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Friday, March 10, 2006

Dance Fever

Another Andrew Sullivan story catches my eye. BBC News tells the tale of sixteen-year-old VP Rubiya:

The family of a young Muslim girl in India's southern state of Kerala say they are being shunned by the local mosque committee (mahallu) because she is practising Indian classical dance.

The mahallu may have a legitimate grievance. One of the dance forms in question, Bharatanatyam, is explicitly religious in nature:

Bharatanatyam is the manifestation of the South Indian idea of the celebration of the eternal universe through the celebration of the beauty of the material body. In Hindu mythology the whole universe is the dance of the Supreme Dancer, Nataraja, a name for Lord Shiva, the Hindu ascetic yogi and divine purveyor of destruction of evil.

Later in that Wikipedia article is this statement:

At present, not only the Hindus but many Christians and Muslims learn it, bringing it beyond the rigid forms of religious boundaries.

Is this right? Let's do a hypotherical comparison. Some Hindu choristers take musical inspiration from Gregorian chant, an art form invented by a faith that teaches that Hindu gods are fake. There is no religious conflict of interest if they adopt the musical style and not the religious message. Likewise, those of non-Hindu faiths taking inspiration from Bharatanatyam must exclude the gestures that signify themes incompatible with their own faith. Doing otherwise would be as hypocritical as Richard Dawkins singing "Amazing Grace."

The original article doesn't address this key issue. It does say that Miss Rubiya has performed at over 50 temples - apparently meaning Hindu temples. I am not that familiar with the customs of Hindu temples to know whether they commonly host nonsectiarian entertainment, and whether such performances qualify as such. But one can easily get the impression that Rubiya is directly participating in the religious ceremonies of one faith while belonging to another. If she loves to dance and doesn't want to be a Hindu, she should heed the aforementioned advice.

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