When God Is a Customer: Telugu Courtesan Songs by Kṣetrayya and Others by A. K.

Ramanujan; Velcheru Narayana Rao; David Shulman Review by: Stuart Blackburn Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, Vol. 58, No. 2 (1995), pp. 398-399 Published by: Cambridge University Press on behalf of School of Oriental and African Studies Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/620921 . Accessed: 27/10/2011 12:20
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then. that many of the poems are addressed to another woman (colleague. including the devotional impulse and softer unions with the god. 127). and often danced' (p. first sung by women and later written up by poets like Ksetrayya? We can ask these questions precisely because the translations are themselves so evocative.): When god is a customer: Telugu courtesan songs and others.tyam. padams became especially popular in the sixteenth to eighteenth centuries in the temples and royal courts under the patronage of Telugu kings in southern Andhra and the Tamil country. the poems speak most often in a female voice.398 REVIEWS customer. is replaced here with fulfilment. K. Other readings. 28). the local god seeks the sexual favours of those accomplished women. messenger) and only obliquely to the customer-gods. by CA: University of Berkeley. Thus. A. The English poems attend to the structure of the Telugu. we are shown that the formal elements of one poem (its stanzic structure." and make love to me like a wild man. this is not the full story. Muvva Gopila. and sulk when they feel cheated. sometimes spanning whole pages' (p. K. audience. handle cash. A. men are peripheral. such as this one in which a courtesan addresses Muvva Gopila. except for their money. controlled by the woman. Not surprisingly. Ramanujan). wealthy men could become little kings.D. Such cross-gender vocalizations. the initial statement and its restatement as a refrain. As is true of much of the bhakti tradition. ending with the orgasm in the stanza quoted above. later editors and commentators in Telugu condemned the erotic content of these poems. 18) that reclaims the lost metaphor in divine love. sang and danced to these the lyrics. especially the refrain. Not only are they accurate (given the Telugu talents of Narayana Rao and Shulman). These duplicities of voice. the translators argue. But of course. 29). 1994. often orgasm. they are poems in their own right (largely due to the hand of the late A. publication will only serve in the long run to discredit his cause. of the courtesan. complicated by the fact that some of the poems were sung by men playing female roles in Kiicipiidi dance-dramas. From about 1500 A. and it is she. invite further commentary. POWELL A. In a section entitled 'On reading a Padam '. her friends. where they were sung by professional singers and dancers (devaddsts). she may be abandoned in some poems. and kings were conflated with gods. These poems are padams. not the god. obscured them with vague spiritual interpretations. VELCHERU RAMANUJAN. intended to be sung. the pet parrot mimics me. This is not an allegory of the soul's desire for god. a cash economy plied by traders and armies grew more powerful in south India. a local form of Krsna: 'Listening to my moans as you touch certain spots.etrayya California Press. 157 pp. But the contrasts are more striking. or a married mother (but the speaker is occasionally a man. they might also be a local Nayak king or wealthy patron.some are still sung in the Carnatic music tradition of south India. and the three men who produced this little gem of a book combine their talents to reveal what really happens when the god is a customer. and Telugu poetics-in order to point out continuities and contrasts. Even when these Telugu songs retain a metaphysical dimension. and tr. 'short musical compositions of a light classical nature. epitomized by the anti-nautch (courtesan songdance performance) campaign. In particular. but the translators reserve most of their commentary for a complex reading of Ksetrayya's bold lyrics. It is noteworthy. NARAYANA RAO and DAVID SHULMAN (ed. Were these poems. diction. syntax. The title tells it all: in these song-poems composed in Telugu in south India by little known poets such as Ksetrayya and sung by courtesans. are proposed for other poets and poems. south Indian love poetry. The social reform movements at the turn of the century. and O how we laugh in bed! You say "Come close. and sexual identity circle through these poems in which male poets speak as females about their male lovers. 'doubts and tity as hesitations persisted' (p. continuous from the ancient Tamil corpus through Vaisnava bhakti poems. is retained to great effect. entertaining her customer in her bedroom. for example. my girl. $12. and morphology) reinforce its theme of tension between pent up desire and fulfilment. even if the seemingly innocuous title preserves it a place on the library shelves as an indicator of the mood of the early 1990s rather than as a history of the medieval period. the authors detail a set of conventions and allusions. that 'frame' these later Telugu padams. killed off the public role of the courtesans. and published them 'with dots replacing objectionable verses. This book breaks Bharatan. Frustrated desire. too). friend. comment on those same forces operating in the temples and courts in which they were sung. and their tradition only resurfaced in the early decades of this century with a reconstructed history and idenStill. who manipulates her lover. as I get ready to move on top' (p. they reflect a 'fascination with bodily knowledge of the god' (p. The courtesans in his poems bargain with god the . especially in Ksetrayya's poems. The three translators place these remarkable songs in their various contexts-bhakti poetry in India generally. K. 1). and in this fluid society. Although sung in many Indian languages. the leitmotif of many ordinary bhakti poems. and the translators reject any such mystical interpretations which have habitually reduced Indian love poetry to a thin theology. for example. she would imbue them. Patronage and power in the poems. with a wide range of emotions. but she is never the victim of the god's whims as in other bhakti poems. although the customer-gods in the poems are identified as deities in local and regional temples. Added to formal structure is performance context: when the courtesan.

