Sacred and Profane Bayadères of Villianur: photographs and texts, 1905-1906

By Donovan Roebert

In this article I deal with seven photographs of or relating to bayadères – the French word coined especially for temple, court and public dancers of India and other colonies, itself derived from the Portuguese bailadeiras, applied to dancers in Portuguese territories of India.

These photographs, dating from French publications of 1905 and 1906, though the pictures themselves may have been taken a little earlier, capture temple and court (or public) hereditary Sadir dancers from the area of Pondicherry, and in the case of the temple dancers, certainly from Villianur near Pondicherry.

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America and the Nautch Dancers 2: from P.T. Barnum to Heinrich Hagenbeck; 1884-1906

By Donovan Roebert

In the first part of this article I dealt with some aspects of American involvement with the Indian ‘nautch’ from 1822 to Augustin Daly’s staging of ‘Zanina’ in 1881. In this part I will deal with Indian dancers as they were involved in shows and exhibitions presented by P.T. Barnum in 1884, at the Chicago ‘World’s Columbian Exposition’ in 1893, at the Coney Island Luna Park ‘Durbar of Delhi’ in 1904, and with Heinrich Hagenbeck’s ‘East India Exposition’ in 1906. My choice of these four events does not mean that other ‘nautch’ performances did not take place in the United States during the same period – Priya Srinivasan mentions performances or appearances of ‘nautch dancers’ in 1885 and 1886, with other dancers from Bombay, South India and Sri Lanka brought to America in the year of the Coney Island exhibition – but these have left little or no pictorial or textual trace.

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America and the Nautch Dancers 1: From Marmaduke Borrough to Augustin Daly; 1822-1881

By Donovan Roebert

My aim in this two-part article is to provide some insights into the pictorial and textual records concerning dancers from India who were seen by Americans in India or brought to the United States in the period under review. The pictorial data, scarce though they are, have been gathered over a period of some months, together with some primary source writings that help to elucidate them. I will be dealing with the five main and well-known occasions on which Indian ‘nautch dancers’ were brought out to perform in America by impresarios of the ‘showman’ kind. These occasions were: the production of ‘Zanina’ by Augustin Daly in 1880-1881, the P.T. Barnum ‘Greatest Show on Earth’ and its subsidiary ‘dime museum’ exhibitions which took place in 1884, the Chicago ‘World’s Columbian Exhibition’ of 1893, the 1904 ‘Delhi Durbar’ staged in Luna Park on Coney Island, and the 1906 ‘East India Exposition’, which was part of Carl and Heinrich Hagenbeck’s ‘Greater Shows’ tour of the United States. This first part of the article deals only with the period preceding the P.T. Barnum shows.

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Notes on the Photograph of Rajalakshmi and Jeevaratnam, c. 1933

By Donovan Roebert

The photograph of the Kalyani daughters, Rajalakshmi and Jeevaratnam, which was produced sometime between 1931 and 1933, is as well known as it is usually unaccompanied by any documented insights into the lives and art of these sisters. The present brief article is an attempt to present some items of information that may help to bring into sharper focus their place as artists and individual personalities in the forced evolution of Bharata Natyam from the 1930s onwards.

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Some Thoughts on the ‘Momentous Transition’ of South Indian Dance from the Hands of the Hereditary Artists to Those of the ‘Better People’

By Donovan Roebert

One of the pressing issues that arose in the immediate aftermath of Dr Muthulakshmi Reddi’s 1930 anti-devadasi bill was the scramble by the so-called ‘Pro-Art’ lobby to save the art of dance from extinction in case the devadasi system should really be abolished, a final step that was in the early 1930s not yet a certainty, but was certainly looming large over the hereditary dance economy.

The question was taken up by the Madras advocate, E. Krishna Iyer (1897-1968), who was an aficionado of the dance, and himself a dancer in theatrical pieces. In 1927 Iyer had convened the All India Musical Conference in Madras, a step which led to the founding of the Madras Music Academy in 1928, with Iyer as a founding secretary.

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A Short Account of P. Raghaviah Charry and the Hindoostanee Dancing Girls

By Donovan Roebert

Those familiar with P. Raghaviah Charry’s A Short account of the dancing girls, treating concisely on the general principles of dancing and singing, with translations of two Hindo songs will probably have read it in Davesh Soneji’s Bharatanatyam: A Reader published by the Oxford University Press in New Delhi in 2010. In that presentation of Charry’s account it is described by the editor as ‘surviving in the form of a sole copy at the British Library’.

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East India Company Officials and the ‘Nautch Girls’ of Lucknow and Delhi: 1780-1846: A Pictorial Survey

By Donovan Roebert

The thrust of this essay is to deal with the pictorial record showing the association of proto-Kathak dancers with East India Company officials who resided and worked in Lucknow and Delhi in the period under review. Much has been written in recent decades about this period in which officials and soldiers of the Company took Indian wives, adopted local dress and manners, and patronized the arts in their places of residence, including the dance.

This essay will confine itself to a number of well-known paintings which depict these officials in the enjoyment of dance entertainments, as well as providing some pictures of the dancers themselves. In the main, I will be dealing here with such public figures of the time as Colonel Antoine-Louis-Henri Polier in Lucknow, and Sir David Ochterlony, Raja Hindu Rao, Colonel James Skinner, William Fraser, and Sir Thomas Metcalfe in Delhi, all of whom are pictorially shown to have had dealings with ‘nautch troupes’.

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South Indian Dancers in the Storm of Reform: 1890-1910

By Donovan Roebert

By the early 1890s the devadasi had entered, without her knowing it, into the last two decades of her status as an auspicious being, ritual temple specialist, and performing artist. From this time onwards she would increasingly come to be identified as the wicked seductress of her time and place. Her predicament is indeed a strange one. On the one hand she is viewed as the victim of her circumstances, and on the other as the perpetrator of the same sexual wickedness to which she is supposedly subjected through no fault of her own. Different activists in the same period emphasize one or the other of these perceived aspects to further their own reformist agendas.

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The Devadasis of Henry Bohan: Regurgitation of Image and Narrative, 1866

By Donovan Roebert

Henry Bohan was for many years attached to the French colonial judiciary as ‘King’s Prosecutor’ in Pondicherry. Details for his life and work are scant, and those that I have are drawn from the the brief preface to his book, Voyage aux Indes orientales; coup d’oeil sur leur importance politique et commerciale (‘Voyage to the East Indies: a survey of their political and commercial importance’, 1866) in which he is described as having spent ‘many years in India’ and as being much exercised with the questions of French colonial power, the ‘Hindu laws’ obtaining in India, the inequitable status of women in the country, and the political and commercial importance of the East Indies colonies generally.

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Sketches of Madurai and Tanjore Dancers, 1880-1890: Words and Pictures

By Donovan Roebert

In this article I will present four sketches of dancers from Madurai and Tanjore, together with some accompanying primary-source texts, that are found in the 1890 volume of the Dutch serial magazine, De Aarde en haar Volken (The Earth and its Peoples). This was a monthly series of publications of a popular ethnological kind intended to be collected and bound into volumes, of which the 1890 collection is volume 26. The separate magazine editions were published on an ongoing basis between 1865 and 1940.

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