Experience South Asia at UC Davis in 2017-18

Amrinder Gill Concert Kicks Off Year of Events Spotlighting South Asia

August 2017 — 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.

portrait photo of Amrinder Gill sitting and 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.

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' ’ Religions of India Initiative (launched in 2007).

map showing countries of South Asia

Smriti Srinivas, director of ME/SA and a professor of anthropology, said there is a groundswell of interest on campus and in the community 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 across disciplines and regions," she said. "Our collaboration includes community partners (the Punjabi American Heritage Society, Sacramento Metropolitan Arts Commission, 3rd i Films and Sikhlens) and campus partners (Office of Global Affairs, Mondavi Center for the Performing Arts, Dean’s Office, College of Letters and Science, and the Mellon Reimagining Indian Ocean Worlds Research Initiative, UC Davis). 

"We want to stimulate greater understanding and new conversations about South Asia. Our vision is a dynamic, multicultural, and globally relevant South Asia.”

Religions of India Initiative events will include a February 2018 lecture on Islam in India by history Professor Emeritus Barbara Metcalf, an April 2018 symposium on a south Indian classical composer (co-sponsored with the Department of Music and UC Davis Global Affairs, and in partnership with a community arts organization), 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.

A Benefit for Punjabi Studies

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 community of California, with numerous Punjabi American students and more than 800 alumni, said Nicole Ranganath, a historian and an assistant adjunct professor who curates UC Davis’ new Pioneering Punjabis Digital Archive launched last year in collaboration with Yuba City’s Punjabi American Heritage Society. This year's Punjabi events are offered in offered in partnership with the Punjabi community.

Ticket sales for the Gill concert began Aug. 25 at the Mondavi Center. Prices are discounted 50 percent for UC Davis students. 

“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

Debal Sen photo of tiger

"Endangered," by Debal Sen

Photography exhibition: Land, Water, and Rock, featuring works by Debal Sen, a cardiologist and nature photographer known for his four books, Wild Bengal, Panch Kedar, Once Upon a Time and Shores. 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

close image of actor Amrinder Gill

The trailer for the film Lahoriye, starring Amrinder Gill.

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 actor on the stage

Kudiyattam 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 mondaviarts.org.


Seema 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

collage of four movies posters

South Asia Film Festival, featuring four films with a broad view of South Asians around the world.

Jan. 20

Chillar Party — Family drama. 10 a.m., International House, 10 College Park. Free.

Stand Up Planet — Documentary hosted by UC Davis alumnus and comedian Hasan Minhaj about comedy in India and South Africa. 1 p.m., International House. Free for UC Davis students, $10 suggested donation for others.

The Journey Within — Award-winning documentary about Pakistani musicians on a post-9/11 quest for self-identity. Question-and-answer session with the director will follow, via Skype. 3 p.m., International House. Free for UC Davis students, $10 suggested donation for others.

Tiger — Biopic about Canadian Sikh boxer Pardeep “Tiger” Nagra. 6 p.m., Varsity Theatre, 616 Second St. $10.

Read more about the film festival.

Sponsored by the South Asia without Borders initiative within the UC Davis Middle East/South Asia Studies Program (ME/SA) with support from the UC Davis Office of Global Affairs and the College of Letters and Sciences. 

Lecture: "The Sun's Rehearsal" by Neha Choksi, a Mumbai- and Los Angeles-based artist who uses performance, sculpture, video, photography, painting and sound. 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, 6 p.m. 

Della Davidson Studio, Nelson Hall

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

portrait photo

Lecture: 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, 5:30 p.m. reception, with lecture at 6 p.m.

126 Voorhies Hall

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

portrait photo

Lecture: 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 covers

Author 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.

performers on stage

Musical theater: Devendra Sharma and Company, perform Sultana Daku. Sharma is a performer, writer and director of Nautanki and other traditional musical theater genres of northern India. Sultana Daku is a humorous tale of a cat-and-mouse chase between Sultana, a notorious thief from early 20th-century India, and the British superintendent of police, Freddie Young.

April 15, 2 p.m.

Mondavi Center, Jackson Hall

For tickets, visit mondavi.org.

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 photo

Lecture: 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

dancers on stage

Dance: One of Canada’s most progressive dance companies, inDANCE presents two programs that integrate decades of original courtesan dance research, complex choreography, live music and stunning visual and lighting design—The Book of Sandalwood and Purnima/FullMoon.

May 12, 8 p.m., and May 13, 2 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.

Reported by Kathleen Holder, who writes about the social sciences for the UC Davis College of Letters and Science.