Ramanujanwill be heard once more in theseexquisitetranslations. That never deterreduniversitiesfrom offeringcourseson other religionslong before in largenumbers themselves in they established Britain.Some tutors contemplating introducing Sikh studiesinto theirsyllabuses might use his model. in 1984.First she looks at the scriptures. graduated of England'smost eminent religious studies saidthat Sikhism had not featured departments at all in the syllabus. NY: State University of New York Press. 1993. OWEN COLE NIKKY-GUNINDERKAUR SINGH: The feminine principle in the Sikh vision of the transcendant. often as part of a survey of or a studyof world religionin the subcontinent A Sikhrecently fromone scriptures.an auspicious neverto recur. STUART BLACKBURN 399 JOHN STRATTON HAWLEY and GURINDER SINGH MANN (ed. Cambridge.50. (SUNY Series in Religious Studies. much more than a guide in any cursorysense. This leadsto the principle of one humannecessarily ity in which distinctionsof race and gender . $59. ?37.or a new federal independent constitutionwhich will give greaterautonomy to Punjab and other states and reduce the interventionist powersof the nationalgovernment.beliefs.transitional and secular.A secondreason is the growthof awareness that Sikhismis not an aspect of Hinduism.plus some Sikhs who have adoptedWesternmethodsof study.They. Britishuniversity coursesin religiousstudies rarelyprovidemore than a few lectureson the Sikh religion.is a corporatereflection upon the experienceof teachinga variety of useful aspectsof the religion.) vii. far as to suggestthat for them in particular it should be required preliminary reading. Two important haveled to the developments of Sikh studies and the need for this growth book. expected to explainthemto the media. one hopes. The three premiertranslatorsof southIndianliterature workedcollectconjunction ivelyon thesepoems. demanding This collection of essays will have lasting value for all who are interested in Sikhismfor three reasons. No one should be unaware of this. Cambridge University Press.as might have been the case in 1974.Severalof these have come together to publish what they describeas a 'basic guideandresource book'. The authordescribes her study as a journey through the three differentphases of Sikh literary history--scriptural. etc. reflecting Each of the essays contains important As an anthology readers insights.Indira and Rajiv. out the book. K. it providesguidanceand extensive bibliographies for those who. however. $16. Khalistan. religious history. The constitutional collapse of the Indian republicwhich seemed imminentin the days of the Gandhis. It directsthe readerinto regions as yet little exploredwhichresearchers mightinvestigate.95. Sikh and non-Sikh.For the remainder of her work she examinessome of the writingsof the SixthRiverof Punjab.despiteits title. 217 pp. lack of undergraduFinally. This symposiumof eight essays. and any otherreader. will learnas muchabout Sikhs and Sikhismas they will contemporary about the studyof Sikhismin North America. 318 pp.but we take heartthat the voice of the late A. or the absenceof Sikhs.Forwhatever inserting reason.95 (paper). One is the Indianpoliticalsituationin whichSikhsfindthemselves. for whom it is a primary academicinterest. In no respectshould the book be regarded as of only parochial value.): Studying the Sikhs: issuesfor North America. three by Sikhs the rest by non-Sikhswho specializein teachingthat religion. will establishcoursesin the nearfuture. religion is almostignored. theyintroduce to a variety of issues not covered in most textbooks because they often lie in areas research. I would go as many ideasfor research.it remainsa fact that the thirdlargest in the UK. studies. 1993. may now be less likely to happen but many Sikhs still agitate for a separate state. Whichever approach they use they will certainly benefit from on Mann'sexperience. tenderTelugusongs. the Guru Granth Sahib and then Akal Ustat of GuruGobindSingh. W.First. afterChristianity andIslam. others may preferto be less historical and focus on contemporary manifestationsof the tradition. Academicswho had scarcelyheard of the Sikhs found themselves.despitethe general ate provisionthere are studentswho work on the Sikhtraditionat higher-degree level.REVIEWS that silenceand opens a new chapterin bhakti poetry with the publicationof these earthy. and ethnicor migrationstudies.It is difficultto explain why this situation should prevail in 1994. values. Those contemplatingsuch studies are likely to find In fact. Albany. reflectionsupon supplemented by self-critical how the course was received and student evaluations. Perhapsthe reason lies in the well known difficulty which somethingnew has in itselfin existingcourses. Not so in Canadaand the USA.Mostimmediately of Professor Gurinder may be the contribution SinghMannwho providesa detailedoutlineof the coursehe introduced at Columbiain 1988. and practices.It is.but a distinctreligion with its own scriptures. Secondly. There is a tension betweenthe approachof Sikh scholars coming from an Indian background and non-Sikhs.as many Sikhscall him. This is particularlytrue of Hew McLeod's but is a recurring themethroughcontribution. The teachingsof the Gurusis clear. God is One and is immanentin all creation. It cannot be lack of study materials. the poet Bhai Vir Singhwho died in 1957.it informs such tutors and departments of the pitfalls that can they may face. It targetsfour areas: worldliterature. It is taught in many places and by men and women.

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