Ritual & Rasa

On Rituals, rites, and ceremonies: The power of performance, Alana Bowden Symposium, 27 Oct. 2023
Ritual and Rasa: Dr. Rakini Devi

My research-based practice spanning three decades, continues to evolve through the power of ritual and ceremony as performance, to explore aspects of identity and culture, challenge attitudes of racial stereotyping, and specifically, to protest global misogyny. Drawing on two decades of Indian classical dance, my multidisciplinary practice has evolved into the performance of highly stylised hybrid religious iconographic forms that seek to challenge colonial and patriarchal spaces, as well as cultural and gender identity. It is also informed by scholarly research, and in particular, my exegesis Urban Kali, from sacred dance to secular performance (2018), exploring my performance of the iconography of the Hindu goddess, Kali.
Whereas Urban Kali seeks to contextualise my ongoing preoccupation with female religious iconography and explain how I use ritual performance to engage in cultural activism, this paper will describe my ongoing practice-based research, elaborating on how the transformative action of ritual transfigures the iconised body into a ‘ritual artifact’. The paper will address the importance of ritual, understood as a powerful form of embodied expression in a media-saturated world.
My aesthetic is influenced by the theory of Rasa, understood as the essence of live art, a crucial element of all Indian classical art forms and defined by the 10th century Kashmiri Shaivite philosopher Abhinavagupta in his famous philosophical commentary on the Natya Shastra, the Sanskrit treatise on the performing arts. According to his theory, the primary goal of the performing arts is to transport the audience or the rasikas, into a parallel realm, infused with awe and bliss, where one experiences the essence of their own consciousness. My paper Rasa and Ritual will also address this ancient Indian aesthetic tradition, as fundamental to my ritualised performance practice and argue for its relevance in contemporary art in the twenty first century.