Mandala Makers Festival celebrates evolution in South Asian diaspora


Hands down, one of the most rewarding aspects of Chicago is its cultural vibrancy. Nearly every neighborhood within the city has a rich history of migration and resilience. A large part of this resilience includes the cultural dance companies that have blossomed over the years.

Not only are these organizations devoted to sharing the beauty and stories of their people, but they are also committed to uplifting future generations while taking a closer look at the nuanced ways their traditions have evolved. Most recently, we have seen an uptick in the form of festivals, which have been a rich addition to the performances we are accustomed to supporting. Mandala South Asian Performing Arts celebrates the diversity of the South Asian diaspora during the month of June on Devon Avenue during the 2024 Mandala Makers Festival.

Historically, Devon Avenue on Chicago’s north side has been a bustling home for South Asian Chicagoans, and Mandala’s Artistic Director, Pranita Nayar, plans to build upon this spirit of legacy with the sixth annual Mandala Makers Festival. Since the festival's inception in 2018, the Mandala Makers Festival has been a midwestern hub for emerging South Asian artists. “The first large group of immigrants made Devon Avenue their home,” Nayar said in a recent interview with See Chicago Dance. “It is a vibrant place for everyone to visit. We hope to aid in the revitalization of the area, supporting the business and cultural tourism with a beauty salon, sari shop, food cafeteria and the festival and mural taking place in the parking lot of the Republic Bank.”

Over the course of four weekends in June, the Mandala Makers Festival, generously supported by the Driehaus Foundation, will feature an array of local and national artists through dance workshops, performances, musicians, a mural installation, panel discussions and a culminating performance at Chicago’s Harris Theatre. 

The festival kicks off with Mandala’s root discipline, dance. On June 2nd, from 9-5 PM at Northeastern Illinois University, dance workshops led by Maya Rau Murthy, Anindita Neogy Anaaam, and Vaneetha Veeravalli and Sutikshna Veeravalli will give festival goers a chance to get a taste of classical and modern Indian dance styles.

Sonali Skandan

Lively performances will carry on through the afternoon by Varsha Vijayan; Sonali Skandan of Jiva Dance Collective, Ishami Dance Company and the Mandala Ensemble.

Additionally, festival participants will be especially excited to experience the panel discussion on the opening day. Led by arts/dance critic Lauren Warnecke, in discussion with Nayar and Ameera Nimjee, Associate Professor in the Department of Music at Yale University.

The day will focus on "Translocal Dance in the South Asian Diaspora," delving into the conversations the body has with itself when it becomes versed in many languages. “Everyday factors affect the body," says Nayar. "What you embody in the new time and space and what has come out of it is a part of your vocabulary. It's difficult to stay traditional because it is not always relevant, including our faith practices at times."

June 9th takes us on a rich journey of music that celebrates the South Asian Diaspora. Curated by veteran Mandala member Chethan Anant, the afternoon will showcase “bansuri” traditional sounds, along with Bollywood classics boasting a contemporary twist. The evening will conclude with a year-long collaboration that will showcase the musical voices of both African American and South Asian artists. Some of the artists include Riyaaz Qawwali and Markeyta Sconiers. This unique music circle was graciously supported by the Joyce Foundation.

June 16th will unveil the “We All Thrive: Devon Community Mural." Led by community activist, educator and artist Indira Friedas Johnson, the mural is a collective effort facilitated by Ashmi Mridul, bringing several cultures from the Devon Community to bridge multiple communities using symbols that reflect diverse meanings.

The Mandala Music Circle

The culminating performance, Ambi Subramaniam with Mandala Music Circle, will take place at the Harris Theatre for Music and Dance at 7 PM, June 27th. Featured artists include renowned Indian violinist Ambi Subramaniam along with Chethan Anant on bansuri, Fareed Haque on guitar, Anvita Hariharan on Carnatic saxophone and storyteller and multi instrumentalist Shanta Nurullah. This performance expands on a choreographic concept—the exploration of the complexity of Persian calligraphy through Indian dance—developed by Nayar in her work  "With Rumi" (2020).

As the Mandala Makers Festival steadily evolves, Nayar assures there is one thing we can count on. “We are constantly trying to showcase how South Asian dance is moving forward. We are encouraging folks to use their own voice and honor tradition but have the courage to step out of it.”

Mandala South Asian Performing Arts presents the Mandala Makers Music Festival on Sunday, June 9, 1–5 p.m., and "We All Thrive: Devon Community Mural" on Sunday, June 16, 11 a.m. at Republic Bank Parking Lot, 2720 W. Devon Avenue. Ambi Subramaniam with Mandala Music Circle perform Thursday, June 27, 7 p.m., at Harris Theater for Music and Dance, 205 East Randolph. For more information click the company link below or visit