Hinduism Dance and Hinduism
by
Katherine Zubko
  • LAST MODIFIED: 30 October 2019
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195399318-0226

Introduction

Dance is a central practice in Hinduism across a variety of contexts, mythological narratives, and time periods. Gods such as Śiva and Kṛṣṇa are dancers, and humans also dance, often embodying these gods as part of bhakti, or devotion. Dance is a rich area for exploring the ways categories are created and negotiated: classical and folk, local and global, male and female, East and West, text and practice, colonial and postcolonial, and India and its diaspora. Coursing through these dynamic categories are questions of identity: gender, nationality, politics, race, ethnicity, sexuality, and immigrant experience—all experienced through the embodiment of devotional dance forms that continue to undergo many iterations as new populations, venues, and intentions emerge. This bibliography provides resources for the history and practices of dances that range from folk/ritual to classical. Folk dance forms are devotional and cultural, such as popular garba and raas dancing. Other ritual dances invite a god to be embodied in the devotee through possession or depicted theatrically in solos and dance-dramas. The emphasis of the majority of the scholarship is weighted toward the formation and practice of eight classical dance forms. These have been constructed out of a hybridization of preexisting regional temple, court, and folk styles in collaboration with the ancient textual authority of the Nāṭyaśāstra, “Science of Dance-Drama,” during the early 20th century. This Sanskrit compendium infused technical vocabulary, movement grammars, a sacred origin story, and rasa, an audience-receptivity theory of aesthetic mood experienced by audience members as created by dancers through their physical expressions, or bhāvas. In the early 1900s, social welfare movements converged on an opportunity to respond to the ills of society and build an awareness of arts that could support an emerging nationalism. “Reformers” and “revivalists” claimed to undo systems of oppression of women, such as preventing dedication of devadāsīs who danced in Hindu temples, and “rescue” dances with ties to ancient and religious origins from the hands of these hereditary dancers, whose loss of patronage and misunderstood social systems led to them being labeled prostitutes under the British Raj. One of the first ongoing waves of critical scholarship reveals the erased histories and consequences of these changes. A second strand seeks to situate dance within transnational Hindu contexts. A third trajectory validates contemporary experiments that reframe the interpretive possibilities of religious and gendered themes across hybridized movement grammars within the bodies of dancers and across diasporic geographies.

General Overviews

Compendiums of dance in India range in style, audience, and frameworks. Some of the most popular are written by dancers, such as Devi 2002, which contains general introductions following a nearly identical organizational scheme: early chapters are devoted to common techniques and stagecraft traced to the Nāṭyaśāstra, and later chapters isolate and discuss up to a dozen unique dance styles. Written by a scholar-dancer, Vatsyayan 2015 is the most often referenced overview of classically designated dance forms, while Vatsyayan 2010 focuses on folk dance forms. These sources are encyclopedic in identifying devotional and contextual elements, including music, costumes, gestures, isometric movement grammars related to various body parts, and the physical expressional combinations, or bhāvas, for building nine moods on stage to be experienced as rasas by the audience, especially bhakti rasa, or devotional mood. Photos are an integral feature to show gestures and facial expressions epitomizing the rasas. As new editions of these texts are issued, the addition of dance forms over time reveals the processes of classification at work. The newest iteration is exemplified by Venkataraman 2015, a glossy coffee table book covering eight classical traditions and the more recent acknowledgement of the role of contemporary innovative work. For classrooms, Satkunaratnam 2009 gives the briefest accessible outline of what makes classical dance forms Hindu, and Schwartz 2004 is good for teaching undergraduates about dance as a Hindu devotional practice. The latter includes a chapter on a debut recital by a teenager that helps contextualize dance in diasporic adolescent contexts in relation to religious identity. Within dance studies, Beaman 2018 offers a comparative overview chapter of three primary classical dance styles, framed by questions about shifting dynamics in traditional dance forms.

  • Beaman, Patricia. World Dance Cultures: From Ritual to Spectacle. New York: Routledge, 2018.

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    Chapter 1 of this comparative textbook introduces the history, techniques, and prominent dancers of three Indian dance styles rooted in aspects of Hinduism: bharatanatyam, kathak, and kathakali. Summary points and discussion questions create accessibility for students while also giving space to explore the tensions within evolving dance forms categorized as “traditional.”

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  • Devi, Ragini. Dance Dialects of India. 3rd rev. ed. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 2002.

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    This comprehensive volume (first published in 1972) provides a history and series of technical overview chapters of many dance styles, both folk and classical. Ragini Devi was the adopted stage name of an American dancer who traveled widely in India to learn many of these dances, becoming a well-known performer and translator of these art forms within the New York dance scene in the 1930–1950s.

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  • Satkunaratnam, Ahalya. “Dance: Indian Classical.” In Brill’s Encyclopedia of Hinduism. Vol. 2. Edited by Knut A. Jacobsen, 599–606. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2009.

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    Brief introductory overview of eight classical dance traditions, prefaced by a tripartite framework of the ways these dances are Hindu, namely due to contexts for performance, narratives being embodied, and the devotional nature of its practice. Available online by subscription.

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  • Schwartz, Susan. Rasa: Performing the Divine in India. New York: Columbia University Press, 2004.

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    Short introductory textbook that includes history, aesthetics, religious frameworks, and technical vocabulary, with extended case studies of bharatanatyam, kathak, and kathakali. A final chapter discusses the debut recital, or araṅgeṭram, of a teenage bharatanatyam dancer to highlight issues related to transnational, diasporic performing arts, identity, gender, and rites of passage.

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  • Vatsyayan, Kapila. Traditions of Indian Folk Dance. 3rd rev. ed. New Delhi: Clarion Books, 2010.

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    Organized by regional areas of India, each chapter in this volume details the dance practices performed in rural, often indigenous settings, especially in relation to cultural and religious festival cycles. Taking a more anthropological approach, chapters focus on housing styles, food, and geography, and include diagrams of dance movement patterns, costumes, and instruments. A necessary companion to the more heavily referenced classical styles found in other publications.

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  • Vatsyayan, Kapila. Classical Indian Dance in Literature and the Arts. 4th ed. New Delhi: Sangeet Natak Akademi, 2015.

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    Originally published in 1974, this volume contains a thorough presentation of the history and technique of the designated classical dance forms, framed by terminology related to Sanskrit aesthetics, and with entire chapters dedicated to the unique features of five styles. As one of the foremost scholar-practitioners of dance, Vatsyayan demonstrates an encyclopedic knowledge in a work intended for an educated general audience.

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  • Venkataraman, Leela. Indian Classical Dance: The Renaissance and Beyond. New Delhi: Niyogi Books, 2015.

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    A dance critic presents introductions to eight classical dance traditions, with a mix of articles and color photographs. Prefaced by the history of each dance form, the main focus is on prominent dance exponents within each tradition. Includes key debates within each dance style’s evolution and a chapter on contemporary choreographic works, providing a new endorsement of these types of innovations that were previously seen as marginal to the “tradition.”

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Video Reference

While there are many amateur videos of dance related to India and Hinduism available online, it is more difficult to locate substantive documentaries and videos that serve as accessible resources if a researcher does not have the background to know who and what to look for in their search. The resources listed here are some of the best in general for beginning students. Ichikawa 2015 is one of the earliest samplers of world dance traditions. The segments on Hinduism exemplify a mix of folk and classical, with a heavy emphasis on a martial masked dance form of chhau. Frazer and Brown 2009 is a video of one of the most famous dance items on Kṛṣṇa, performed by the equally famous hereditary dancer Balasaraswati. Her style can be compared to the bharatanatyam style created by Rukmini Devi in a departure from the hereditary tradition and taught at the prominent Kalakshetra dance institution, which is the subject of the documentary Mayer 2014. Gottlieb 2000 offers the most succinct explanation and demonstration of music and dance practices related to kathak in North India, while Sarabhai, et al. 2014 does similar work for the classically evolved dance tradition of kuchipudi. For a perspective on contemporary dance abstracted from traditional foundations, Lall 2007 focuses on Chandralekha, an early and controversial trailblazer in creating space for an Indian contemporary dance movement.

  • Frazer, John and Robert E. Brown, dirs. Balasaraswati. DVD (14 min). Middletown, CT: World Music Archives, Wesleyan University, 2009.

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    Documentary footage of prominent hereditary dancer Balasaraswati performing Krishna Ni Begane Baro (Krishna come soon) with live Carnatic orchestra at Wesleyan University in 1962.

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  • Gottlieb, Robert, dir. Circles, Cycles: Kathak Dance. DVD (28 min). San Francisco, CA: Robert Gottlieb Productions, 2000.

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    Overview of key technical components of north Indian kathak dance, highlighting senior artists Shaswati Sen and Birju Maharaj. The storytelling aspects related to Kṛṣṇa are demonstrated, including a seated gesture sequence about this god’s blue-hued body and rain.

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  • Ichikawa, Katsumori, et al., dirs. JVC Video Anthology of World Music and Dance. Vols. 11–12, South Asia. DVD. Japan: Victor Company of Japan, 2015.

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    Volumes 11 and 12 of this documentary series, first issued in 1995, provide comparative performance samples of classical and folk dances related to Hinduism, in particular manipuri, kathakali, chhau, and yakṣagāna.

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  • Lall, Ein, dir. Sharira: Chandralekha’s Explorations in Dance. DVD (30 min). New Delhi: Public Service Broadcasting Trust, 2007.

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    This documentary mixes interviews of Chandralekha, one of India’s earliest and most controversial contemporary dancers, with excerpts from her choreography. Chandralekha utilized foundational techniques of her training in bharatanatyam to highlight the shapes and energy dynamics of bodies connected to aspects of the divine feminine and Tantra.

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  • Mayer, Anthony, dir. Kalakshetra: Devotion to Dance. DVD (50 min). Produced by Adam Clapham, Centre Productions; Griffin Productions. Chicago: CLEARVUE/eav, 2014.

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    Documentary on the dance institution founded by Rukmini Devi, first released in 1986. Contains footage of dance classes in session and interviews with several leading dancers trained at Kalakshetra, including Rukmini Devi just before her death in 1986.

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  • Sarabhai, Mallika, Bharat Baria, and Devesh Soneji, dirs. Understanding Kuchipudi. DVD (52 min). Ahmedabad, India: Darpana Communications, 2014.

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    Originally produced in 1998, this documentary presents an overview of the history of kuchipudi through the lens of one of its major figures, Vedantam Lakshminarayana Shastri. The students from his dance academy have carried forward what has become the dominant expressive style of kuchipudi as it moved away from male-only solo performance. Temple, village narrative and concert sources are highlighted as inspirations for Shastri’s body of artistic work.

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Online Resource Portals

Online resources have grown exponentially in the field of dance, with many individual dancers and schools hosting and curating their own website content. Many of these sites started out as business and self-promotion portals, but they also include information on how dancers understand the history and religious frameworks of their profession, in addition to links to video clips of choreography, interviews, and news events. Narthaki began as a directory for locating dancers in India and abroad, and it maintains that address function, but has evolved into an active forum for discussion and posting of articles and interviews by artists from many different dance styles. It is a helpful resource for knowing about hot topics in the dance world. Nartanam provides historical context, performance reviews, and other specialized articles on Indian classical dance by and for historians, critics, and dancers. Online Bharatanatyam is one of the most thorough resource sites for quick reference to an indexed list of gestures and steps, which are verbally described and accompanied by photographs and videos. Sangeet Natak Akademi, as a government of India portal, includes a digitized library of resources that track the evolution of folk and classical styles in relation to government-sponsored designations, honors for artists, and financial support. Śruti is an online and print magazine on music and dance headquartered in Chennai, India, with an archive of searchable back issues on performance reviews, biographical information on dancers, conference proceedings, obituaries, and archival research articles on a variety of topics. While initially intended for the educated connoisseur of classical arts, this resource has evolved in its breadth and value for tracking trends in the related fields of music and dance.

  • Nartanam.

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    Originally published in 2001 by Kuchipudi Kala Kendra of Mumbai, the current quarterly publication has been run by the Sahrdaya Arts Trust since 2011. The scholarly resource includes intellectual histories, dance criticism, and performance reviews of a variety of Indian dance forms.

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  • Narthaki.

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    Started by the classically trained contemporary dancer Anita Ratnam in 1992 as an in-print directory of schools and performing artists of Indian classical dance styles throughout the world, this resource has morphed since 2000 into a more comprehensive online collection of articles, news items, job and event postings, and an active forum for discussion of key issues in classical, folk, and contemporary Indian dance worlds.

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  • Online Bharatanatyam.

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    Sample of a portal dedicated to supplementing dance instruction through online resources, including photographs, descriptions, and videos of each aḍavu, or step, and hand gesture. There are also samples of repertoire choreography and audio files of sollukattu, the rhythmic syllables with which dancers practice aḍavus. The growing presence of instructional materials online is debated within a dance tradition that has relied on in-person instruction.

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  • Sangeet Natak Akademi.

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    Founded in 1953 by the government of India, this National Academy for Music, Dance and Drama runs grant programs, bestows honors, supports centers related to classical and folk dance traditions, and maintains a sizable archival library, including available digitized collections that provide a window into the intersection of arts and national identity. This government organization currently has conferred “classical” status on eight dance traditions, with sattriya being added in 2000.

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  • Śruti.

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    This online magazine contains several open access articles, interviews, and images, primarily on Indian classical music and dance, with more available by subscription. Also available in print since 1983 and written for an educated general audience, it is a repository of history, debates, documentation of performances by critics, and obituaries, and it maintains an important events calendar focused mostly on programs in Chennai.

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Edited Volumes

Interdisciplinary interest in dance and religion has inspired a variety of edited volumes that explore various dimensions of practice, aesthetics, textual authority, and ritual. Shulman and Thiagarajan 2006 is a collection of essays from a conference on masked ritual performance traditions. Many of the essays in Nair 2015 and Anoop and Gulati 2016 revisit the Nāṭyaśāstra and its traditional aspects of religiosity, epistemology, and patronage, but through new lenses, such as the neuroscience of rasa, transcultural adaptations of themes, and the emergence of new formats for the notation of dance. Chakravorty and Gupta 2010 takes on the dialectic of the transnational practices of dance, with essays focused on understanding tensions and influences between categories of pan-Indian and regional, as well as South Asian and diasporic frameworks that bear on the representation of Hinduism. From a more globalized perspective, examinations of gender, modernity, and nationalism are significantly featured. Charsley and Kadekar 2006 is a collated set of essays that examine issues surrounding categorical designations along the folk-classical spectrum. Brückner, et al. 2007 presents a set of case studies that further refine elements at the intersection of ritual, stagecraft, and performance across dance and other genres. The essays in Peterson and Soneji 2008 query the formulations of canon, tradition, and regionality within frameworks of modernity. One of the few anthologies to be published, Soneji 2010 offers a trove of primary sources related to the construction of the classical dance form of bharatanatyam, as well as key secondary essays that document the socioeconomic consequences of the shift to upper-caste practitioners and concert venues. This latter volume is suitable as a deep case study into the shifting patronage, aesthetics, and movement grammars of a dance form grounded in complex frameworks related to gender, nationalism, modernity, and the creation of “classical” categories.

  • Anoop, Mythili Maratt, and Varun Gulati. Scripting Dance in Contemporary India. Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2016.

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    Essays that reflect several currents within dance forms that cut across class and venue practiced in India and abroad. Noteworthy are essays on the intersection of textualization and practice through written and graphic design notation practices, collective interpretative practices by individual dancers that create a publicly curated Nāṭyaśāstra, adaptation of mythology to connect with modern audiences, and current patronage practices.

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  • Brückner, Heidrun, Elisabeth Schömbucher, and Phillip B. Zarrilli, eds. The Power of Performance: Actors, Audiences, and Observers of Cultural Performances in India. New Delhi: Manohar, 2007.

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    Under the three main areas of the volume noted in the subtitle, several articles explore themes related to dance and theatrical aspects, including the relationship of devadāsīs to village goddesses, initiation and teacher-student relationships in kūṭiyāṭṭam, the conceptualization of the ideal audience, Uday Shankar’s choreography, and the connection to animal embodiment in kathakali.

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  • Chakravorty, Pallabi, and Nilanjana Gupta, eds. Dance Matters: Performing India on Local and Global Stages. London: Taylor and Francis, 2010.

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    Collection of articles examining key debates within shifting dance traditions in India and abroad. Issues of identity, innovation within traditional dance forms, gender, nationalism, marginalized participants, and making visible erased histories are some of the many focus points the contributors to this volume address as both scholars and dancers.

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  • Charsley, Simon, and Laxmi Narayan Kadekar, eds. Performers and Their Arts: Folk, Popular and Classical Genres in a Changing India. New Delhi: Routledge, 2006.

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    Several articles in this volume address key issues in dance related to categorization, patronage, commercialization, and adaptations to techniques and themes.

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  • Nair, Sreenath, ed. The Natyasastra and the Body in Performance: Essays on Indian Theories of Dance and Drama. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2015.

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    Interdisciplinary set of articles encompassing a wide variety of focal points, including epistemology, religious aspects, rasa, neuroscience, consciousness, the dance-drama tradition of kūṭiyāṭṭam, comparative transcultural aesthetics, and gaze in relation to the Nāṭyaśāstra.

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  • Peterson, Indira Viswanathan, and Davesh Soneji, eds. Performing Pasts: Reinventing the Arts in Modern South India. New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2008.

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    Collection of essays interrogating the role of modernity in light of issues of canon, local and global dialectics, redefining tradition, and forms of resistance in relation to classicization of music and dance in South India.

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  • Soneji, Davesh, ed. Bharatanatyam: A Reader. New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2010.

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    The only anthology on a classical dance tradition that collates primary sources related to the history of socioeconomic changes in the early-20th-century anti-nautch movement, key articles assessing the impact of those changes, and contemporary directions presented through the writings of dancers and scholars.

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  • Shulman, David, and Deborah Thiagarajan, eds. Masked Ritual and Performance in South India: Dance, Healing, and Possession. Ann Arbor: Centers for South and Southeast Asian Studies, University of Michigan, 2006.

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    Chapters collated from a seminar hosted by the Madras Craft Foundation in Chennai, India, reflect a variety of mostly ritual dance practices involving the wearing of guises (vēṣam) and masks in relation to particular characters (animals, epic heroes, gods and demons), the perspectives of artists, and spectator-practitioner receptivity.

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Ritual and Festival Dance Traditions

Dance is part of many regional rituals and festivals that are often localized within specific castes that pass along this embodied knowledge within their families. Khokar 1987 provides an overview of the many types of folk traditions throughout India, mostly utilizing photographs, with minimally descriptive paragraphs of context. Gentes 1987 is an in-depth study of two styles of dance-drama related to the epic Mahābhārata in South India, terukkūttu and yakṣagāna. Bharati 1999 and Venketesan 2005 focus on araiyar sevai storytelling rituals that include use of gesture and movement within Śrivaiṣṇavism in South India. More scholarly interest is evident in studies on garba, a circle dance related to goddess worship, and possession-related dance traditions, both of which are covered in separate subsections.

  • Bharati, Srirama. Araiyar Sevai: Theatre Expression in Sri-Vaishnava Worship. Mumbai: Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, 1999.

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    Overview of the Tamil male Brahmin tradition of enacting Āḻvār poetry through music, gesture, and dance, especially during a ten-day festival at the temple in Srirangam. The dance-drama ritual tradition traces its origins back to Nathamuni, a 9th-century Vaiṣṇava saint who performed stories as a form of offering in front of a mūrti of Viṣṇu in this temple.

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  • Gentes, Mary. “Hinduism through Village Dance Drama: Narrative Image and Ritual Process in South India’s Terukkūttu and Yakṣagāna Ritual Theaters.” PhD diss., University of Virginia, 1987.

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    A comparative analysis of two folk dance-drama traditions related to characters within the Mahābhārata. Terukkūttu is practiced by low-caste practitioners in Tamil Nadu, and yakṣagāna is practiced by upper-caste practitioners in Karnataka. Gentes focuses on these traditions’ local ritual contexts using Victor Turner’s frameworks, narrative analysis, and Sanskrit aesthetics.

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  • Khokar, Mohan. Dancing for Themselves: Folk, Tribal, and Ritual Dance of India. New Delhi: Himalayan Books, 1987.

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    An extensive collection of photographic documentation of folk-dance forms from throughout India. Brief descriptions include mostly contextual notes about festivals, stories, props, and purposes for each dance.

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  • Venketesan, Archana. “‘If that lord should come to me, fall together’: Divining the Future of a Goddess: The Araiyar Cēvai as Commentary at the Śrīvilliputrūr Āṇṭāḷ Temple.” Nidan: International Journal for Indian Studies 17.12 (2005): 19–51.

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    Study focused on the Tamil male Brahminic storytelling rituals related to the Āḻvār poets, including comparison to devadāsī performance of abhinaya, or hand gestures, and how devadāsīs were earlier involved as partners with the araiyars.

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Garba

A subcategory of ritual and festival dance includes the two traditions of garba, a circular folk dance, and raas, a dance using sticks, both connected to Gujarati regional identities and increasingly pan-Hindu frameworks. Both dances are tied to honoring the goddess, especially at temples that devotees wish to be blessed by the śakti, or the energy of the goddess, and during Navarātri, the nine nights of the goddess festival held in the fall. Shah 2015 introduces the widest variety of contexts for garba and raas through video commentary that describes pertinent ritual frameworks. Vatsa 2016 interviews Hindu women in the diaspora to capture how they frame their own devotional and cultural experience of dancing. Falcone 2013 and Falcone 2016 explore emergent dimensions of garba and raas practices in American collegiate competitions and as part of growing trends toward pan-Hindu rather than regional Gujarati cultural expressions. David 2014 adds a case study grounded in migrant women’s experiences of garba and raas in the United Kingdom.

  • David, Ann. “Embodied Traditions: Gujarati (Dance) Practices of Garba and Raas in the UK Context.” In Dance Ethnography and Global Perspectives: Identity, Embodiment and Culture. Edited by Linda Dankworth and Ann David, 13–36. Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan, 2014.

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    Participatory ethnographic analysis of garba and raas practices in relation to Navarātri goddess festivals, weddings, and other ritual events among groups of British Gujarati communities. The construction of sacred space, migrant experiences, and comparison to Bollywood depictions of garba are key subtopics.

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  • Falcone, Jessica. “‘Garba with Attitude’: Creative Nostalgia in Competitive Collegiate Gujarati American Folk Dancing.” Journal of Asian American Studies 16.1 (2013): 57–89, 135.

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    An analysis of a popular translation of garba dance techniques into competitive, secular contexts by second- and third-generation Gujarati college populations. Important regional cultural and religious resonances carry over in shaping Gujarati, Indian, and South Asian self-identity in interaction with choreographing themes that incorporate American identities (e.g., Pirates of the Caribbean) or illuminate Hindu-Muslim relations (e.g., Arabian Nights).

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  • Falcone, Jessica. “Dance Steps, Nationalist Movement: How Hindu Extremists Claimed Garba-raas.” Anthropology Now 8.3 (2016): 50–61.

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    Anthropologist notes the subsuming of Gujarati regional identity in favor of a pan-Indian Hindu identity connected to garba-raas dance in India and diasporic contexts within the past ten years. The exclusion of non-Hindus, collegiate competitions, and the teaching of dance in camps are some of the topics explored.

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  • Shah, Purnima, dir. Dancing with the Goddess: the Ras-Garba traditions of Gujarat. DVD. Privately published, 2015.

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    Documentary on garba and raas dancing across a wide array of contexts, including temple rituals, village celebrations, women’s practices related to conceiving a male child, and especially during autumn Navarātri, in which the nine forms of śakti, the divine Mother, are invoked.

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  • Vatsa, Shefali. The Goddesses’ Call to Dance: Experiences of Garba Dancers during Navaratri. PhD diss., Pacifica Graduate Institute, 2016.

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    A qualitative study that tracks several dimensions of psychological, cultural, gendered, and spiritual experience of dancers’ participation in festival ritual dance events.

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Possession

Practices in which dance leads to possession by a deity, or a deity dances within a devotee as part of possession, informs a large sphere of types of ritual dance forms. Sax 2002 and Alter 2017 provide analysis of dance-related possession by the Pāṇḍavas and other characters from the epic Mahābhārata as specific to Garhwal, North India. In southwestern India, Caldwell 1999 offers insights into performance-based possession by the goddess Bhadrakāḷi of male non-Brahmins, while Gabriel 2010 explores theyyam, possession by Muttappan (two deities in one), who is being increasingly Sanskritized through identification with primary Hindu deities such as Viṣṇu and Śiva while maintaining connection to the deity’s origin as an indigenous forest god. Kapadia 1996 adds an important dimension of class analysis to caste-based ritual possession practices in Tamil Nadu. Urban 2018 provides a comparative gendered analysis of goddess possession by more publicly violent male and more “domesticated” female stage performers of possession. Younger 2002 adds a diasporic context to a study of male possession by the goddess Māriyamman in Guyana. Kamath 2016 compares possession practices with the embodiment of characters in the classical dance form of kuchipudi. While there are many studies on possession, these are noted for the attention the authors give to the role of dance itself in the process of or as a marker of successful possession through expected signature styles of movement.

  • Alter, Andrew. Dancing with Devtās: Drums, Power and Possession in Garhwal, North India. London: Routledge, 2017.

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    Through a predominantly ethnomusicologist lens, this study examines the vocal, instrumental (especially drumming), and lyrical music genres related to enacting the Pāṇḍavas from the Mahābhārata as part of weddings and festivals in the central Himalayan region of Garhwal. Chapter 7 pays close attention to the entwined relationship between rhythm and detailed movement sequences leading up to the possession of the performer.

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  • Caldwell, Sarah. Oh Terrifying Mother: Sexuality, Violence, and Worship of the Goddess Kāḷi. New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1999.

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    Ethnographic and psychoanalytical analysis of muṭiyēṯṯu (carrying the headdress) performance rituals in Kerala focused on male non-Brahmins embodying and dancing the goddess Bhadrakāḷi (Kāḷi) in battle with the demon Darika. Author challenges genre boundaries and expectations by creating a multivocal text that includes her own personal field notes and journal entries.

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  • Gabriel, Theodore. Playing God: Belief and Ritual in the Muttappan Cult of North Malabar. London: Equinox, 2010.

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    Archival and ethnographic analysis of origins, influences, and Sanskritization of theyyam practices of Muttappan, a god containing two deities simultaneously in Kerala with roots in tribal, forest-dwelling groups. In theyyams, the god temporarily resides in the human practitioner as an embodiment of a living mūrti, accompanied by particular costuming, weapons, and energetic dance movements such as jumping, swaying, and circling as a sign of the presence of the deity.

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  • Kamath, Harshita Mruthinti. “Bodied, Embodied, and Reflective Selves: Theorizing Performative Selfhood in South Indian Performance.” In Refiguring the Body: Embodiment in South Asian Religions. Edited by Barbara Holdrege and Karen Pechilis, 109–129. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2016.

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    Comparison of ritual possession through a case study from Isabelle Nabokov’s ethnographic work, Religion against the Self (2000), and an Indian classical dancer’s embodiment of the character of Satī in kuchipudi as a way to understand performative constructions of personhood beyond reference to rasa theory.

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  • Kapadia, Karin. “Dancing the Goddess: Possession and Class in Tamil South India.” Modern Asian Studies 30.2 (1996): 423–445.

    DOI: 10.1017/S0026749X00016528Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Study focuses on institutionalized, or hereditary, possession in low or scheduled caste groups experiencing uneven economic upward mobility. By creating a wider gap in class distinctions within the caste, there is a notable shift in who is allowed to be involved in sami-adi (god-dancer) rituals, replacing hereditary practitioners with the most economically and politically powerful men.

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  • Sax, William. Dancing the Self: Personhood and Performance in the Pāṇḍav Līlā of Garhwal. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002.

    DOI: 10.1093/0195139151.001.0001Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Central Himalayan dance-drama tradition focused on figures from the Mahābhārata, in particular the Pāṇḍava brothers and their antagonists, each with their own embodied performance of warrior masculinity. Characters are localized as part of Rajput culture, including highlighting the fierceness of female characters such as Draupadi and Kunti.

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  • Urban, Hugh. “Dancing for the Snake: Possession, Gender and Identity in the Worship of Manasā in Assam.” Journal of Hindu Studies 11.3 (2018): 186–210.

    DOI: 10.1093/jhs/hiy011Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Compares male ecstatic dancers at Kāmākhyā temple with staged female dancers enacting ritual possession. Subverted feminine and masculine roles illuminate the layers of gendered complexity within two types of public performance of possession.

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  • Younger, Paul. “Dance and Trance in a New World: A Māriyamman Festival in Guyana.” In Playing Host to Deity: Festival Religion in the South Indian Tradition, 133–143. New York: Oxford University Press, 2002.

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    Chapter on Māriyamman festival tradition in Guyana in which the local goddess inhabits non-Brahmin priests while they dance with karakums, or pots, on their heads throughout the area of the village. Māriyamman, a “heated” goddess responsible for agricultural and human fertility, but also drought and pox diseases, was brought to Guyana by indentured servants in the late 1800s from South India.

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Classical Dance Traditions

Each of the currently eight classical dance traditions has been designated through the government of India as performing arts that represent highly valued expressions of Indian culture within the nation and abroad. This classicization process started in the 1930s pre-Independence, with the creation of bharatanatyam out of earlier hereditary devadāsī temple and salon dance styles in Tamil Nadu, as detailed in Gaston 1996 and Meduri 1988, as well as the Kerala-based kathakali, known for elaborate make-up, heavy costumes, and subtle eye movements, as discussed in Zarrilli 2000. Walker 2017 and Chakravorty 2007 examine the history and innovations within the emergence of North Indian kathak as a classical style with its spins and intense fast footwork patronized in Muslim and Hindu courts. Sikand 2017 categorizes odissi as neoclassical for its construction out of devadāsī and māhārī practices at the temples and courts of Puri in southeastern India known for its tribhanga, or three-point posture and curving motions. Pati 2010 details mohiniyattam, a female dance form of Kerala that embodies the dance of Viṣṇu when he took the form of the enchantress Mohini in order to steal the nectar of immortality back from the asuras. Kothari and Pasricha 2001 and Putcha 2013 offer differing perspectives on the evolution of kuchipudi as a classical dance from Andhra Pradesh that is connected to both devadāsīs and male Brahmins in the village of Kuchipudi who often take female vēṣam, or guise, within performance. One of the newer classical styles, manipuri, has been classified as a folk style for many years. Hailing from the northeast of India, Bandopadhay 2010 details how this dance focused on the rās līlā, or circle dance, of Kṛṣṇa, rose in its prestige to be categorized as classical. The newest classical dance of sattriya, also formerly of folk status as a dance performed in monasteries in Assam, is currently lacking in scholarship and is still just becoming known within the larger dance field.

  • Bandopadhay, Sruti. Manipuri Dance: An Assessment on History and Presentation. Gurgaon, India: Shubhi Publications, 2010.

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    A detailed analysis of the historical roots and Sanskritization of dances from the northeastern state of Manipur. Starting with dance connected to festivals related to nature gods, after an 18th-century turn toward Vaiṣṇavism, a cycle of seasonal rās līlās focused on Kṛṣṇa and Rādhā emerged as the center of manipuri dance culture. Unique chapter included on Rabindranath Tagore’s interest and patronage of manipuri dance.

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  • Chakravorty, Pallabi. Bells of Change: Kathak Dance, Women and Modernity in India. London: Seagull Press, 2007.

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    Exploration of kathak across courtesan histories, postcolonial reconstructionist efforts, and contemporary innovations, including the role of television and film media in shaping public consumption of kathak.

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  • Gaston, Anne-Marie. Bharata Natyam: From Temple to Theatre. New Delhi: Manohar, 1996.

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    Tracks the changes made in the construction of bharatanatyam from sadir in the 1930–1950s, including debates over the depiction of śṛṅgāra rasa, the erotic mood. Key chapters include a listing of lineages within bharatanatyam and a focus on the religious elements that are transferred and reconfigured for dance performed on stage and by a new class and caste of practitioners.

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  • Kothari, Sunil, and Avinash Pasricha. Kuchipudi: Indian Classical Dance Art. Delhi: Abhinav Publications, 2001.

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    Overview of history, Sanskrit origins, techniques related to storytelling, music, and primary performers and teachers of a dance form that emerged in a small village in Andhra Pradesh to become one of eight classical dance forms of India. This text focuses mainly on the men who perform female roles and male teachers.

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  • Meduri, Avanthi. “Bharatha Natyam—What Are You?” Asian Theatre Journal 5.1 (1988): 1–22.

    DOI: 10.2307/1124019Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    One of the earliest critical perspectives examining the social disruption and political motivations behind the creation of bharatanatyam. Meduri recounts her own awakening as a dancer to the salvation narratives that dismissed and denigrated devadāsīs as part of rescuing the sacred dance form and identifies various responses to this unintended collusion.

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  • Pati, George. “Mohiniyāṭṭam: An Embodiment of the Aesthetic and the Religious.” Journal of Hindu Studies 3.1 (2010): 91–113.

    DOI: 10.1093/jhs/hiq006Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Grounded within the context of Kerala performance traditions, Pati provides a theological Hindu framework for the solo dance form of mohiniyattam that examines the intersection of religious embodiment through the creation of bhakti bhāva, or physical gesture and movement on stage. The enactment process enables the union of human and divine within the aesthetics of rasa.

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  • Putcha, Rumya. “Between History and Historiography: The Origins of Classical Kuchipudi Dance.” Dance Research Journal 45.3 (2013): 91–110.

    DOI: 10.1017/S0149767713000260Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Disrupts the typical narratives about the emergence of kuchipudi as a classical dance form by revisiting this history through the lenses of regional Telugu linguistics, identity, and political frameworks.

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  • Sikand, Nandini. Languid Bodies, Grounded Stances: The Curving Pathway of Neoclassical Odissi Dance. New York: Berghahn, 2017.

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    Ethnographic volume that disrupts narratives and vocabulary around the construction of odissi as a classical form by questioning the erasure of the māhārī temple dance traditions, examining the motivations and consequences of de-eroticizing movement grammars, and documenting the various ongoing innovations of global practices of odissi through privileging the embodied knowledge of dancers over textual frameworks.

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  • Walker, Margaret. India’s Kathak Dance in Historical Perspective. London: Routledge, 2017.

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    Critical history, ethnography, and iconography of the practices of kathak during Mughal, British colonial, and post-Independence contexts. Sources point to a hybridity of religious and gendered participation that has often been subsumed under nationalist desires that have Hinduized its presentation and participation.

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  • Zarrilli, Phillip. Kathakali Dance-Drama: Where Gods and Demons Come to Play. New York: Routledge, 2000.

