Unfinished Gestures: Devadasis, Memory, and Modernity in South India

Paperback | January 15, 2012

byDavesh Soneji

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Unfinished Gestures presents the social and cultural history of courtesans in South India who are generally called devadasis, focusing on their encounters with colonial modernity in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Following a hundred years of vociferous social reform, including a 1947 law that criminalized their lifestyles, the women in devadasis communities contend with severe social stigma and economic and cultural disenfranchisement. Adroitly combining ethnographic fieldwork with historical research, Davesh Soneji provides a comprehensive portrait of these marginalized women and unsettles received ideas about relations among them, the aesthetic roots of their performances, and the political efficacy of social reform in their communities.
 
Poignantly narrating the history of these women, Soneji argues for the recognition of aesthetics and performance as a key form of subaltern self-presentation and self-consciousness. Ranging over courtly and private salon performances of music and dance by devadasis in the nineteenth century, the political mobilization of devadasis identity in the twentieth century, and the post-reform lives of women in these communities today, Unfinished Gestures charts the historical fissures that lie beneath cultural modernity in South India.

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 Unfinished Gestures presents the social and cultural history of courtesans in South India who are generally called devadasis, focusing on their encounters with colonial modernity in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Following a hundred years of vociferous social reform, including a 1947 law that criminalized their lifestyl...

Davesh Soneji is associate professor of South Asian religions at McGill University. He is coeditor of Performing Pasts: Reinventing the Arts in Modern South India and editor of Bharatanatyam: A Reader.
Format:PaperbackDimensions:312 pages, 9 × 6 × 0.7 inPublished:January 15, 2012Publisher:University Of Chicago PressLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0226768104

ISBN - 13:9780226768106

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Extra Content

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations 
Acknowledgments 
Introduction: On Historical, Social, and Aesthetic Borderlands 

1. Producing Dance in Colonial Tanjore 
2. Whatever Happened to the South Indian Nautch? Toward a Cultural History of Salon Dance in Madras 
3. Subterfuges of “Respectable” Citizenship: Marriage and Masculinity in the Discourse of Devadàsã Reform 
4. Historical Traces and Unfinished Subjectivity: Remembering Devadasi Dance at Viralimalai 
5. Performing Untenable Pasts: Aesthetics, and Selfhood in Coastal Andhra Pradesh 
 

Coda: Gesturing to Devadàsã Pasts in Today’s Chennai 
Appendix 1: Selected Documents from the Files of Muthulakshmi Reddy 
Appendix 2: The Madras Devadasis (Prevention of Dedication) Act of 1947 
Notes 
References 
Index

Editorial Reviews

“Weaving together history, literature, ethnography, and ethnomusicology, Davesh Soneji's impressive work, Unfinished Gestures, showcases the heterogeneity, hybridity, and ingenue of India’s devadasi artists in the colonial period and beyond. . . . Davesh Soneji’s painstaking archival data, music excerpts, and fluid linguistic engagement with Tamil, Telugu, Sanskrit, Hindi, Persian, and European-language materials make this book’s narration of devadasis’ history vivid and compelling.”