANCE ORIGIN: Tamil Nadu, India
GENRE: Bharatanatyam
TITLE: The Descent of Ganga
ARTISTIC DIRECTORS: Ishani Joshi, Sameeha Rau
CHOREOGRAPHERS: Ilakya Palanisamy, Sameeha Rau, Lalli Venkat
ASSISTANT CHOREOGRAPHERS: Soumita Bose, Ishani Joshi, Neve Keshav,
Suhasini Ramakrishna, Kartiga Selvaganesan
DANCERS: Susmitha Bhat, Soumita Bose, Keerthana Chetlapalli, Ishani Joshi, Abirami Murugappan, Kavya Nambiar, Sameeha Rau, Swathi Ramesh, Nidhi Swamy, Shruthi Thatikunta, Janani Vijaykumar

Photo by Rachael Garner

Asathoma Sadgamaya,
tamaso ma jyotirgamaya

Lead me from darkness to light

To satisfy a devotee’s request, Brahma ordered the goddess Ganga, who lived in the Heavens, to go to Earth. Furious at his demeaning command, the goddess unleashed her river waters, wreaking havoc. The villagers prayed to Lord Shiva to calm Ganga’s destructive waves, and Shiva confronted Ganga, knotting her waters in his own matted locks, calming the sacred River Ganges.

The Descent of Ganga tells this Hindu story in dramatic dance. The form is India’s classical dance bharatanatyam, a form originating in ancient Tamil Nadu, where devadasi temple artists danced in worship, ritual, and prayer. The dancers open with classic bharatanatyam stage formations to depict Ganga’s intense waters. They then strike iconic dance poses for Lord Shiva, demonstrating the Celestial Savior’s strength as he pulls away the floods. Finally, the waters calm and dancers evoke the river’s feminine and continuous nature with fluid steps.

According to the ancient Sanskrit text Natya Shastra, the gods Brahma, Shiva, and Parvati developed bharatanatyam dance for us, for everyone, as both entertainment and education. Brahma created the Natya Veda, a written record of dance-drama’s moral and spiritual truth. Shiva, Lord of Dance, created masculine and rigid steps and movements, and Parvati brought femininity and grace. Classical Indian dance is highly codified, requiring years of training. This choreography is based on the building blocks—or, adavus—of bharatanatyam, with an emphasis on: sthanakam—leg positions; mandalam—posture; chari—walking movement; and mudra—hand gesture.

Company members—classically trained for at least 12 years—learned this art form in the US and India from: Guru Mythili Kumar, Guru Shreelata Suresh, Guru Vishal Ramani, Guru Padmini Vasan, Guru Nirupama Vaidhyanathan, Guru Vidya Subramanium, Guru Parvatha Chidambaram, Guru Shirisha Shashank, Guru Radica Giri, Guru Navia Natarajan, Guru Indumathy Ganesh, and Guru Padmini Ramachandran.

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