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Release: Feb. 14, 2001

UI to host symposium on Hindu Goddesses in Indian Popular Art Feb. 23-34

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- Distinguished scholars from India and the United States will gather at the University of Iowa Friday and Saturday, Feb. 23-24 to participate in a public symposium "Experiencing Devi: Hindu Goddesses in Indian Popular Art," being held in conjunction with an exhibit at the UI Museum of Art. All events are free and open to the public.

Nine scholars will participate in the two-day symposium, discussing visual representations or embodiments of mother goddesses. Diana Eck, professor of Comparative Religion and Indian Studies at the Harvard Divinity School and Center for the Study of World Religions, will give the keynote address "Devi and the Land of India," Friday, Feb. 23, at 7:30 p.m. in the Lasansky Room at the UI Museum of Art.

The symposium will continue on Saturday, Feb. 24 with half-hour presentations starting at 9 a.m., also in the Lasansky Room. Participants include Georgana Falb Foster (donor of the collection on which the exhibit draws), Anne Feldhaus (University of Northern Arizona), Ann Grodzins Gold (Syracuse University), Jyotindra Jain (Director, National Handlooms and Handicrafts Museum, New Delhi), Frank Korom (Boston University), Rachel Fell McDermott (Barnard College), Kirin Narayan (University of Wisconsin, Madison), and Joanne P. Waghorne (University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.)

All of these scholars have done research on Hindu goddesses and their worship, said symposium organizer Philip Lutgendorf, professor of Asian languages and literature in the UI College of Liberal Arts and co-chair of the South Asian Studies Program (SASP).

"The focus of the presentations will be on visible embodiments of the Goddess -- in the Indian landscape, in icons, and in people," Lutgendorf said. "Listeners will gain a better understanding of the imminent experience of feminine divinity in Hindu culture." Keynote speaker Diana Eck, is a renowned scholar and teacher of Indic religious traditions. The author of "Banaras: City of Light" (Princeton, 1982) and of "Darsan: Seeing the Divine Image in India" (Anima, 1985), she has recently completed extensive research on contemporary pilgrimage to goddess shrines.

Presentations on the second day of the symposium are divided into two sessions:

Morning session: Lady in the Landscape

9 a.m. -- "Experiencing Devi: Travels in India in Search of Her Image," by Georgana Falb Foster, a native of Elgin, Iowa, who amassed her large collection of everyday Indian brassware, storytellers' scrolls, hand painted textiles, and wood and clay figurines by purchasing pieces from itinerant peddlers and commissioning works by artisans in their home villages. In 1998 she formally donated her collection to the UI Museum of Art;

9:30 a.m. -- "Goddesses Who Travel: Pilgrimage Devis of Maharashtra," by Anne Feldhaus, the author of four books on popular religion in the central Deccan Plateau region of India, including "Water and Womanhood" (Oxford, 1995), a study of pilgrimage and the worship of river goddesses in Maharashtra;

10:30 a.m. -- "Beautiful Queen and other Devis: Questions of Name and Form," by Ann Grodzins Gold, an anthropologist who teaches religious studies and is the author of "Fruitful Journeys: The Ways of Rajasthani Pilgrims" (California, 1988) and co-author with Gloria Raheja of "Listen to the Heron's Words: Reimagining Gender and Kinship in North India" (California, 1994);

11 a.m. -- "Seeing the Goddess in an Urban World: Temple Iconography for a New Age," by Joanne P. Waghorne, the author of "The Raja's Magic Clothes" (Penn State, 1994), and editor with Norman Cutler of "Gods of Flesh, Gods of Stone" (Anima, 1984). Waghorne will discuss the art and architecture of new middle-class temples in Chennai (Madras);

Afternoon Session: Picturing Devis

2 p.m. -- "The Goddess and the Heroine: Cultic and Episodic Images in Indian Popular Culture" by Jyotindra Jain, director of one of India's most innovative museums and a widely-published scholar of folk and popular art. He is the author of eleven volumes, including "Ganga Devi: Tradition and Expression in Mithila Painting" (Grantha, 1997);

2: 30 p.m. -- "Merging Visual and Verbal Art: A Bengali Patuya Sings the Goddess" by Frank Korom, an ethnographer and folklorist who served until 1998 as Curator of Asian and Middle Eastern Collections at the Museum of International Folk Art in Santa Fe, NM and now Assistant Professor of Religion and Anthropology at Boston University. He is the editor of "Gender, Genre, and Power in South Asian Expressive Traditions" (Pennsylvania, 1991), and of "Constructing Tibetan Culture" (World Heritage Press, 1997).

3: 30 p.m. -- "The Plant Bride: Tulsi Mata's Wedding in Kangra" by Kirin Narayan an anthropologist, folklorist, novelist, and the author of "Storytellers, Saints, and Scoundrels" (Pennsylvania, 1989), and "Mondays on the Dark Night of the Moon" (Oxford, 1997);

4 p.m. -- "Durga on the Titanic and Other Puja Visions" by Rachel Fell McDermott, the author of a forthcoming book on the contemporary worship of the martial goddess Durga in Bengal, who will share recent fieldwork documenting how the iconography of the Durga Puja festival has been influenced by images and themes derived from mass media.

Symposium events are free and open to the public. No registration is required. For more information, contact Lutgendorf at (319) 335-2157 or at

Organized by the UI South Asian Studies Program, the symposium has received support from the UI Arts and Humanities Initiative, a Major Projects Grant from UI International Programs, the Stanley-UI Foundation Support Organization, the UI School of Religion, and Meenal and Arnold Menezes. Professor Eck's visit is co-sponsored by Grinnell College, and Professor Narayan's visit by the UI Department of Anthropology. The organizers also thank Satish and Neera Khera and Virendra and Manjula Patel for additional generous assistance.