A children's choir performed at Ragamala's free, weekend-long “Ode to Navarathri Kolu.” (photos by Caroline Palmer)

By Caroline Palmer

This weekend Ragamala Dance has transformed the lower level of St. Paul’s Landmark Center into a celebration space. “An Ode to Navarathri Kolu” offers an opportunity to learn more about Navarathri, a busy time of year when families in South India construct steps within their homes to display dozens of figurines with a particular emphasis on goddesses.

According to Ragamala founder and co-artistic director Ranee Ramaswamy, Navarathri is “a festival where arts play a big role. People perform in each other’s living rooms. You share what you know.” Everyone, young and old, participates through ritual, song and dance over the course of nine nights.

Ragamala’s free event, funded by the Knight Foundation's St. Paul Arts Challenge, lasts only through this weekend but the program is jam-packed with artists representing a variety of artistic perspectives. Of course bharatanatyam dance and carnatic music play a big role but on Friday evening Keane Sense of Rhythm as well as tango performers Gerry Girouard and Denise Armstead also took the stage. It was particularly interesting to view Keane’s tap dancers after Ragamala member Jessica Fiala performed – although the dance forms they study are many centuries apart in origin, the universality and timelessness of the rhythms hold true.

A short film by Caitlin Hammel gives a glimpse into the homes of local Indian families as they prepare for Navarathri. And kids can try out a board game developed during the second century that inspired modern-day versions of “Snakes and Ladders” or “Chutes and Ladders.” Ramaswamy said this game is the inspiration for a forthcoming Ragamala work. 

Rounding out the fun are samples of food that might be served during Navarathri, created by celebrated chef Raghavan Iyer, author of the cookbook/memoir “The Turmeric Trail.” Friday’s offering was a delightful blend of black-eyed peas and coconut.

On a night filled with horrific news from Paris no doubt everyone appreciated just a bit more the positive spirit of creativity, the bustling excitement of the student dancers and the sweet sounds of children singing traditional devotional songs.

“An Ode to Navarathri Kolu” continues Saturday and Sunday from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. For further information visit www.ragamaladance.org.

Chef Raghavan Iyer prepared black-eyed peas with coconut for festivalgoers to sample.