This volume has been a collaborative venture from the start. Davesh Soneji and Indira Viswanathan Peterson
met each other for the first time in Ottawa in June 2000, at the meeting of the Conference on Religion in South
India organized by Davesh on the theme of 'Religion and the Performing Arts in South India'. The conference
brought together for the first time scholars from a range of disciplines, who are re-visioning the history of South
Indian dance and music in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, drawing attention to the significant role played
by the performing arts in histories and narratives of the nation and region, and the relationships between local
and global cultural production. We were excited by the innovative approaches of the conference papers, and the
nuanced ways in which they illuminated the complex processes by which indigenous arts were re-constituted as
classical traditions in modern South India. The idea for a volume of essays on the subjects was born, and the
book took shape in the following yeas, over conversations at our kitchen tables and at several conference
panels and symposia in the USA and India.
*Earlier versions of several of the papers included in this volume were presented at the following conference
panels and conference, organized by Indira Person, in consultation with Davesh Soneji: 'Nationalizing
Discourses in the Performing Arts of South India' (University of Wisconsin Annual Conference on South Asia,
Madison, October 2000), and Performative Transformations: Texts, Mimesis, and Interpretive Communities in
South Indian Theater' (Annual Meeting of the Association for Asian Studies, Chicago, April 2005), and the
'Barbara Stoler Miller Conference on 'Contesting Pasts, Imagining Futures: Nationalism, Globalization, and the
Performing Arts in Modern South Asia' (Barnard College and Columbia University, February 2004).
The South Asian performing arts have been studied in fragmented fashion, largely uncritically, and primarily from
the perspective performance practices. We envision this book as a step towards new critical histories of South
Indian classical music and dance. Each of the scholars whose work is represented here has contributed to the
fields of South Indian studies and the performing arts in their own disciplines- history, anthropology,
ethnomusicology, dance history, literature, and religious studies. At the same time, we are united by our focus on
the role of the arts in the invention of South Asian modernities, and our commitment to historical study and
methodologies. Several of us share interests in particular periods, performance traditions, and themes, and
have worked with eah other. A number of us are performers, some of us work with practitioners from hereditary
communities in documenting and recording repertoire, and other have presented historically informed
reconstructions of of lost forms from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. All of us are sensitive to
perspectives from practice as well as from history and theory.
For Davesh and Indira, this book is a way-station in a mutually enriching friendship of several years. Karnatak
music and Bharatanatyam dance have been an organic part of Indira's life from the time of her growing up in a
Tamil-speaking South Indian family in Mumbai, Delhi, and Chennai. She comes to the study of performance
traditions from the perspectives of a scholar of literature and cultural history. In the 1970s and 1980s, as part of
her research on the seventh-century Tamil Shaiva hymns of the Tevaram, she studied their musical transmission
and the tradition of their performance by oduvar singers at temples (Peterson 1989, pp. 51-75). For the last
fifteen years, Indira has been working on the polyglot literature and performance genres, especially forms such
as the Kuravanji fortune-teller dance drama, in the Tamil region and the Thanjavur Maratha court in the
eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Davesh comes to the study of South Indian performing arts from the
perspectives of a practitioner of Karnatak music on the one hand, and a historian of dance in the Tamil and
Telugu-speaking regions on the other. One of his areas of study is the production and patronage of music and
dance at the Thanjavur Maratha court, an interest he share with Indira. For over twelve years. He has been
working with devadasi and nattuvanar communities in these areas, and writing critically about the interface
between female public performing and colonial modernity in nineteenth and early twentieth-century South India.
For both the volume editors, this volume has been a pleasurable journey in collaboration, marked by collegial
debate and reciprocal insight.
We wish to thank our fellow-authors in this volume for their enthusiasm for the idea of the book, for their collegial
collaboration with us throughout, and for sharpening, through their original, thought-provoking work, in the essay
in this volume and elsewhere, our understanding of the history of the performing arts and modernity in South
India. It has been a pleasure to carry on sustained conversations with them, at Ottawa, Madison, New York,
Chicago, Chennai, and Delhi, and we look forward to many more such meetings. We also take this opportunity
to thank the scholars and scholar-performers who broadened our perspectives on the South Indian classical arts
through their presentations on the performing arts and the reinvention of tradition in other region of South Asia,
at the Barbara Stoler Miller Conference (2004) on 'Contesting Pasts, Imagining Futures: Nationalism,
Globalization, and the Performing Arts in Modern South Asia.' Thanks are also due to musicologist B.M.
Sundaram, who has shared generously of his profound knowledge of premodern performance traditions and
hereditary communities of performers in South India.
We thank Vasudha Dalmia for her support for our project, and for her effort and encouragement in findings a
publisher for the volume. We are grateful to the anonymous readers of the manuscript for their incisive and
illuminating comments, which have helped us improve each of the essays and the book as a whole. Many thanks
to the entire editorial team at Oxford University Press, New Delhi, for enthusiastically receiving our volume, and
for their excellent work.
From the Jacket
From the nineteenth century textualization of court dance repertoire to twentieth century Dalit Christian
renderings of a Karnatak kirttanai, this volume critically examines the making and contestation of cultural
categories related to the performing arts at specific socio-historical conjunctures. It demonstrates how
inventions of tradition of South Indian music and dance were effected by continuous negotiations among agents
of diverse caste, class, and gender affiliations with varying degrees of power and authority.
Highlighting the role of multiple agents and cultural ideologies-Orientalism, colonialism, nationalism and
globalization this volume underlines the complex processes through which indigenous performing arts were
recast as national symbol in modern South India. Interrogating the elitist project of the 'Classicization', it also
documents the agency and voices of those who were marginalized or excluded. The introduction provides a
concise and critical historical overview of South Indian classical music dance. The introduction provides a
concise and critical historical overview of South Indian classical music and dance.
Incorporating a variety of interpretive perspectives-textual, historical, and anthropological-this interdisciplinary
volume will be useful for teachers, students, and scholars of history, sociology, ethnomusicology, performance
studies, particularly those concerned with dance, music, and the cultural history of South India.
About the Author
Indira Viswanathan Peterson is David B. Truman Professor of Asian Studies, Asian Studies Program,
Mount Holyoke College, USA.
Davesh Soneji is Assistant Professor, South Indian Religions, Faculty of Religious Studies, McGill
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