Salon to Cinema: The Distinctly Modern Life of the Telugu Javali
The Center for India and South Asia and the Department of World Arts and Cultures invites Professor Davesh Soneji from McGill University.
Tuesday, April 26, 2011
2:00 PM - 4:00 PM
10383 Bunche Hall
The javali is a musical and literary form that likely has its origins in the nineteenth-century court of Mysore, South India, under the patronage of Mummadi Krishnaraja Wodeyar III (1799-1868) and Chamaraja Wodeyar IX (1881-1894). Composed in Telugu and Kannada, these distinctly modern songs are modeled on the older Telugu padam genre, from which they derive their structure and narrative situation. In late nineteenth and early twentieth century Madras, javalis become the most popular compositions performed by devadasi-courtesans during salon performances patronized by elite Brahmin and landowning communities. Unlike the apotheosized padam poets Annamayya and Kshetrayya, the majority of javali composers (javalikartas) worked in the civic heart of the colonial city, employed as Taluk clerks or post office workers. As poems, javalis are sites for multiple experiments in syncretism with regard to language and music. They are incorporated into Parsi-theatre inspired Tamil plays, sometimes written in hybrid language combining Telugu and English, and subject to Orientalist analyses. Located between the demise of courtly musical forms of the colonial period on the one hand, and the emergent modern forms of the mid-twentieth century on the other, javalis elude obvious categories. The life of the javali, however, is short-lived. The genre loses its popular status in light of social reform movements directed toward courtesans in the region that begin around the same time the form emerges, and the last flashes of the javali’s presence are captured in dance sequences by women from courtesan communities in early Telugu cinema. This illustrated talk maps the multiple historical and affective registers through which the texts and performances of javalis are understood and performed in modern South India.
About the Speaker
Davesh Soneji is Associate Professor of South Asian Religions at McGill University in Montreal, Canada. He is co-editor, with Indira Viswanathan Peterson, of Performing Pasts: Reinventing the Arts in Modern South India (Oxford University Press, 2008) and editor of a commissioned anthology, Bharatanatyam: A Reader (Oxford, 2010). He has recently completed a book on professional dancing women in the Tamil and Telugu-speaking regions of South India that integrates archival, literary and ethnographic data, entitled Unfinished Gestures: Devadasis, Memory, and Modernity in South India. This book is forthcoming in the “South Asia Across the Disciplines” series jointly published by the Columbia University Press, The University of Chicago Press, and The University of California Press. Prof. Soneji’s current research focuses on the history of the Marathi varkari kirtan tradition in Tamilnadu and its role in the shaping of “classical” music in this region.
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Sponsor(s): World Arts & Cultures