P29


Courtesans in South India: towards a revisionist cultural history 
Convenors:
Davesh Soneji (McGill University)
Tiziana Leucci (CNRS)
Location:
C301
Start time:
27 July, 2012 at 16:15 (UTC+0)
Session slots:
1

Short Abstract:

This panel opens up the idea of "courtesan cultures" in South India by focusing on the non-religious lives of such women and examining their substantial and sometimes agentive roles in the production of modern Tamil literature, popular South Indian theatre and cinema, dance, and music.

Long Abstract

The English term "courtesan" is most often used in the South Asian context to refer to professional female musicians and dancers from North India, known as tawa'ifs and baijis. By contrast, parallel figures from South India have been glossed by the term devadasi and as such, have been fossilized under the archaic sign of "temple women." This panel opens up the idea of "courtesan cultures" in South India by focusing on the non-religious lives of such women and examining their substantial and sometimes agentive roles in the production of modern Tamil literature, popular South Indian theatre and cinema, dance, and music. Indira Peterson examines representations of the courtesan in the little-known Tamil literary genre of Viralivitututu. She focuses on the ways in which the genre foregrounds an image of the courtesan as artist and as the object of patronage by Brahmin elites in the Tamil-speaking regions. The paper by Joep Bor explores European constructions of South Indian "bayadères" through travel writing and other texts, and also discusses the visit of devadasis from Tiruvahindrapuram to Europe in 1838. The papers by Tiziana Leucci and Saskia Kersenboom interrogate indigenous articulations of "courtesan culture" from a range of textual and ethnographic sources. Davesh Soneji discusses the place of aesthetics, memory, and autobiographical telling in his fieldwork with contemporary women from the Telugu kalavantula courtesan community of coastal Andhra Pradesh.

Accepted papers: