Skip to main content

Do I Dance a Stolen Dance? The Violence of the Indian Classical Dance World


Indian classical is revered and celebrated throughout the world. However, the world of classical dance is selectively exclusionary. These practices seem insidious and deeply rooted in the history of Indian Classical dance. The dance world is haunted by the event of discarding the devdasi. Through this paper, we look at the impact on the psyche of the modern day dancer, whilst historically contextualising the caste based violence on devdasi practices. This paper demonstrates how classical dance in contemporary practices is rooted in a violent history of thievery and the obliteration of the devdasi. Using the psychoanalytic theory of abjection and disavowal, this work attempts to throw light on how these psychological processes maintain the power hierarchies in the world of Indian classical dance.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.


  1. Language is everywhere- we dance in a language that is unfathomable, stories that are un-relatable. Simply, the language is one I don’t know. For it to remain classical, in its hierarchical sense, it must remain slightly unapproachable. For me to experiment, I will need to break out of these rules. If I do, I will bear the consequences.

  2. Tapasya comes from the word ‘tapas’ which means deep meditation. Tapasya conveys an essence of a long term process to make one seasoned and matured.


  • Ambedkar, B. R. (2015). Annihilation of Caste: The Annotated Critical Edition. UWA Publishing.

  • Amrit Srinivasan. (1985). Reform and Revival: The Devadasi and Her Dance. Economic and Political Weekly, 20(44), 1869–1876. JSTOR.

  • Atlas, G. (2015). The Enigma of Desire Sex, Longing, and Belonging in Psychoanalysis (1st ed.). Routledge.

  • Chatterjee, P. (1989). Colonialism, Nationalism, and Colonialized Women: The Contest in India. American Ethnologist, 16(4), 622–633.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Covino, D. C. (2004). Amending the Abject Body Aesthetic Makeovers in Medicine and Culture. Suny Press.

  • Freud, S. (1927). Fetishism. In The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud (Vol. 21, pp. 147–158).

  • Frontline, T. (2022). 1947: Madras Devadasis (Prevention of Dedication) Act passed. India at 75.

  • Frosh, S. (2013). Hauntings: Psychoanalysis and Ghostly Transmissions. Palgrave Macmillan.

  • Guru, G. (2009). Introduction: Theorizing Humiliation. In Humiliation Claims and Context. Oxford University Press.

    Book  Google Scholar 

  • Kristeva, J. (1980). Powers of Horror: An Essay on Abjection (Leon S. Roudies, Trans.). Colombia University Press.

  • Kamath, H. M. (2019). Impersonations: The Artifice of Brahmin Masculinity in South Indian Dance. University of California Press.

  • Layton, L. (2019). Transgenerational Hauntings: Toward a Social Psychoanalysis and an Ethic of DisIllusionment. Psychoanalytic Dialogues, 29(2), 105–121.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Oksala, J. (2008). Anarchic Bodies: Foucault and the Feminist Question of Experience. Hypatia, 19(4), 99–121.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Ramberg, L. (2009). Magical Hair as Dirt: Ecstatic Bodies and Postcolonial Reform in South India. Cult Med Psychiatry, 33, 501–522.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Said, E. (2016). Orientalism Western Conceptions of the Orient. Penguin Books.

    Google Scholar 

  • Sharma, R. (Director). (2010). Holy Wives [Documentary].

  • Soneji, D. (2012). Unfinsihed Genstures: Devdasi, Memory, and Modernity in South India. University of Chicago Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Sreenivasin, M. (2011). Creating Conjugal Subjects: Devadasis and the Politics of Marriage in Colonial Madras Presidency. Feminist Studies, 37(1), 63–92.

Download references

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Corresponding author

Correspondence to Ayushi Madan.

Ethics declarations

Conflict of interest

Author states that there is no conflict of interest.

Additional information

Publisher's Note

Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Check for updates. Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Madan, A. Do I Dance a Stolen Dance? The Violence of the Indian Classical Dance World. Psychoanal Cult Soc (2023).

Download citation

  • Published:

  • DOI: