Challenging Bharatanatyam’s history

Dancing girls and musicians from Madras, a drawing by Christopher Green, c.1800 (Representation of the Dancing Girls on the Coast of Coromandel, Christopher Green (c. 1745–1805) Copyright The British Library Board WD 4510)

Dancing girls and musicians from Madras, a drawing by Christopher Green, c.1800 (Representation of the Dancing Girls on the Coast of Coromandel, Christopher
Green (c. 1745–1805) Copyright The British Library Board WD 4510)

There are many questions that BN dancers think about that do not challenge the art form but are part of their basic introspection. Here I am posting audio of Davesh Soneji’s talk that came out in The Hindu in 2011 [1, 2], produced by Sruthi Krishnan. Scroll below for the audio.

He talks about the “Class inflected gaze” that the then “Madras bourgeoise” had put pressure on the art form. Also, he talks about why we need to look at Bharatanatyam’s history critically and not take it for granted. If readers remember an earlier post, I had posted a question “Is current Bharatanatyam form a type of modern dance?

  • Is Bharatanatyam really so ancient?
  • Did Bharatanatyam move from temple to theatre, or did both co-exist?
  • Is Bharatanatyam’s history taken for granted?
  • Can a critical history of Bharatanatyam be possible?

The description given is

History of Bharatanatyam today is trapped in an idealised and romanticised version of the past that does not stand the test of critical enquiry, says Davesh Soneji, an Associate professor of South Indian Religions at McGill University in Canada. For over twenty years now, this scholar has lived in and out of villages in Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu researching female public performers in nineteenth and early twentieth century south India. Excerpts from an interview on the eve of the release of his latest book ‘Unfinished Gestures: Devadasis, Memory and Modernity in South India’.

How can we accept caste and class as an issue in society but say they are non-issues in Bharatanatyam? We have to question the history handed down by the “Madras bourgeoise” and think of dance as connected with the social and political realities of the era, says Dr. Soneji.

References:

  1. http://www.thehindu.com/features/friday-review/music/article2728653.ece
  2. http://www.thehindu.com/features/friday-review/music/article2728654.ece
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