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Northrop Centennial Commission

Ranee Ramaswamy and Aparna Ramaswamy’s Fires of Varanasi: Dance of the Eternal Pilgrim

Rooted in the expansive South Indian dance form of Bharatanatyam, Ragamala Dance Company manifests a kindred relationship between the ancient and the contemporary. In their latest evening-length performance, Fires of Varanasi: Dance of the Eternal Pilgrim, eleven dancers conjure a realm where time is suspended and humans merge with the divine. Award-winning creators Ranee Ramaswamy and Aparna Ramaswamy imagine a metaphorical crossing place that enters into a ritualistic world of immortality, evoking the birth-death-rebirth continuum in Hindu thought to honor immigrant experiences of life and death in the diaspora. This work is the culmination of a two-year partnership with Northrop that included a reimagined 2020-21 Ragamala Rooted residency with free monthly engagement activities.

This event will be captioned, with other accessibility services available upon request.


“soulful, imaginative and rhythmically contagious … every gesture radiates joy or generosity or a sense of striving toward some higher form of being.”  —The New York Times


Learn More

The content below derives from the Northrop Across Campus Program that supports Northrop's mission towards intersections between performing arts and education for the benefit of all participants now and for generations to come.

Explore These Themes

Find ways to make thematic connections to these suggested courses.

Dance: Multi-Genre

Asian American Studies

Asian/South Asian Studies

Cultural Studies

Global Studies

Theatrical Storytelling

Mortuary Science/Death Rituals

Religious Studies/Religion (Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam, Sikhism)

Spirituality and Healing

Early Childhood Education

Music: Multi-Genre

World History

Global and Cultural Apparel Designs

Environmental Studies


Start a conversation about the performance, or reflect on the performance, using these questions as inspiration.

Art, in all forms, brings the viewer into another world through the story the artist tells. The art of storytelling has the ability to transport and connect us to various aspects of our personal and communal lifestyles and identities. 

  • How do cultural traditions (such as dance) connect us to our ancestors and how do they transcend borders? 
  • How do rituals connect us to our past and our future and what emotions do we carry with them (hope, pain, etc.)?

Alastair Macaulay, in his 2015 article for The New York Times, touches upon the crucial role dance plays within Indian culture. In fact, around the country, the “Hindu gods are seen as dancing; and Shiva’s dance is cosmological.”

  • How do traditions, such as dancing, help us overcome pain and bind us to our beliefs and culture? Is dance both a religious practice as well as a cultural tradition? 

Much of Ragamala Dance Company’s work touches on the narratives and experiences surrounding immigration/emigration/human movement from their homelands. 

  • Does space/distance have an effect on memory? What can be gained or lost in the process of being physically removed from the spaces where memories were created? 
  • What is the meaning of a sacred place? Do we choose it or is it chosen? Is it in our imagination (existential) or is it tangible (local)? What makes a place extraordinary? What makes a place a wellspring? Is it personal or universal?
  • How do communities carry on cultural traditions in a new place? How do they make meaning for the next generation?