DALLAS -- Vijayashree Venkatraman first moved to Texas from India in 1990. She and her husband Venkatraman Subramanian, a Carnatic vocalist and music teacher, were both passionate about the arts and looking for an artistic community where they could share their love of Indian classical music and dance.
"Up until the year 2000, the Indian community was quite small" in Texas, Venkatraman remembered. There was one small Hindu temple in Irving, she said, and her family would travel from Richardson to help organize and attend Indian classical music and dance performances there.
She knew of only two teachers in the Dallas area who offered formal lessons in Indian classical dance that her kids could take; of them, the one who taught South Indian dance styles had to commute from her home 60 miles outside Dallas to teach in the city.
"When I came, I brought all of this history with me," Venkatraman said. While raising her own children in North Texas, she wanted them to learn the music and dance traditions their family grew up with, and the Hindu traditions they were often based in. "How will these kids feel this same ownership?" she wondered.
Now, there are far more dance and music studios in the Dallas area where young kids can learn about Hinduism through the arts, Venkatraman said. The local Hindu community also has more spaces to enjoy Indian classical music and dance performances based on sacred stories and meet other art lovers looking for a taste of home.
One key space where Venkatraman has found an artistic community is the 34,000 square-foot Karya Siddhi Hanuman Temple where she volunteers. It opened in 2015 and is now one of the largest Hindu temples in the Dallas area. Temple leaders and volunteers share a passion for teaching kids about Hinduism through the arts and ensuring they feel connected with their Indian heritage.
"If you don't take [kids] to the temple, if you don't put them in music classes or dance classes or something to help them connect, it's not an automatic," said temple trustee and treasurer Laxmi Tummala. She hopes the temple can provide the cultural and artistic community to children that she wishes she had growing up.
The Frisco temple was founded by the religious leader His Holiness Sri Ganapathy Sachchidananda Swamiji, a famous composer of bhajans, or religious hymns. Its leader's influence in the world of Carnatic music has helped the temple offer a monthly concert series that has brought talented Carnatic musicians with significant followings in India to the Dallas area, along with classical Indian dancers and instrumentalists.
The temple also offers bhajan classes, for children ages 4 to adult, every Sunday, Kuchipudi dance classes on Saturdays, and other classes in yoga, Hindu scripture memorization and more.
Savitha Namuduri, who teaches Carnatic music, explained why the vocal performances the temple hosts are particularly valuable for helping children learn and preserve the tradition of Carnatic music.
Carnatic music "has passed down through so many generations only through the oral tradition," she explained. "The uniqueness of the style is jumping notes, landing on a perfect pitch" -- techniques which are best learned through listening, she said.
At a recent Carnatic music performance, the temple welcomed Vidu. Smt. Prema Ramamurthy, a musician who traveled from India for the concert. Many children and families gathered in the audience, including Jenani Sivamani, who is 13 and has been taking lessons since she was about 5. Sivamani has sung at festivals at the temple, and said she loves the peaceful feeling of joining voices with other students. "The community and culture that comes along with it is really important to me," she added.
This fall, the temple will host students from Indian classical music and dance schools around North Texas for regular weekend performances open to the community. With everything the temple does, Tummala hopes her children will feel proud of their heritage.
When she heard that her kids were planning a trip to India on their own this year, without her prodding, Tummala thought to herself, "Yes, it's all worth it."
The next monthly concert at Karya Siddhi Hanuman Temple is a Grand Carnatic Veena Concert by Vidushi Jayanthi Kumaresh on Sept. 2 at 4 p.m.
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