International Journal of Hindu Studies

, Volume 22, Issue 2, pp 217–233 | Cite as

Gift as Devotion, Lesson as Tuition: Transactions Among Temple and Dance-Drama Drummers in Kerala

  • Rolf Groesbeck


This article juxtaposes a notion of “gift” as construction of submission and devotion with a concept of lesson as something to be purchased for a fixed fee, as both relate to drumming pedagogy in Kerala. It discusses how guru dakṣiṇa (a ritual marking the beginning of study and a ceremonial first performance) and a pattern of irregular and grandiose remuneration construct the student’s submission to his teacher, both in private contexts and in institutions. However, the system at a state arts institution partly undercuts this practice; here, students, especially non-Malayāḷis, pay monthly, semesterly, or annual fees to the institution. The impersonal nature of this arrangement contrasts with the intimacy inherent in patterns of remuneration in private contexts, yet at the same time guru dakṣiṇa and other traditional practices continue in the institution. Thus the institution features an uneasy coexistence between a notion of pedagogy as regular payment—something close to “commodity”—and one of construction of submission, mixed with intimacy and devotion.


Gift exchange Kerala pedagogy drumming commodity guru dakṣiṇa 


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I would like to thank Anthony Cerulli and Miriam Benteler for allowing me to present an earlier version of this article on their panel “Give and Take: Gift Exchange in South Asia” at the 13th European Association of Social Anthropologists Biennial Conference, Tallinn University, Estonia, July 31–August 3, 2014. I also thank the panelists, many of the attendees at that panel, and this Journal’s two anonymous referees, for their trenchant comments and questions, which have helped improve this article considerably; obviously the faults are mine alone. Some of my research in Kerala was supported by a grant from the American Institute of Indian Studies and Malayalam study was supported by Foreign Language and Area Studies fellowships. I also wish to thank my friends, field consultants, research associates, and teachers in Kerala, especially V. V. Balaraman, V. Kaladharan, the faculty and administration of the Kerala Kalāmaṇḍalam, and the late L. S. Rajagopalan.


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature B.V. 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of Arkansas at Little RockLittle Rock, ArkansasUSA

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