The Artifice of Brahmin Masculinity in South Indian Dance
Harshita Mruthinti Kamath
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Impersonations: The Artifice of Brahmin Masculinity in South Indian Dance centers on an insular community of Smarta Brahmin men from the Kuchipudi village in Telugu-speaking South India who are required to don stri-vesam (woman’s guise) and impersonate female characters from Hindu religious narratives. Impersonation is not simply a gender performance circumscribed to the Kuchipudi stage, but a practice of power that enables the construction of hegemonic Brahmin masculinity in everyday village life. However, the power of the Brahmin male body in stri-vesam is highly contingent, particularly on account of the expansion of Kuchipudi in the latter half of the twentieth century from a localized village performance to a transnational Indian dance form. This book analyzes the practice of impersonation across a series of boundaries—village to urban, Brahmin to non-Brahmin, hegemonic to non-normative—to explore the artifice of Brahmin masculinity in contemporary South Indian dance.