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    A comprehensive overview of social context and techniques related to kathakali practices. Notable features include chapters on how actor-dancers are trained, performance analyses of stories performed in relation to gestures and movements, and intercultural intersections in a case study of Shakespeare’s King Lear performed in kathakali dance style.

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Devadāsīs and Histories of Hereditary Dancers

Devadāsīs, as “servants of god” who were either dedicated to Hindu temples or participated in court traditions, fulfilled a variety of ritual and state roles in connection to gods and kingship. Known for being educated in literature, poetics, music, and dance, devadāsīs also participated in unorthodox social structures in India for women, including matrilineal family kin groups and sanctioned sexuality outside of typical marriage arrangements. Adigal 1965 provides an early literary representation of a dancing girl as a main character in a Tamil epic. Scholarly approaches to the history of devadāsīs focus on different time periods and disciplinary frameworks. Orr 2000 offers an examination of medieval temple epigraphy, or temple inscriptions, tracing devadāsī participation and patronage, while Kersenboom-Story 1987 and Marglin 1985 explore devadāsī ritual and court practices through mostly medieval and colonial archival and literary sources. Marglin 1985, Ramberg 2014, and Soneji 2012 all utilize ethnographic methods, interviewing current living devadāsīs to note continuities, disruptions, and changes in their lives and practices, especially after the 1947 Madras Devadasis Act banned the ritual dedication of women to temples. Arondekar 2012 provides an important critique of the use of devadāsī historiographies reductively focused on sexuality and the implications of this approach. Neville 1996 traces changes in the patronage system for devadāsīs while under British rule and emphasizes colonial interactions and artistic representations as devadāsīs become labeled as prostitutes. Srinivasan 1985 and Allen 1997 provide the most succinct analysis of economic, political, and aesthetic changes that occurred in the 1930s as the dances of hereditary dancers such as devadāsīs were reconstructed by upper-class dancers in concert venues as part of a growing nationalist movement. Vanita 2018 adds a cinematic dimension through analysis of courtesan characters in Bombay films. Ramberg 2014 and Vanita 2018 highlight complexities of gender and sexuality in relation to their studies of devadāsīs and courtesans.

  • Adigal, Prince Ilango. Shilappadikaram (The Ankle Bracelet). Translated by Alain Danielou. New York: New Directions, 1965.

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    Third-century Tamil epic about the wealthy merchant Kovalan falling in love with the courtesan-dancer Madhavi, causing Kovalan’s wife Kannagi to curse the Pandyan king and city of Madurai. Several chapters detail dances related to different regions within the Tamil landscapes of seashore, hill, and forest areas.

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  • Allen, Matthew. “Rewriting the Script for South Indian Dance.” Drama Review 41.3 (1997): 63–100.

    DOI: 10.2307/1146609Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Ethnomusicologist examines the complex intellectual and cultural influences on the nationalist “revival” of dance in the early 20th century. Allen focuses on the role of Rukmini Devi, the ascendance of Śiva Naṭarāja as patron and topic of dance items, and the transnational matrix of interactions between modern Euro-American dance artists, intellectuals, and Indian nationalists.

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  • Arondekar, Anjali. “Subject to Sex: A Small History of the Gomantak Maratha Samaj.” In South Asian Feminisms. Edited by Ania Loomba and Ritty A. Lukose, 244–263. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2012.

    DOI: 10.1215/9780822394990-011Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Critical analysis of the ways various stakeholders have reduced devadāsī historical pasts and present experiences to a narrowly delimited focus on sexuality. Examines how this focus on sexuality plays out in the fluctuating social frameworks of “reform and revival” and provides a contrasting case study of a contemporary devadāsī community in Maharashtra and Goa to disrupt previous narratives.

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  • Kersenboom-Story, Saskia. Nityasumāṇgali: Devadasi Tradition in South India. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1987.

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    Scholar-dancer Kersenboom-Story offers an in-depth investigation into the cultures, histories, and practices of devadāsīs within Tamil court and temple contexts. Archival and literary assessment of documents under regional kingships and details about temple practices and rituals are a prominent focal point.

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  • Marglin, Frederique. Wives of the God-King: The Rituals of the Devadāsīs of Puri. Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1985.

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    Ethnographic and archival study of devadāsīs connected to the temple of Jagannātha in Puri, Orissa. Particular attention is placed on ritual practices conducted within the temple in the past, prior to the reform movement that banned practices of hereditary dancers. The relationship between ritual and kingship is a unique analytical lens that illuminates constructions of power and gender within this temple complex.

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  • Neville, Pran. Nautch Girls of India: Dancers, Singers, Playmates. Paris: Ravi Kumar, 1996.

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    Collection of archived sources focused on writings about and illustrations of devadāsīs in relation to local Muslim and Hindu governors as well as British merchants, officers, and their wives from 1600 to the 1900s.

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  • Orr, Leslie. Donors, Devotees and Daughters of God: Temple Women in Medieval Tamilnadu. New York: Oxford University Press, 2000.

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    Epigraphical study of inscriptions related to temple women during the Chola period (850–1300 CE) who were engaged in a variety of ritual, political, and economic activities. This volume provides a much wider picture of the nexus of influence and agency of women dedicated to temple service, including those designated as dancers.

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  • Ramberg, Lucinda. Given to the Goddess: South Indian Devadasis and the Sexuality of Religion. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2014.

    DOI: 10.1215/9780822376415Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Ethnographic study of present-day theogamy, or ritual marriage to a deity, enacted through the dedication of girls to temples. Focusing on Dalit women who are married to the goddess in Karnataka, this text explores issues related to marriage, caste, gender, and sexuality in ways that complicate assumptions about “sacred prostitution” practices.

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  • Soneji, Davesh. Unfinished Gestures: Devadasis, Memory and Modernity in South India. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2012.

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    Examination of devadāsī history and performance in late colonial Tanjore and Madras through a focus on court and salon traditions, coupled with ethnographic work with current living Tamil- and Telugu-speaking devadāsīs to provide insight into what happened to devadāsīs after the Madras Devadasis Act of 1947 banned their practices.

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  • Srinivasan, Amrit. “Reform and Revival: The Devadasi and Her Dance.” Economic and Political Weekly 20.44 (2 November 1985): 1869–1876.

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    The best overview of the various alliances within the anti-nautch movement started in 1892 against devadāsī temple practices. Srinivasan clearly delineates two main sides: reformers and revivalists. Groups joined different sides based on the intersection of several factors, including religious commitments, colonial perspectives, caste, women’s rights, and regional Tamil politics. Includes discussion of the tensions within the Isai Vellala communities of devadāsīs and related musicians in relation to the protests.

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  • Vanita, Ruth. Dancing with the Nation: Courtesans in Bombay Cinema. New York: Bloomsbury Academic, 2018.

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    Exploration of courtesans as a central figure in Bombay cinema, examined through gender and sexuality theories in relation to family, eros, work, and religion. The chapter on religion posits a larger percentage of Hindu tawaif characters, as opposed to Muslim. The role of dancing and singing is highlighted in these films, as well as the contributions of hereditary and later classical dancers who served as film choreographers and/or actors.

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Biographies and Dancers Writing on Dance

There are many dancers who have written about their own experiences, as well as scholars who have produced a forum for understanding the lives of early- to mid-20th-century prominent dancers. Meduri 2005 and Knight 2010 are sources on two significant dance figures, Rukmini Devi and the hereditary dancer Balasaraswati, who were at the core of arguments about reform and revival during the period of construction of the classical dance style of bharatanatyam. Neither aligned with Rukmini Devi nor from a hereditary family, Gopal 1957 offers an alternative perspective from the same time period. Sinha 2017 adds to Ram Gopal’s biographical documentation through engaging in a multilayered analysis of a 1938 photograph of Ram Gopal by an American photographer. Sarabhai 2004 details the author’s own unorthodox path, developing unique choreography on social themes and eventually founding her own academy of dance. Dhananjayan 1991 represents a second-generation male dancer’s perspective. Along with his wife, Shanta, Dhananjayan created one of the largest global networks of performers and teachers of bharatanatyam. Sen 2013 represents the position of a senior student honoring her dance guru, the kathak maestro Birju Maharaj, who began his career as a court dancer. Lakshmi 2003 is a treasure trove of interviews with female artists ranging across generations. This is only a sampling of the many biographies by and about dancers. They are invaluable resources for understanding the artists’ perspectives, especially in relation to their own devotional intentions.

  • Dhananjayan, V. P. A Dancer on Dance. 2d ed. Madras: Bharata Kalanjali, 1991.

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    A male perspective on aspects of kathakali and bharatanatyam dance from one of the most entrepreneurial and successful dancers, who learned under Rukmini Devi at Kalakshetra. V. P. Dhananjayan and his wife, Shanta, currently run the most extensive global dance school network, based on their Kalakshetra training.

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  • Gopal, Ram. Rhythm in the Heavens: An Autobiography. London: Secker and Warburg, 1957.

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    Gopal created and toured his own hybrid style of dance, based on training in multiple Indian dance styles, Sanskrit texts, and interaction with Euro-American modern dancers such as Ted Shawn and Martha Graham. He was staunchly anti-Theosophist and preferred yogic models as the basis for his Hindu understandings of dance. Gopal was already performing globally at the time of the major reconstruction of dance in India during the 1930s.

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  • Knight, Douglas M. Balasaraswati: Her Life and Art. Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 2010.

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    This biography of the most prominent hereditary dancer of the 20th century is based on documentary archival work in combination with unique family insights from the author, Balasaraswati’s son-in-law.

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  • Lakshmi, C. S. Mirrors and Gestures: Conversations with Women Dancers. New Delhi: Kali for Women, 2003.

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    Collection of interviews with mostly classically trained female dancers, ranging from some of the earliest generations to those who are central exponents within their dance style today. Interviewees include those who have now passed away, such as U. K. Chandrabhaga Devi, and those whose partners usually take the more public speaking role, such as Shanta Dhananjayan.

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  • Meduri, Avanthi, ed. Rukmini Devi Arundale: A Visionary Architect of Indian Culture and the Performing Arts. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 2005.

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    Edited volume about the earliest prominent nonhereditary Brahmin exponent of bharatanatyam, focused on biographical and historical stories from collaborators, students, and dance critics, as well as the impact of Rukmini Devi’s legacy on the dance form of bharatanatyam as it emerged out of earlier sadir temple dance practices through the founding of Kalakshetra as an institution of dance training.

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  • Sarabhai, Mrinalini. The Voice of the Heart: An Autobiography. New Delhi: HarperCollins, 2004.

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    An influential dancer of the mid-20th century narrates her life story in relation to dance. Sparked by her participation in Tagore’s dance-dramas, Sarabhai traveled widely to perform bharatanatyam, and later founded Darpana Academy, still one of the most influential dance schools with a classical foundation, but also known for its contemporary experimentations with social themes. Her daughter Mallika continues as artistic director with her own choreography.

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  • Sen, Saswati. Birju Maharaj: The Master through My Eyes. New Delhi: Niyogi, 2013.

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    Biography of the premiere kathak exponent of the Lucknow gharana by one of Maharaj’s senior students. Includes stories about his childhood as a court dancer in Rampur prior to Independence; his work at Kathak Kendra, a government-supported school for the performing arts; his experiences on worldwide tours; performing and choreographing for Bollywood films; and the founding of his own institution, Kalashram. Mostly photos, with narrative overviews and anecdotes.

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  • Sinha, Ajay. “Iconology of a Photograph.” Art and Vernacular Photographies in Asia 8.1 (2017).

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    An art historian dissects perspectival layers of a 1938 photograph of Ram Gopal by Carl Van Vechten in light of transnational interactions between Gopal’s own self-presentation and the American photographer’s artistic framing and gaze. Many dancers utilize photographic artifacts in their biographical endeavors.

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Nāṭyaśāstra and Classical Aesthetic Sources on Rasa and Gesture

Reformers and revivalists of dance turned to Sanskrit sources as authoritative frameworks as part of their reconstruction efforts that formulated classical traditions in the 20th century. The most ancient extant foundational text that was rediscovered is a compendium on dance-drama, the Nāṭyaśāstra, as well as several philosophical-theological commentaries connected to its interpretation. As part of the growing interest in Asian arts among American and European audiences, Coomaraswamy and Duggirala 1917 provided a translation of portions of the 11th century Abhinaya Darpaṇa, focused on the gestures of hand, face, and body postures common to sculptures of Hindu gods and goddesses, as well as dancers. Ghosh 1975 provides a critical edition of a more complete compilation of this text fifty years later, as it had become popular as a teaching tool for current practitioners of classical dance styles. While a few chapters of the Nāṭyaśāstra were published at first out of European scholarly interest, Ghosh 1950–1961 is the first complete translation with critical apparatus. See the separate Oxford Bibliographies article on “Natyashastra.” Many other translations have been published, but Ghosh is still considered the gold standard among dancers. Gnoli 1968 translates Abhinavagupta’s influential commentary on the rasa chapter from the Nāṭyaśāstra. This interpretation of the 10th-century Kashmiri Śaivite philosopher that equated “tasting rasa” to a transcendent religious experience has eclipsed all other commentaries in dancers’ self-understandings of rasa. See the separate Oxford Bibliographies article on Aesthetics for more on philosophical-theological perspectives on rasa. Within dance, Rajendran 1995 is an example of how this Sanskritized aesthetic framework extends to analysis of many other related performance arts.

  • Coomaraswamy, Ananda K., and Gopala Duggirala, trans. Mirror of Gesture: Being the Abhinaya Darpana of Nandikesvara. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1917.

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    While this partial translation of and commentary on a Telugu manuscript has been reprinted with other editions, the first edition is a key historical document in the textual rediscovery and globalization of Indian aesthetics and dance. As curator of Asian Art at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, Coomaraswamy introduced dancing images of Śiva and their iconography, framed through Hindu philosophy, to an American and European elite audience before the Indian movement to locate national art forms.

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  • Ghosh, Manomohan, trans. Nāṭyaśāstra: A Treatise on Ancient Indian Dramaturgy and Histrionics, Ascribed to Bharata-Muni, Completely Translated for the First Time from the Original Sanskrit with an Introduction and Various Notes. 2 vols. Calcutta: Asiatic Society, 1950–1961.

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    Critical edition of aesthetic dance-drama compendium (2nd c. BCE–2nd c. CE), containing chapters on the mythology of the origin of dance by Brahma, sacralization of the theater space, descriptions of dance steps created by Śiva, and rasa, or aesthetic sentiment. Several other chapters dissect gestures, postures, adornments, instruments, lyrics, and other elements of stagecraft. While many translations now exist, this translation still maintains an authoritative status.

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  • Ghosh, Manomohan, trans. Nandikeśvara’s Abhinayadarpaṇam: A Manual of Gesture and Posture Used in Ancient Indian Dance and Drama. 3d ed. Calcutta: Manish Granthalaya, 1975.

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    First critical edition of The Mirror of Gesture (11th c.), collated from five complete or fragmentary manuscripts in Devanagari and Telugu scripts. With reference to the Nāṭyaśāstra, as well as other major aesthetic works, the techniques of gesture are minutely broken down into expressive movements of the eyes, head, neck, and hands, along with postures and walking styles.

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  • Gnoli, Raneiro. The Aesthetic Experience According to Abhinavagupta. Varanasi, India: Chowkhamba Sanskrit Series Office, 1968.

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    Transliteration and translation of Abhinavagupta’s 10th-century commentary on the sixth chapter on rasa in the Nāṭyaśāstra, with reference to key aesthetic philosophers, such as Ānandavardhana. The Kashmiri Śaivite school has been particularly influential in the interpretation of rasa, asserting the mystical framework of experiencing rasa as akin to tasting brahman (pp. 47–48).

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  • Rajendran, C., ed. Living Traditions of Nāṭyaśāstra. Delhi: New Bharatiya Book Corporation, 1995.

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    Collection of essays from Sanskrit and practitioner scholars analyzing different dimensions of ancient and contemporary iterations of dance-drama within the context of Bharata’s categorization of aesthetic and technical components of performing arts in the Nāṭyaśāstra. Chapters include focused exploration of play production, folk elements, puppetry, special characters, and music; the plays of Kālidāsa, Bhāsa, and Rājaśekhara; and Kerala-based traditions of kūṭiyāṭṭam and kṛṣṇāṭṭam.

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Rasa in Practice and Reframed

While the classical sources on rasa are respected and referenced as part of a philosophical aesthetic foundation for the classically designated dance forms of today, there have been a variety of ways dancer-scholars have revisited rasa within their own kinesthetic and historical understandings. Much of this work focuses on the “queen” of rasas, śṛṅgāra, the erotic sentiment. Narayan 1998 offers a dance teacher’s translation and expansion of how śṛṅgāra rasa can be expressed in relation to lyrics about nāyikās, or heroines. Marglin 1990 reconstructs the expression and transformative outcomes of the performance of rituals intended to evoke śṛṅgāra rasa by devadāsīs in the Jagannātha temple in Orissa. Taking a more critical appraisal, Coorlawala 2004 reveals the impact of claiming an ancient philosophical and textual aesthetic system and vocabulary on the construction of bharatanatyam in terms of dancers’ bodies and movements. O’Shea 1998 delineates the debates over the interpretation of śṛṅgāra rasa in relation to bhakti during the construction period. Zubko 2014 builds on dancers’ current creative emphasis on bhakti rasa, or devotional rasa, as a framework that artists use to support a variety of religious, cultural, ethical, and pluralistic performative intentions. Nair 2017 reincorporates textual and practical components in an investigation of the creation of rasa that subverts expected gender performativity norms. Mee 2015 adds the lens of neuroscience to analyze the ways rasas are evoked for audience members in relation to experiencing the bhāvas created by dancers’ expressional work on stage. Most of these scholars are dancers who utilize their own embodied knowledge to bridge scholarly discussions and practical approaches to conveying how rasa is created and experienced in the bodies of dancers and audience members today.

  • Coorlawala, Uttara Asha. “The Birth of Bharatanatyam and the Sanskritized Body.” Dance Research Journal 36.2 (2004): 50–63.

    DOI: 10.2307/20444591Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Tracks the reframing of devadāsī dance traditions of sadir or dasi attam into the classical style of bharatanatyam by reference to the use of Sanskrit aesthetic concepts found in the Nāṭyaśāstra and Abhinayadarpaṇam. Coorlawala discusses the role of textual authority in this construction process, the impact on dance movements and themes, and elision of bodily authority of both hereditary and new dancers.

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  • Marglin, Frederique Apffel. “Refining the Body: Transformative Emotion in Ritual Dance.” In Divine Passions: The Social Construction of Emotion in India. Edited by Owen M. Lynch, 212–236. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1990.

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    Reconstructs two rituals performed by devadāsīs in the Jagannātha temple in Puri, Orissa, through combining interviews and written accounts in conjunction with learning the dance choreography from former devadāsīs. Focuses on the transformation by dancers of śṛṅgāra rasa into ritual participation in Kṛṣṇa’s divine play, creating a body-emotion-mind bridge between mundane and spiritual experience.

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  • Mee, Erin B. “Rasa Is/As/And Emotional Contagion.” In The Natyasastra and the Body in Performance. Edited by Sreenath Nair, 157–174. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2015.

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    Neuroscience perspective on how bhāvas and rasas engage with neural pathways in the brains of both performers and audience members. Compares how neuroscience explains the phenomenon of emotional transfer with Indian aesthetic formulas.

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  • Nair, Sreenath. “Rasatrialogue: The Politics of the Female Body in Asian Performance.” In Women in Asian Performance: Aesthetics and Politics. Edited by Arya Madhavan, 159–172. New York: Routledge, 2017.

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    Framed through Judith Butler’s theories on the construction of gender, Nair analyzes rasa as it emerges within the tripartite interaction of the play’s text, the performance text embodied by an actor-dancer, and the expressive acts linking each emotional situation. Margi Sathi’s reversal of masculine gender in her foregrounding of traditional female characters in kūṭiyāṭṭam is a rich area for examining gender performativity and the impact of disruption to masculine hegemonic texts.

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  • Narayan, Kalanidhi. Aspects of Abhinaya. Chennai, India: Alliance, 1998.

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    A leading dance exponent’s perspective on the creation of rasa, focused on facial and hand gestures paired with lyrical sequences of nāyikās, or the eight female heroines found in the Nāṭyaśāstra. Śṛṅgāra rasa, or erotic rasa, is the primary rasa described.

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  • O’Shea, Janet. “‘Traditional’ Indian Dance and the Making of Interpretive Communities.” Asian Theatre Journal 15.1 (1998): 45–63.

    DOI: 10.2307/1124098Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Article that thoroughly investigates the debate over the interpretation of śṛṅgāra rasa in relation to two approaches to bhakti, or devotion, performed on stage. Rukmini Devi and Balasaraswati are seen as the two key figures in this debate that represent the different perspectives.

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  • Zubko, Katherine. Dancing Bodies of Devotion: Fluid Gestures in Bharata Natyam. Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2014.

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    Ethnographic analysis of the development and use of bhakti rasa, or devotional mood, by performers as part of religious, cultural, ethical, and pluralistic frameworks within bharatanatyam. This rasa is not explicitly present in the Nāṭyaśāstra, but it serves as the lynchpin for a variety of choreographies on Buddhist, Jain, Muslim, Christian, and Hindu themes by both Hindu and non-Hindu artists. Gesture analysis of excerpts from choreography included.

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Temple Sculptures

As part of reconstruction efforts, temple archaeology has been utilized as a resource for supporting ancient origins for classical dance. Subrahmanyam 2003 represents a traditionalist view, examining temple sculptures for understanding the interconnection between the arts and as a resource for continued modification of bharatanatyam. Lopez y Royo 2007 notes the issues and assumptions behind the archeological project of Subrahmanyam and others vis-à-vis political and aesthetic commitments related to classicalization of dance forms.

  • Lopez y Royo, Alessandra. ReConstructing and RePresenting Dance: Exploring the dance/archaeology conjunction. Internet Archive, 2007.

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    An online book aimed at dissecting the intervention of archaeology within the reconstruction of dance in India and Southeast Asia. The use of ancient texts and temple sculptures throughout Tamil Nadu and Orissa has been harnessed by dancers and scholars in the reconstruction and classicalization efforts of bharatanatyam and odissi to create frameworks of authority and purity.

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  • Subrahmanyam, Padma. Karanas: Common Dance Codes of India and Indonesia. 3 vols. Chennai: Nrithyodaya, 2003.

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    Compendium of temple sculptures depicting dance movements, with a corresponding analysis of how they relate to the 108 dance steps described in the Nāṭyaśāstra. Subrahmanyam utilizes archaeology to assert an ancient universality to dance. This underlying research serves as the basis for bharatanrityam, Subrahmanyam’s own reconstructed dance style that purports to more precisely align classical dance with its more ancient origins reflected in sculptures and Sanskrit sources.

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Śiva Naṭarāja as Lord of the Dance

The image and mythology of Śiva as lord of the dance, or Naṭarāja, is a tremendously vibrant area for study across disciplines and contexts. Śiva’s dance of bliss, the ānandatāṇḍava, poised on one leg within a ring of fire and water, his ascetic locks flying out behind him in contrast to his peaceful facial expression, has come to represent India in tourism advertisements and shop windows in the diaspora. Younger 1995 and Smith 1996 analyze how this image is rooted in the patronage of kings in medieval South India as traced to the town of Cidambaram in which Śiva resides as Naṭarāja within the local temple. Sivaramamurti 1974 places the iconography in the context of Sanskrit textual sources, while Soundararajan 2004 adds Tamil sources. Coomaraswamy 1985 introduced American and European elites to Naṭarāja through the influential early-20th-century essays of the Asian art curator of the Boston Museum of Fine Art from 1917 to 1947. Later art historians have critiqued Coomaraswamy’s methods and singular interpretation of Naṭarāja iconography, as in Kaimal 1999. Pechilis 2013 adds to this critique of Coomaraswamy by redirecting attention to a local Tamil female saint’s poetry for its influence on the development of Naṭarāja narratives and imagery. In the construction of bharatanatyam as a national dance form, Śiva became a patron deity embodied by dancers and is often placed as a mūrti on stage after the shift from temples to concert venues in the 1930s. Gaston 1982 details the historical changes in the dance form and provides a dancer’s perspective on the stories and gestures related to the performance of Śiva on stage today. See the separate Oxford Bibliographies article on “Shiva” for other sources outside of his form as Naṭarāja.

  • Coomaraswamy, Ananda K. The Dance of Śiva: Essays on Indian Art and Culture. New York: Dover, 1985.

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    Originally published in 1924, this collection of essays by the curator of Asian art at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston introduced Śiva to educated audiences in the United States and Europe. His focus on Śiva Naṭarāja at Tillai in Cidambaram, presented through the lens of Śaiva Siddhānta theological categories, became the most significant intellectual and artistic framework for translating how Śiva would be encountered outside of India.

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  • Gaston, Anne-Marie. Śiva in Dance, Myth and Iconography. Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1982.

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    Comprehensive interdisciplinary collation of the intersections between temple images, dance gestures and postures, and narrative contexts that engage the Hindu god Śiva. One of the few sources to include side-by-side visual and performative analysis, grounded in Indian classical aesthetic theory.

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  • Kaimal, Padma. “Shiva Nataraja: Shifting Meanings of an Icon.” Art Bulletin 81.3 (1999): 390–419.

    DOI: 10.2307/3051349Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    An art historian critiques Coomaraswamy’s influential interpretation of Naṭarāja imagery that held sway for over seventy-five years. Kaimal asserts a multiplicity of interpretations that were subsumed under Coomaraswamy’s conflation of textual and visual sources, and notes his unverifiable assumptions about a singular “original” meaning.

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  • Pechilis, Karen. “Śiva as the Lord of Dance: What the Poetess Saw.” Journal of Hindu Studies 6 (2013): 131–153.

    DOI: 10.1093/jhs/hit016Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Provides a constructive localized understanding of the development of the image of Naṭarāja through an analysis of the poetry featuring “The Dancer” of the early classical Tamil Śaiva bhakti saint, Kāraikkāl Ammaiyār (pre-8th century).

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  • Sivaramamurti, C. Nataraja in Art, Thought, and Literature. New Delhi: National Museum, Publications Division, 1974.

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    Foundational study of Śiva Naṭarāja in relation to Sanskrit texts and archaeological artifacts by the director of the National Museum in New Delhi. Includes images of Śiva dancing in Southeast Asian contexts.

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  • Smith, David. The Dance of Śiva: Religion, Art and Poetry in South India. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1996.

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    An exploration of the Cōḻa Naṭarāja image housed within the temple in Cidambaram, with unique analysis of the poetic work of the 14th-century poet Umāpati Śivācārya highlighting the ānandatāṇḍava, or dance of bliss of Śiva. Śivācārya’s poem, The Hymn of Praise to [Naṭarāja’s] Curved Foot, is placed in relationship to other textual sources about Śiva, including the Cidambara Māhātmya, a sthalapurāṇa detailing the mythology of this temple’s manifestation of Śiva.

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  • Soundararajan, J. Naṭarāja in South Indian Art. New Delhi: Sharada, 2004.

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    This study on Naṭarāja adds many Tamil sources to the analysis of this form of dancing Śiva, as well as references the Sanskrit compendiums, or śilpaśāstras, on the parameters for depiction of gods embodying tāṇḍavas, or vigorous forms of dance. The volume expands on tāṇḍavas as a genre in relation to several other gods as seen in 6th- to 9th-century artworks. Includes images detailing Śiva’s karaṇas, or dance postures.

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  • Younger, Paul. The Home of Dancing Śivaṉ: The Traditions of the Hindu Temple in Citamparam. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995.

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    Detailed focus on temple rituals and festivals practiced at the Citamparam temple in Tamil Nadu dedicated to Śiva as Naṭarāja, the lord of dance. Includes analysis of temple inscriptions and stories of local saints and kings who were patrons of this temple complex over time.

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Kṛṣṇa and Rās Līlā

While Śiva may be the most well-known dancer within Hindu traditions, Kṛṣṇa is a close second due to his antics as an adolescent that involve dancing, his popularity in depicting his narratives in many of the classical and folk dance styles, and the mix of theater and religion embraced by Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇavism intended to enhance bhakti through cultivating rasas via role-playing. Schweig and Buchta 2010 is a good starting point for a succinct explanation of rasa theory as it relates to both dance and devotion to Kṛṣṇa. The Bhāgavata Purāṇa is a key text presenting the narratives of Kṛṣṇa’s youth, including his defeat of Kaliya by dancing on the hood of this river snake, and his circle dance, or rās līlā, with the gopīs as translated from Sanskrit in Schweig 2005, with a vernacular Hindi to English translation in Pauwels 1996. The folk theater rās līlās performed during festivals are the focus of the ethnographic study Mason 2009. Masselos, et al. 1997 provides a visual collection of sources on the dancing Kṛṣṇa in various folk and fine art sculptures and paintings across regions and time periods. See also Bandopadhay 2010, Kothari and Pasricha 2001, Putcha 2013, and Sikand 2017 (all cited under Classical Dance Traditions), as manipuri, kuchipudi, and odissi dance forms in particular embody Kṛṣṇa as a central focus.

  • Mason, David. Theatre and Religion on Krishna’s Stage: Performing in Vrindavan. Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillian, 2009.

    DOI: 10.1057/9780230621589Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Ethnographic study of rās lila folk theater productions in Vrindavan, a central location for worship of Kṛṣṇa through theatrical spectatorship and participation. The role of child actors who become living embodiments of mūrtis for darśan and performance of the circle dance are highlights of this text.

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  • Masselos, Jim, Jackie Menzies, and Pratapaditya Pal. Dancing to the Flute: Music and Dance in Indian Art. Sydney, Australia: Art Gallery of New South Wales, 1997.

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    Museum exhibit volume with the widest and most comprehensive collection of depictions of Kṛṣṇa dancing in a variety of media and across time periods. Includes essays on various dimensions of Indian dance and Kṛṣṇa.

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  • Pauwels, Heidi. Kṛṣṇa’s Round Dance Reconsidered: Harirām Vyās’s Hindi Rās-pañcādhyānī. Richmond, UK: Curzon, 1996.

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    Translation and critical edition of a 16th-century Hindi version of the five chapters in the Sanskrit Bhāgavatapurāṇa on Kṛṣṇa’s rās līlā, or round dance, with the gopīs.

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  • Schweig, Graham. Dance of Divine Love: The Rāsa Līlā of Krishna from the Bhāgavata Purāṇa, India’s Classic Sacred Love Story. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2005.

    DOI: 10.1515/9780691190174Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Translation and textual analysis of portions of the Bhāgavata Purāṇa detailing the circle dance of Kṛṣṇa with the gopīs. Includes exploration of intimacy and play in relation to devotional love through the lens of śṛṅgāra rasa.

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  • Schweig, Graham and David Buchta. “Rasa Theory.” In Brill’s Encyclopedia of Hinduism. Vol. 2. Edited by Knut A. Jacobsen, 623–629. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2010.

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    Short introduction to rasa theory in relation to aesthetics and performance, followed by an overview of Rūpa Goswāmī’s 16th-century application of bhakti rasa, or devotional mood, as part of Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇavism’s role-playing engagement with the god Kṛṣṇa.

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Music

Music is an integral part of the dance traditions of India, although much of the scholarship remains too technical for those interested solely in the historical, social, political, and aesthetic dimensions of the dance forms. Akombo 2016 provides a bare minimum introduction to music related to odissi, bharatanatyam, and kathak. Allen 1992 is by one of the few ethnomusicologists explicitly focused on forms of music related to dance in South India. He examines the role of the padam, a brief storytelling dance item intertwined with the emergence of bharatanatyam as a classical dance form. For a more detailed, but still accessible, introduction to both regional and Carnatic and Hindustani classical music forms that accompany dance, Arnold 1999 discusses the instruments, rhythm, and scales musicians use to compose and improvise pieces as part of musical traditions that exist on their own but also in interaction with dance. Subramanian 2006 adds a social mapping of the ways the classical Carnatic music tradition was reshaped in its move from courts to concert halls. Weidman 2006 offers an anthropology on voice and modernity through the primary lenses of gender and caste in relation to postcolonial Carnatic practices. See the separate Oxford Bibliographies article on “Hinduism and Music” for further resources.

  • Akombo, David. The Unity of Music and Dance in World Cultures. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2016.

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    Chapters in this introductory textbook outline details of music systems in relation to odissi, bharatanatyam, and kathak dance forms in their classical iterations. Most of the information is about history, aesthetics, techniques, and costuming. The chapter on bharatanatyam includes an explanation of the musical genres connected to the dance repertoire in the now standardized recital of the mārgam set by the Thanjavur Quartette court musicians in the 1800s.

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  • Allen, Matthew Harp. “The Tamil ‘Padam’: A Dance Music Genre of South India.” PhD diss., Wesleyan University, 1992.

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    One of the few dissertations in ethnomusicology that focuses on a primary genre of Carnatic music with intimate ties to being performed as part of dance traditions. Allen focuses on the dynamic shifts within the genre, including its lyrics and themes due to evolving from its court and temple contexts to the stage in the 1930s as part of the nationalist construction of the arts during that time period.

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  • Arnold, Alison, ed. The Garland Encyclopedia of World Music. Vol. 5, South Asia: The Indian Subcontinent. New York: Routledge, 1999.

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    Within this ten-volume set, Volume 5 is dedicated to examining music in North and South India, including the scales (rāga) and rhythm (tāla) central to classical music structures that accompany dance. Other articles discuss music training, social dimensions, instruments, and genres. Accompanied by CD.

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  • Subramanian, Lakshmi. From the Tanjore Court to the Madras Music Academy: A Social History of Music in South India. New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2006.

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    Engages in the dynamic transformation of the classical music tradition connected to dance in the late 19th and 20th centuries through a focus on modernity, public culture, and aesthetic consumption. Reveals various erasures through examining debates over custodianship as it moved from court to elite public venue.

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  • Weidman, Amanda J. Singing the Classical, Voicing the Modern: The Postcolonial Politics of Music in South India. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2006.

    DOI: 10.1215/9780822388050Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Author presents a vocal anthropology of Carnatic music in South India as shaped by larger forces of modernity. Lenses of gender and caste assist in the analysis of how voices and instruments became modified, privileged, or erased.

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Diaspora and Globalization

Indian-inspired dance was an early global export, becoming a spectacular attraction outside of India at the same time dance within India was beginning a process of classicization. While much of this falls within the resources listed under Orientalism, Brenscheidt gen Jost 2011 offers a history of Uday Shankar’s influential hybrid work that toured in Europe and America and moved away from classicization and toward modern dance with Hindu themes and frameworks. On the other end of diasporic trajectories, the current global interest in Bollywood dance as a form with origins in the classical styles is the topic of Shresthova 2011. Most of the scholarly work on diasporic dance developments focuses on the teaching and performance of classical Indian dance styles. Devarajan 2010 and Kumar 2006 both analyze the role of dance in the development of Hindu religious identity for second-generation daughters in the United States in relation to gender, nationality, and ethnicity. See also Ram 2005 and Mruthinti 2006 (both cited under Gender and Sexuality) for related studies on immigrant populations. O’Shea 2007 examines the tensions between regional and global identities of bharatanatyam, tracing some of the current transcultural flows and influences against the backdrop of the changes begun in the 1930s. Thobani 2017 deepens the analysis of multicultural contexts for the practices of classical dance by exploring the effects of South Asian identity created through dance as part of British multiculturalism. Katrak 2011 presents a history of the emergence of contemporary dance choreography in relation to classical styles and rasa in evidence in predominantly diasporic contexts. Themes for dance change in response to the new contexts and audiences for performance. Zubko 2014 offers an ethnographic case study on the challenges and adaptations made by dancers when choreographing the Bhagavad Gītā, an increasingly popular topic within diasporic contexts. Devarajan and Kamath 2009 discusses an adaptation of The Nutcracker in kuchipudi. Srinivasan 2011 reframes transnational Indian classical dance practices in light of labor and cultural capital. Each of these resources operates within an axis of multiple components of identity that intersect with immigrant experiences, including gender, race, ethnicity, sexuality, nationality, and postcolonialism. Building off of Srinivasan, Kedhar 2014 furthers an examination of layers of immigrant artistic labor in relation to analysis about forms of flexible capital.

  • Brenscheidt gen Jost, Diana. Shiva Onstage: Uday Shankar’s Company of Hindu Dancers and Musicians in Europe and the United States, 1931–38. Zurich: Lit, 2011.

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    Study focuses on Uday Shankar’s infusion of Hindu religious aspects within his hybridized dance choreography and its influence on spiritualizing the European and American modern dance movement. Shankar and his company toured widely, representing a self-orientalized conception of Hinduism across the globe at the same time that dance was being “revitalized” in India.

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  • Devarajan, Arthi. “Natya ‘from Within’: A Practical Theology-Based Analysis of Classical Indian Dance Pedagogy in the United States.” PhD diss., Emory University, 2010.

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    Ethnographic analysis of three sites for the learning of dance in diasporic contexts, including schools serving mostly South Asian students and summer camps. The examination of aspects related to the embodied learning of religious identity, ethics, and social values in pedagogical settings leads to insights into diasporic experiences of second- and third-generation experiences of how religious knowledge is communicated through practice and performance.

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  • Devarajan, Arthi, and Harshita Mruthinti Kamath. “Victory of a Dream: Reimagining The Nutcracker in Indian Classical Dance.” Practical Matters 1.1 (2009): 1–20.

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    Ethnographic analysis of the choreographic negotiations, audience reception, and social capital created for the Hindu community through a staging of The Nutcracker in kuchipudi in Atlanta, Georgia.

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  • Katrak, Ketu. Contemporary Indian Dance: New Creative Choreography in India and the Diaspora. London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011.

    DOI: 10.1057/9780230321809Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Examines the early history of contemporary Indian dance arising mostly out of the work of dancers trained in classical styles in the 20th century. Katrak utilizes rasa as an analytical lens to track the intentions and choreographic choices of these performing artists. Case studies include a range of innovations by classical dancers and hybrid artists to distinctly new developments, especially in North America and Britain.

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  • Kedhar, Anusha. “Flexibility and Its Bodily Limits: Transnational South Asian Dancers in an Age of Neoliberalism.” Dance Research Journal 46.1 (2014): 23–40.

    DOI: 10.1017/S0149767714000163Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Investigates the various layers of flexibility required of diasporic dancers, extending their physical flexibility to include other movement grammars and navigating immigrant identities, restrictions, and expectations in order to have access to funding, performance venues, and maximize on the capital of “ethnic diversity” while still attracting mainstream British audiences.

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  • Kumar, Anita. “Shakti’s (Re)collection of Race, Nationhood and Gender.” TDR/The Drama Review 50.4 (2006): 72–95.

    DOI: 10.1162/dram.2006.50.4.72Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Ethnographic essay examining the perspective of second-generation South Asian dancers and Caucasian dancers learning dance in Viji Prakash’s Shakti School of Bharata Natyam in Los Angeles, California.

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  • O’Shea, Janet. At Home in the World: Bharata Natyam on the Global Stage. Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 2007.

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    An investigation of bharatanatyam practices in global contexts in relation to identity, gender, class, and cultural representation. The tensions between localized regional and pan-Indian traditional expectations of this art form are framed in relation to transnational identity and innovations within diasporic contexts and compared to the shaping of bharatanatyam as a national art form during the 1930s.

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  • Shresthova, Sangita. Is It All about Hips? Around the World with Bollywood Dance. New Delhi: SAGE, 2011.

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    Assessment of the various contexts in which Bollywood film dance is performed throughout the world in relation to diasporic South Asian populations and Caucasians, many of whom are hired to dance as back-up dancers in films. While film dances are not always explicitly religious, this volume addresses Hindu and Muslim religious themes related to Bollywood dancing, as well as connections to classical dance forms.

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  • Srinivasan, Priya. Sweating Saris: Indian Dance as Transnational Labor. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2011.

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    Reframes the study of dance through the lens of labor, analyzing through critical race and postcolonial theories the ways goods are exchanged and circulated. This economics of materiality highlights the gendered labor of dancing bodies, the costs of training and performance, and the creation of cultural forms of capital.

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  • Thobani, Sitara. Indian Classical Dance and the Making of Postcolonial National Identities: Dancing on Empire’s Stage. London: Routledge, 2017.

    DOI: 10.4324/9781315387345Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Shifts the primary framework for analysis of Indian dance practices to a multicultural British context to examine how dance is constructed at the intersection of postcolonial identities within the diaspora and in relation to Britain’s long history of interaction with India as a former colonizer.

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  • Zubko, Katherine C. “Dancing the Bhagavadgītā: Embodiment as Commentary.” Journal of Hindu Studies 7.3 (2014): 392–417.

    DOI: 10.1093/jhs/hiu028Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Performance analyses of choreography on the Bhagavad Gītā, a dialogue between the god Kṛṣṇa and Arjuna in bharatanatyam and kuchipudi within the framework of oral-textual commentarial traditions. Addresses the challenges of choreographing a philosophical text without action-driven narratives, as well as the rising role of this text in its representation of Hinduism in the diaspora.

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Orientalism

As part of histories of colonialism, the dances and narratives of India became a form of Orientalist inspiration for dancers and choreographers in a variety of styles. Tarta 2004 is a video recording of La Bayadère, a ballet originating in 1877 about a Hindu temple dancer still performed by major companies today that refracts Hinduism through Orientalist tropes. Desmond 1991 offers analysis of early-20th-century modern dancer Ruth St. Denis’s forays into dancing her distillation of Hindu goddesses for her primarily Euro-American audiences. Coorlawala 1992 retraces St. Denis’s tour throughout India with the Denishawn Company in 1926. Erdman 1987 illuminates Uday Shankar’s selective adaptation of Indian theatrical arts in the creation of his productions geared toward Western audiences. The development in the 1940s and 1950s of Broadway jazz by Jack Cole that incorporated Indian dance movements, in contrast to American Gina Lalli, who studied for years under teachers in India, is the subject of Williams 2004. MisirHiralall 2017 calls out the continued issues around Orientalist representation in the teaching and performing of classical dance forms today, but embraces the opportunities it creates for the author, a scholar and dancer, to correct misunderstandings about and reclaim ownership over the representation and reception of Hinduism. This set of resources is a sample of how dance is one of many topics used for exploring the processes of Orientalist strategies in relation to Hinduism.

  • Coorlawala, Uttara Asha. “Ruth St. Denis and India’s Dance Renaissance.” Dance Chronicle 15.2 (1992): 123–152.

    DOI: 10.1080/01472529208569091Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Coorlawala revisits the tour of the Denishawn Company throughout India in 1926 to understand Ruth St. Denis’s performative presentation of “Indian dance” prior to Rukmini Devi’s efforts. Includes many archival photos from this tour of India.

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  • Desmond, Jane. “Dancing Out the Difference: Cultural Imperialism and Ruth St. Denis’s ‘Radha’ of 1906.” Signs 17.1 (1991): 28–49.

    DOI: 10.1086/494712Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Modern dancer Ruth St. Denis’s performative exploration of Radha as a Hindu goddess illuminates a moment prior to the “revival” of dance in India in its classical iterations. St. Denis’s work exhibited typical issues around representation of “otherness” within frameworks of Orientalism, including an exotification of race and sexuality, as well as colonial ownership over the translation of Hinduism through a white middle-class female body.

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  • Erdman, Joan L. “Performance as Translation: Uday Shankar in the West.” TDR/The Drama Review 31.1 (1987): 64–88.

    DOI: 10.2307/1145766Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Seminal article on the ways the early-20th-century dancer Uday Shankar adapted selective elements of Indian dance and theater traditions to create accessible and sensational productions for his primarily Western audiences. The author queries the relationship of Shankar’s work to the construction and reception of authenticity.

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  • MisirHiralall, Sabrina. Confronting Orientalism: A Self-Study of Educating through Hindu Dance. Rotterdam: Sense Publications, 2017.

    DOI: 10.1007/978-94-6351-191-9Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    A second-generation Hindu-American kuchipudi dancer who immigrated with her family from Guyana provides postcolonial analysis of her own “de-Orientalizing” pedagogical strategies in working with non-Hindus, aimed at education about the exotifying gaze, correcting misinterpretations about Hindu metaphysics, and reclaiming epics as sacred history.

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  • Tarta, Alexandre, dir. La Bayadère: Ballet de l’Opéra de Paris. DVD (133 min). Paris: Bel Air Productions, 2004.

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    A star-crossed love story between a temple dancer, Nikiya, and a warrior, Solor, danced in ballet style, in a production choreographed by Rudolf Nureyev. Set in a temple, court, and underworld of shades, the devadāsī is cursed by a Brahmin, and killed by her rival, the Raja’s daughter. Choreography of the devadāsī, “Dance of the Hindus,” and a “Golden Idol” exhibit a generalized Eastern exoticism through costumes, characters (fakir, tribal fire dancers), Muslim palace architecture, and angular movements.

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  • Williams, Drid. “In the Shadow of Hollywood Orientalism: Authentic East Indian Dancing.” Visual Anthropology 17.1 (2004): 78–99.

    DOI: 10.1080/08949460490274013Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Comparison of American Gina Lalli’s training and performance of bharatanatyam and kathak in contrast to Jack Cole’s development of “Broadway jazz,” a mix of Indian and other Asian-inspired dance set to jazz music performed in clubs and on film in the 1940s and 1950s.

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Religious Pluralism

Most of the designated classical dance forms of India trace their histories to Hindu folk and temple practices, along with the frameworks found in the Nāṭyaśāstra that forge connections to the god Śiva and worship practices intended to sanctify the stage. However, there are many exponents who are not Hindu. These artists, whose histories have often been elided or contested in light of Hindu nationalist claims about classical dance forms, continue to make their own way as marginalized participants whose motivations are sometimes questioned. Barboza 1990 represents one of the foundational Christian artists to work within the classical dance world, performing both Hindu and Christian themes as choreographed by Barboza’s Hindu teachers. Zubko 2006 provides an ethnographic analysis of an invocatory item on the Hindu gāyatrī mantra interpreted through both Hindu and Christian interpretations of gesture. Pasha 1996 and Katrak 2001 allow the perspectives of Muslim and Parsi exponents to explain their own participation in Indian classical dance forms, considering issues related to religion, ethnicity, gender, and diaspora in particular. Thiagarajan 2017 adds background on Malay Indian and Chinese Muslim participation in Indian classical dance in Malaysia, with an extended case study on Ramli Ibrahim. See also Zubko 2014 (cited under Rasa in Practice and Reframed) for case studies of choreography on Buddhist, Jain, Muslim, and Christian themes. These voices and choreographic experimentations reveal the spaces of contestation that continue to evolve a hundred years after the “reform” movement that enlisted dance as central to a growing Indian (Hindu) nationalist identity.

