As a current social media dispute confirmed, Bharatanatyam is but to come back to phrases with its multi-layered historical past
A heated social media trade some weeks in the past provided the chance not just for an extended overdue dialogue on the actual and sophisticated historical past of Bharatanatyam, one thing most dancers, lecturers and college students hardly ever interact with, but in addition dropped at the fore more moderen contestations.
Regardless of a number of scholarly works, the historical past of Bharatanatyam continues to be sanctimoniously traced again to origin tales related to Siva or attracts an imaginary linear historical past from Bharatamuni’s Natya Sastra. Solely sometimes are there politically right nods to the ‘devadasis’ as earlier custodians of the shape, however this has not permeated the on a regular basis “instructed” historical past of the dance. This continued obfuscation presumably explains why a 2017 TED discuss that engaged with Bharatanatyam’s historical past turned just lately viral on social media.
The necessity to interact
That this discuss was an eye-opener for a lot of exhibits how fuzzy the understanding of India’s hottest cultural export continues to be. That it generated offended responses from others exhibits how rather more carefully one wants to have interaction with the inheritors of the dance kind. As they identified, the neighborhood known as ‘devadasi’ prefers to be identified now because the ‘hereditary courtesan dance neighborhood’.
The TED discuss debate flagged two issues — first, that the time period ‘devadasi’ conflates a number of identities and second, that their sexual exploitation and oppression is being misinterpret as sexual company (which too is a misreading).
The time period ‘devadasi’ has been used loosely to discuss with hereditary dancers from varied communities in Tamil Nadu such because the Melakkarar, the Nayanakkarar, the Dasi, the Sengundars and the Isai Vellalars and, within the Andhra area, the Kalavantulas. Additional, girls and trans girls from the Jogati, Jogappa, Matamma and different communities, who determine as Dalits and are devoted to temples in elements of Karnataka and Telengana, are sometimes inaccurately known as ‘degenerate’ remnants of the devadasi apply. Making a unified id for thus many distinct teams and practices is thus not solely too broad-brushed however fails to recognise the totally different axes of their oppression.
In his e-book Unfinished Gestures, Davesh Soneji emphasised that the ‘devadasis’ had been courtesans and referred to them as “hereditary dancers”. He refuted recommendations that their occupation was ‘degenerate’. Importantly, he known as for a shift in focus that doesn’t stress solely the temple origin or the politics of reform and revival. It’s this shift that known as for even immediately.
When late Nineteenth-early twentieth century actions stereotyped ‘devadasis’ and solid them in an essentialist mould, it was the results of a number of advanced socio-historical elements of the time. An omnibus time period that encompassed information of dance, music and humanities in addition to the giving and receiving of sexual pleasure started, below colonialism, to be judged by an more and more prurient and puritanical morality. What was as soon as thought of an expert ethic got here to be considered as felony by leaving out the creative, mental and ritual facets of the apply. And the ‘devadasi’ got here to be portrayed as a sexually exploited and oppressed determine.
The ‘reformist’ anti-nautch marketing campaign linked to Dravidian politics and the Self-Respect Motion introduced the temple dancer as a ‘prostitute’ and needed to do away with her altogether. The ‘revivalist’ motion, allied with the Theosophists and the Indian Nationwide Congress, introduced her as a ‘nun’ in order that she is perhaps incarnated and embodied afresh. The questions, due to this fact, of sexual company and oppression which have come up once more now should essentially be nuanced. It’s inside these fissures of scholarship, analyses, and commentary that tales of hereditary dancers exist.
To circle again to the current social media fracas, the result is considerably heartening. The TED discuss website now has a reasonably detailed replace correcting terminology and offering references for additional studying. A dialog about the popular time period ‘hereditary (courtesan) dancer’ happened and a few fast suggestions had been made accessible. Nonetheless, debate across the difficulty will proceed and that is maybe not the top of it.
The retelling of historical past to right earlier problematic tellings can not change into one other saga of inadvertent elisions and should consistently be revised to mirror new contestation.
Feminism has taught us that there isn’t a monolithic oppressed lady who represents all girls. So attending to nuance may help work by this collectively. If we don’t ‘know’ inform one other lady’s reality, we would invite them to inform their story, share the stage, cross the mic.
As for audiences, our consumption of any artwork kind passively, with out consciousness and application to its historical past and politics, can also be a type of cultural appropriation. With the sort of entry at our fingertips immediately, it’s not troublesome to teach ourselves. However bear in mind to look past social media for an training. As allies, one of the best one can hope for is that we’re called-in, fairly than called-out. However that may solely be a grace that’s given, not a proper that may be demanded.