Experience South Asia at UC Davis in 2017-18

Photo: performer seated reading a magazine
Amrinder Gill will perform songs from his latest movie, Lahoriye, in a concert to benefit efforts to launch Punjabi studies at UC Davis.

Amrinder Gill Concert Kicks Off Year of Events Spotlighting South Asia

Punjabi singer and film star Amrinder Gill will perform in concert Oct. 14 at UC Davis’ Mondavi Center, headlining a wide-ranging series of events this academic year focused on South Asia.

Gill will sing songs from his latest movie, Lahoriye, a tale of two Punjab villages on opposite sides of the Indian-Pakistan border and two young lovers.

The border-crossing theme of Gill’s concert is a thread that runs throughout the 2017–18 series of performances, exhibitions and talks about South Asian arts, culture and history.

The series explores the diversity of the region and its centuries-long influences on the world in a variety of forms—ancient and contemporary, history and imagination, body and spirit, society and culture.

Other shows at the Mondavi Center for the Performing Arts will feature ancient Sanskrit theater, traditional musical theater of northern India, and a Canadian dance troupe that blends a traditional South Indian dance form with Western aesthetic sensibilities.

Crossing Disciplines and Borders

Faculty and graduate students who study South Asia from an array of disciplines across campus, in collaboration with community partners, have also organized lectures by visiting scholars and artists, a photo exhibition, a film festival, an author reading, a music symposium and a religion conference.

Lead sponsors are the South Asia Without Borders initiative, launched in 2016 by the UC Davis Middle East/South Asia Studies Program (ME/SA) and the Department of Religious Studies.

map of South AsiaSmriti Srinivas, director of ME/SA and a professor of anthropology, said there is a groundswell of interest on campus in learning about South Asian societies and cultures.

“The South Asia region, with a fourth of the world’s people, is a vibrant center of humanity,” Srinivas said. “It includes the diverse yet connected societies, cultures and ecologies of India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Nepal, Afghanistan, Bhutan and the Maldives and their overseas communities.

“Our South Asia without Borders initiative includes exciting public events orchestrated by faculty and their graduate students in collaboration with community partners across disciplines and regions. We want to stimulate greater understanding and new conversations about South Asia. Our vision is a dynamic, multicultural, and globally relevant South Asia.”

Religious studies events will include a February 2018 lecture on Islam in India, an April 2018 symposium on a Carnatic music composer of Hindu tradition and a June 2018 conference on the study of religion in India.

Four ME/SA events will highlight Punjabi arts, religion and culture, beginning with Gill, one of the most recognizable voices in the Punjabi and South Asian music scene. The others are a video art and narrative performance by Delhi-based artist Seema Kohli in November; a film about a Punjabi-Canadian wrestler in January 2018 (part of a South Asian film festival); and a lecture by a scholar of Sikhism in April 2018.

A photo exhibition this fall and a talk next March on the Ganga River spotlight connections of natural and cosmic realms. 

An artist talk and an author reading highlight the works of two South Asian Americans: Neha Choksi, a Mumbai- and Los Angeles-based artist, will speak in February; novelist Nayomi Munaweera, who was born in Sri Lanka and lives in Oakland, will give a reading in April.

Student Ticket Giveway for Gill Concert

Proceeds from Gill’s concert will benefit a fund to establish Punjabi language and cultural studies at UC Davis.

UC Davis has deep ties with the Punjabi communities of California, with numerous Punjabi American students and more than 800 alumni, said Nicole Ranganath, a historian and ME/SA lecturer who curates UC Davis’ new Pioneering Punjabis Digital Archive launched last year in collaboration with Yuba City’s Punjabi American Heritage Society.

Tickets for the Gill concert go on sale Wednesday, Aug. 23, at the Mondavi Center. The first 200 UC Davis students to arrive will be given free tickets, (The price for student tickets is $25 each. Other tickets range up to $99.)

“There will be so much energy and dynamism. It’s going to be an incredible concert,” Ranganath said.

Here is a look, by academic quarter, of upcoming events.

Fall 2017

"Endangered," by Debal Sen

Photography exhibition: Land, Water, and Rock, featuring works by Debal Sen, a cardiologist and nature photographer whose images have appeared National Geographic, BBC wildlife documentaries and his three books, Wild Bengal, Panch Kedar and Once Upon a Time. Sen said his exhibition depicts forests, rivers, ocean and animals in a spectral light—neither day nor night, “suggesting a world, which, although elusive, can always be accessed by the ‘other world’ consciousness.”

Sept. 29–Nov. 1
Mondavi Center lobby
Opening reception, Sept. 29, 6:30 p.m., with talk at 7 p.m.
Conference Center, Ballroom A

Sponsored by South Asia without Borders initiative, Middle East/South Asia Studies Program.

Concert: Amrinder Gill, one the most recognizable voices in the Punjabi and South Asian music scene, will perform songs from his recent hit film, Lahoriye. 

Oct. 14, 8 p.m.

Mondavi Center, Jackson Hall

For tickets, visit the Mondavi Center for the Performing Arts

Sponsored by South Asia without Borders initiative, Middle East/South Asia Studies Program

Costumed performerKudiyattam Sanskrit Theater, the last living representative of the classical, 2,000-year-old form of Sanskrit drama, performs two episodes: the demon Ravana's attack on the moon, and a sequence from Kalidasa's Sakuntala.

Nov. 3-4, 8 p.m.

