NIAS Public Lecture, "Ganga-Kaveri Samvad: Multilingual Dance dramas and cultural pluralism at the Thanjavur Maratha court," by Indira Viswanathan Peterson, at 1600 hrs, Lecture Hall, NIAS

NIAS Literary, Arts and Heritage Forum

Public Lecture

Ganga-Kaveri Samvad: Multilingual Dance dramas and cultural pluralism at the Thanjavur Maratha court


Prof. Indira Viswanathan Peterson

Professor of Asian Studies, Emerita, Mount Holyoke College, U.S.A & American Institute of Indian Studies and National Endowment for the Humanities Research Fellow 2016

 11 January, 2017, Wednesday at 1600 hrs Lecture Hall, NIAS

Chairperson: Prof. Sharada Srinivasan, Dean, School of Humanities, NIAS

Thanjavur is celebrated as the fountainhead of Karnatak music and Bharata natyam dance in the 19th-20th centuries. Less well known is the remarkable polyglot and multicultural history of these performing arts, nurtured by Thanjavur’s Maratha rulers (1675-1855). This talk illuminates dance drama, a major form at the Maratha court, as a key example of these developments. Maratha dance dramas were produced in Telugu, Tamil, Marathi and Sanskrit, and performed at court and temple. Treating courtly romances and temple legends, they featured local themes, comedic passages, and folk characters such as the Kuravanji tribal fortune-teller.  The Marathi play Ganga-Kaveri-samvad (Quarrel between Ganga and Kaveri) depicts the rivalry between the two rivers as wives of King Ocean. It addresses the co-wives’ quarrel, north-south rivalry, the festival of the Tiruvaiyaru Panchanadisvara temple, and the trope of the menstruating river as the source of agrarian fertility.  The polyglot Panchabhashavilasa (PBV, Play of five languages) dramatizes language encounters. These dramas emerged from the court’s dialogues and contestations with multiple public constituencies regarding gender, class and identity. At the same time they artistically represent the trials and rewards of multiculturalism in a milieu of heightened encounter among diverse languages and cultures. Performance, I argue, became the lingua franca of the Maratha court and the emblem of its influential contribution toward pluralist cultural formations in South India. A fascinating window into the agency of a minority community in the development of a regional cultural sensibility, Thanjavur dance dramas illuminate the need for historiographies that attend to archives beyond the printed word. They also challenge purist linguistic-ethnic identity politics.

About the Speaker

Dr. Indira Viswanathan Peterson is Professor of Asian Studies, Emerita, Mount Holyoke College, U.S.A. She has a B.A. (English) from Bombay University, and A.M. and Ph.D. degrees in Sanskrit and Indian Studies from Harvard University. She specializes in Sanskrit, Tamil and Marathi literature, South Indian culture, religion, classical dance and Karnatak music, and European-Asian culture contact. Major publications include: Poems to Shiva: The Hymns of the Tamil Saints (1989), Design and Rhetoric in a Sanskrit Court Epic: The Kiratarjuniya of Bharavi (2003), and Arjuna and the Hunter (Bharavi, translated from the Sanskrit, Murty Classical Library of India, Harvard University Press, 2016). Two co-edited books are: with Martha A. Selby, Tamil Geographies: Cultural Constructions of space and place in South India (2007); and with Davesh Soneji, Performing Pasts: Reinventing the Arts in modern South India (2008).

Indira Peterson has recently completed Scholar-king of Tanjore: Serfoji II and Indian Mocdernity, an intellectual biography of a great cultural innovator. In progress is Drama, the Court, and the Public in Early Modern India, a monograph on the multilingual dance dramas of the Thanjavur Maratha court. In Fall 2016 Peterson was an American Institute of Indian Studies and National Endowment of the Humanities Research Fellow in Pune, completing research on 18th century Thanjavur Marathi dramas.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017