By Davesh Soneji

Unfinished Gestures provides the social and cultural historical past of courtesans in South India who're generally known as devadasis, targeting their encounters with colonial modernity within the 19th and early 20th centuries. Following 100 years of vociferous social reform, together with a 1947 legislations that criminalized their existence, the ladies in devadasi groups take care of serious social stigma and financial and cultural disenfranchisement. Adroitly combining ethnographic fieldwork with ancient examine, Davesh Soneji presents a accomplished portrait of those marginalized ladies and unsettles bought rules approximately family members between them, the cultured roots in their performances, and the political efficacy of social reform of their groups.   Poignantly narrating the historical past of those girls, Soneji argues for the popularity of aesthetics and function as a key kind of subaltern self-presentation and self-consciousness. Ranging over courtly and personal salon performances of song and dance by means of devadasis within the 19th century, the political mobilization of devadasi id within the 20th century, and the post-reform lives of girls in those groups at the present time, Unfinished Gestures charts the old fissures that lie underneath cultural modernity in South India.

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Extra info for Unfinished Gestures: Devadasis, Memory, and Modernity in South India (South Asia Across the Disciplines)

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Ha¯ courtly practices from Maharashtra, and the modernity of the European Enlightenment. Serfoji II and his heir S´iva¯jı¯ II (r. 1832–1855) deployed courtesan dancers in their rituals of display, casting themselves as rulers who, though incrementally divested of political authority by the British, were nevertheless effective, modern patrons of culture. The Tanjore court thus exemplifies the ways in which devada¯sı¯s were instrumentalized as emblems of cultural capital in the context of an emergent colonial modernity.

Hı¯ pandit G. Nagaraja Rao (1902–1973) and musicologist B. M. 11 WOMEN AND THE PRODUCTION OF CULTURE In order to understand the conditions of professional dancing women at Tanjore, we must delineate the roles afforded to women in the courtly milieu. ¯ıs) to the servant-girls of concubines, were implicated in a symbolic order that attempted to exhibit the power of courtly culture to colonial audiences Producing Dance in Colonial Tanjore 33 and beyond. In many cases, women’s agency was severely curtailed in this process—women and young girls were regularly bought and sold through the intercession of the court, for example—but in other cases, elite courtly women exercised a degree of administrative and cultural power, as we shall see in some of the examples below.

Women from devada¯sı¯ communities are particularly subject to moral suspicion and harassed in schools and other public spaces. iya¯l. (terms that both denote “whore” and also index the devada¯sı¯ community) as insults are part of the quotidian negotiation of identity, stigma, and social discrimination that young women contend with in these communities. Their future prospects are almost always restricted to endogamous, arranged marriages, and these occur at a young age—usually as soon as the fi rst available groom presents himself—in a kind of social paranoia about ensuring that girls do not “miss an opportunity” to become socially integrated.

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