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

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University of Chicago Press, Jan 15, 2012 - Religion - 313 pages
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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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
Marriage and Masculinity in the Discourse of Devadası Reform
Remembering Devadası Dance at Viralimalai
Aesthetics and Selfhood in Coastal Andhra Pradesh
Gesturing to Devadası Pasts in Todays Chennai
Selected Documents from the Files of Muthulakshmi Reddy
The Madras Devadasis Prevention of Dedication Act of 1947

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About the author (2012)

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.

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