  • Barboza, Francis. Christianity in Indian Dance Forms. Delhi: Sri Satguru Publications, 1990.

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    As a Catholic priest, Barboza undertook training in bharatanatyam and wrote his doctoral thesis at the University of Baroda on Christian understandings of Indian dance. He created several new hand gestures, included as woodblock prints, that allowed him to choreograph stories on Christian figures and aspects of god (e.g., God the Father, the Risen Christ, etc.). Most dancers who have incorporated Christian narratives reference Barboza’s work.

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  • Katrak, Ketu. “Body Boundarylands: Locating South Asian Ethnicity in Performance and Daily Life.” Amerasia Journal 27 (2001): 3–33.

    DOI: 10.17953/amer.27.1.h7171117m4637m15Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    A South Asian Parsi immigrant to the United Stated who learned bharatanatyam in Los Angeles reflects on assumptions about ethnicity and gender roles embedded within the dance form. Within diasporic contexts, Katrak identifies the problems connected to a “rigid conception” of Hindu identity attached to bharatanatyam, a dance form simultaneously identified as the one that represents India more broadly even though there are multiple religions practiced in India.

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  • Pasha, Shireen, dir. And She Dances On: A Dance Documentary. 59 min. The Filmmakers Lahore in collaboration with Tehreema Aabvaan Dance Productions, 1996.

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    Documentary about Tehreema Mitha, a Pakistani Muslim woman trained in bharatanatyam by her mother Indu Mitha in Lahore during the 1980s. Includes discussion of restrictions on dance in Pakistan, negotiation of Hindu themes and rituals, and Tehreema’s contemporary work in the United States, including excerpts from her choreography.

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  • Thiagarajan, Premalatha. “Gender and Ethnicity in Indian Classical Dance in Malaysia.” Asian Theatre Journal 34.1 (2017): 97–121.

    DOI: 10.1353/atj.2017.0006Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Article focuses on Ramli Ibrahim, a Malay-Muslim dancer who is one of the most well-known performers of bharatanatyam and odissi in Malaysia. Author analyzes Ibrahim’s 2015 production of Spellbound Odissi Live! in relation to ethnic, religious, and gendered analysis.

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  • Zubko, Katherine C. “Embodying Bhakti Rasa in Bharata Natyam: An Indian-Christian Interpretation of Gāyatrī Mantra through Dance.” Journal of Hindu-Christian Studies 19 (2006): 37–44.

    DOI: 10.7825/2164-6279.1365Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Performance analysis of a brief invocatory dance item set to the gāyatrī mantra as performed in church liturgical services and Hindu temples by the Kalai Kaviri dance troupe while on tour in the United Kingdom in 2004.

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Gender and Sexuality

The focus on gender and sexuality is heavily tilted toward examinations of women’s roles, female experience, and the performance of femaleness, although see Dhananjayan 1991 (cited under Biographies and Dancers Writing on Dance) for an example about self-perception of masculinity in dance. Krishnan 2009 revisits the erased practices of female impersonation by men in sadir kaceri prior to its reformulation into bharatanatyam. Kamath 2019, a work on the construction of Brahmin masculinity through female impersonation in kuchipudi, disrupts assumptions about performative and everyday experiences of gender. Analysis of gender is often related to discourses on nationalism, diasporic Hinduism, the modified performance of eroticism in post-reconstruction classical forms, and abstraction of eroticism in contemporary choreographies. Dutt and Munsi 2010 revisit the histories of female actresses and dancers at the moment in which their vocational focus was split into two separate tracks in the late 19th century during the colonial period, noting the negative consequences for female dancers in particular. Munsi and Chakraborty 2018 is an edited collection of essays that focus on how female dancers across genres and socioeconomic classes navigate various contexts in which they train and perform. Madhavan 2017 offers the perspective of a female artist of the male-dominated kathakali dance form, with the author noting how her informant’s choice of characters to highlight and ways of expressing characters has enhanced the tradition. Ram 2005 and Mruthinti 2006 examine female dancers’ experiences in the diaspora, with Ram focusing on replication of idealized gender roles and Mruthinti examining differences between first- and second-generation creations of Hindu religious identity through dance. Wade 2001 and Chatterjea 2004 bring overdue attention to the work of Chandralekha, a bharatanatyam dancer who turned toward developing her own pathbreaking contemporary style that often explored physically abstract dimensions of female energy, or śakti, or gendered energetic interactions. Wade 2001 examined Chandralekha and other choreographers’ work through a feminist lens. Mitra 2006 advocates for the reclaiming of physical expressions of śṛṅgāra rasa after the reconstruction of classical dance forms stripped them of movements of sensuality, including curvature and contact. Morcom 2013 examines the experiences of female hereditary performers, bar girls, and kothis whose pathways did not lead to privileged concert spaces, in contrast to classical dancers. Chatterjee and Lee 2012 examines the authors’ hybrid classical-contemporary alliance, the Post Natyam Collective, and explores ways to disrupt gendered gestures and roles, such as the lovesick female heroine, or nāyikā, and open pathways for gender fluidity and same-sex love within performance.

  • Chatterjea, Ananya. Butting Out: Reading Resistive Choreographies through Works by Jawole Willa Jo Zollar and Chandralekha. Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 2004.

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    Critical study of Chandralekha’s oeuvre from the perspectives of gender, race, and cultural studies. Viewing Chandralekha’s postmodern work in conversation with African American Zollar’s choreography opens up how female artists of color, performing mostly on gendered themes, navigate marginality in relation to various centers of power. Includes performance analyses of Chandralekha’s choreographic works, including Raga, Sri, and Yantra.

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  • Chatterjee, Sandra, and Cynthia Ling Lee. “Solidarity—Rasa/Autobiography—Abhinaya: South Asian Tactics for Performing Queerness.” Studies in South Asian in Film & Media 4.2. (2012): 131–142.

    DOI: 10.1386/safm.4.2.131_1Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Post Natyam Collective artists discuss the traditional use of abhinaya storytelling gestures for creating śṛṅgāra rasa redirected toward depicting female same-sex love.

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  • Dutt, Bishnupriya, and Urmimala Sarkar Munsi. Engendering Performance: Indian Women Performers in Search of an Identity. New Delhi and Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE, 2010.

    DOI: 10.4135/9788132106128Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Collection of essays highlighting continuities and gaps in the interconnected histories of actresses and dancers in India, especially within frameworks of gender and colonial disruptions. The four essays on women dancers analyze gender codes in the Nāṭyaśāstra, embodied expectations in movements and behaviors, underexamined sources that created space for women dancers, and consequences of the classical versus folk designations on female dance forms.

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  • Kamath, Harshita Mruthinti. Impersonations: The Artifice of Brahmin Masculinity in South Indian Dance. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2019.

    DOI: 10.1525/luminos.72Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Ethnography focused on a Smarta Brahmin community in the village of Kuchipudi in order to elucidate dimensions of gender performance and caste across transnational forces related to the classicization of kuchipudi in relation to its rural village experiences. The taking of stri-vesam, female form, is intricately tied to the construction of masculinity in everyday life.

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  • Krishnan, Hari. “From Gynemimesis to Hypermasculinity: The Shifting Orientations of Male Performers of South Indian Court Dance.” In When Men Dance: Choreographing Masculinities across Borders. Edited by Jennifer Fisher and Anthony Shay, 378–391. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009.

    DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195386691.003.0013Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Analysis of underexamined 19th-century male participation in sadir kaceri and the impact of British valuations of masculinity on these practices. When bharatanatyam was being formulated from the techniques of sadir, stakeholders created a hypermasculinity to counteract the earlier performance of female personation by men in the dance form.

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  • Madhavan, Arya. “Between Roars and Tears: Towards the Female Kathakali.” In Women in Asian Performance: Aesthetics and Politics. Edited by Arya Madhavan, 83–96. New York: Routledge, 2017.

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    Ethnographic focus on female performers in the traditionally all-male genre of kathakali in Kerala. Unique analysis of aspects of training, textual and character parameters, and performative moments in which artists’ subtle innovations work to create space within structural restrictions, as seen in the work of Parvathy Menon and the first all “Ladies Troupe.”

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  • Mitra, Royona. “Living a Body Myth, Performing a Body Reality: Reclaiming the Corporeality and Sexuality of the Indian Female Dancer.” Feminist Review 84 (2006): 67–83.

    DOI: 10.1057/palgrave.fr.9400301Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Asserts the creation of a chaste female body as one of the results of the reconstruction of dance that supports nationalist ideals about women. Advocates for dancers’ bodies to become “sites of resistance” by reintroducing curvature, spiraling, and contact with the floor and other dancers’ bodies as ways to reclaim an intimacy that has been subsumed under the reconfigured movements of śṛṅgāra rasa.

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  • Morcom, Anna. Illicit Worlds of Indian Dance: Cultures of Exclusion. New York: Oxford University Press, 2013.

    DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199343539.001.0001Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Examines the lives of marginalized performers who continued their artistic practices in less privileged venues than the concert halls of designated classical dancers. Focuses on the erased paths of hereditary female performers, courtesans, and bar girls, and highlights the experiences of transgender and kothi, or male erotic/cross-dressing, performers.

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  • Mruthinti, Harshita. “Dancing the Divine Female: Diasporic Women’s Encounters with the Hindu Goddess through Indian Classical Dance.” Journal of Asian American Studies 9.3 (2006): 271–299.

    DOI: 10.1353/jaas.2006.0028Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Examines the formation of religious identity in relation to goddess devotion that second-generation Hindus create through their practices of learning dance in the diaspora in distinction to first-generation Hindus, many of whom brought their religious and dance knowledge with them from India. Second-generation Hindus also navigate and respond to Western feminism’s embrace of Kālī.

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  • Munsi, Urmimala Sarkar, and Aishika Chakraborty, eds. The Moving Space: Women in Dance. Delhi: Primus Books, 2018.

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    Edited volume with essays focused on examining the ways in which female dancers negotiate the spaces in which they train and perform in light of shifting boundaries around socioeconomically determined performance contexts, as well as how spaces frame particular norms and expectations about gender identity and sexuality. Scholars base their analyses on a wide range of contexts, including Bollywood, bars, and rehabilitation centers, in addition to classical and regional spheres.

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  • Ram, Kalpana. “Phantom Limbs: South Indian Dance and Immigrant Reifications of the Female Body.” Journal of Intercultural Studies 26.1–2 (2005): 121–137.

    DOI: 10.1080/07256860500074342Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Ram observes how expectations about ideal Hindu womanhood, in particular the roles of wives and daughters that emerged among the middle-class during pre-Independence India, have become reenacted through young women learning and performing dance in the diaspora today.

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  • Wade, Trevor Montague. Choreography as Feminist Strategy: Three Approaches to Hindu Feminism in the Dance of Chandralekha, Manjusri Chaki-Sircar and Daksha Sheth. PhD diss., University of Chicago Divinity School, 2001.

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    Comparative analysis of the artistic works of three prominent contemporary dancers who were trained in classical dance styles as part of their early training. The dissertation discusses the ways women and female energy, experience, and embodiment are moved from the peripheries of traditional mythologies to the center of choreographic commitments. Wade creates space for expanding understandings of feminism through a Hindu lens.

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