Pre-performance talks beginning at 7 p.m. each evening by David Shulman, Renee Lang Professor of Humanistic Studies at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and an expert on Kudiyattam. Curated by the Religions of India Initiative and sponsored by the Mondavi Center.

Mondavi Center,  Jackson Hall

Tickets at Mondavi Center for the Performing Arts.

artworkSeema Kohli, an award-winning New Delhi painter, muralist, sculptor and installation artist, will showcase her video art and perform “In Silence, the Secret Speaks” in collaboration with the students of the UC Davis Department of Theatre and Dance.

Nov. 6, 6-7 p.m.

Nelson Hall, Della Davidson Performance Studio

Sponsored by South Asia without Borders initiative, Middle East/South Asia Studies Program.

Winter 2018

South Asia Film Festival, featuring films that reflect the region's rich diversity.

Jan. 20

Mondavi Center, Vanderhoef Studio

Sponsored by South Asia without Borders initiative, Middle East/South Asia Studies Program.

Lecture: Neha Choksi, a Mumbai- and Los Angeles-based artist who uses performance, sculpture, video, photography, painting and sound, will speak. Choksi often sets up tragicomic, even absurd, interventions—in the life of a plant, an animal, her own, or in material processes and physical objects—in order to throw off apparent logic and open up a space for poetry, absurdity, humor, surprise and existential insight.

Feb. 26

Location to be determined.

Sponsored by South Asia without Borders initiative, Middle East/South Asia Studies Program.

Portrait photoLecture: Barbara Metcalf, a UC Davis professor emeritus of history and an authority on history of the Muslim population of India and Pakistan, will give a talk on Islam in India. This is the annual Religions of India lecture.

Feb. 22, 6 PM

Location to be determined.

Sponsored by the Department of Religious Studies and the Religions of India Initiative.

Photo of professor speakingLecture: Sudipta Sen, a UC Davis professor of history who studies India and the British Empire, gives a talk, “The Ganga: Rethinking the Sacred Pasts of the India’s Great River.” India’s most famous river has figured prominently in diverse religious and ecological traditions, including Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism and Islam. This talk explores the idea of a cosmic river at the crossroads of myth, historical geography and ecology.

March 7, 6:30 p.m. reception, with lecture at 7 p.m.

Buehler Alumni Center, AGR Hall

Sponsored by South Asia without Borders initiative, Middle East/South Asia Studies Program.

Spring Quarter 2018

Symposium and concert devoted to Muthuswami Dikshitar, a South Indian poet and composer who lived 1775 –1835, one of the three greats of Carnatic music.

April 7


  • Symposium in 115 Music
  • Concert at the Pitzer Center

Sponsored by the Religions of India Initiative, the Department Music, UC Davis Global Affairs, and Sacramento Aradhana.

book coversAuthor reading: Nayomi Munaweera, a Sri Lankan American writer, will read from her work followed by a Q&A session. Her debut novel, Island of a Thousand Mirrors, won the Commonwealth Prize for Asia, was long listed for the Dublin IMPAC Prize and the Man Asia Prize. Her second novel, What Lies Between Us, was hailed by BuzzFeed, Elle Magazine and other publications as one of the most exciting literary releases of 2016.

April 24, 6 p.m.    

Shields Library, second floor

Sponsored by South Asia without Borders initiative, Middle East/South Asia Studies Program.

An April 15 performance of Sultana Daku by Devendra Sharma and Company, has been canceled.

Lecture: Urmila Seshagiri, an associate professor of English at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, and an expert on postcolonial and transnational literature and culture, gives a talk on novelist Jhumpa Lahiri, realism, modernism, and contemporary debates about aesthetics in fiction.

April 17, 430 PM

Location TBD

Sponsored by the Department of Comparative Literature

portrait photoLecture: Nikky Guninder Kaur Singh, the Crawford Family Professor of Religion at Colby College in Waterville, Maine, gives a talk, “Crossing Borders: Sacred and Secular Punjabi Lyrics.” Singh’s interests focus on poetics and feminist issues. She has written extensively in the field of Sikhism, including the books The Feminine Principle in the Sikh Vision of the Transcendent, The Name of My Beloved: Verses of the Sikh Gurus and Metaphysics and Physics of the Guru Granth Sahib.

April 27, 6:30 p.m. reception, followed by 7 p.m. talk

Buehler Alumni Center, AGR Hall.

Sponsored by South Asia without Borders initiative, Middle East/South Asia Studies Program

performers on stageDance: One of Canada’s most progressive dance companies, inDANCE presents a world premiere of 16 shades of RED—chapters 1 and 2, integrating original courtesan dance from South India, complex choreography, live music and stunning lighting design showcasing original repertoire rarely experienced on contemporary world stages.

May 12, 8 p.m., and May 13, 2 p.m.

Mondavi Center, Vanderhoef Studio Theatre

Pre-performance talk by Davesh Soneji, associate professor of South Asia studies at the University of Pennsylvania

May 12, 7 p.m. and May 13, 1 p.m. 

Mondavi Center, Jackson Hall

Tickets at mondavi.org.

Conference on the Study of Religion in India

June 18-21

Andrews Conference Room, 2203 Social Sciences and Humanities Building, and Multipurpose Room, Student Community Center.        

Sponsored by the Department of Religious Studies, Religions of India Initiative, Office of the Chancellors, UC Davis Global Affairs, Graduate Studies, the College of Letters and Science Dean’s Office, the Graduate Group in the Study of Religion, Classics, and ME/SA.

Kathleen Holder, content strategist in the UC Davis College of Letters and Science