ECSAS 2023 – Turin 26-29 July

The Indian temple and court dancers in the 16th century Portuguese reports


Leucci Tiziana - Centre national de la recherche scientifique, Centre d'Etudes de l'Inde er de l'Asie du sud, Paris, France


45 – South Asian–Portuguese relationships from the fifteenth century to the present: Colonialism, interactions, and identities


 In the year 1877, at the imperial theatre of St. Petersburg in Russia, it was premiered the ballet ‘La Bayadère’ (Russian : ‘Bayaderka’), choreographed by the French maître de ballet Marius Petipa (1818-1910). Since the time of its composition, this ballet has been performed by the major dance companies throughout the world. The heroine, the young and beautiful Nikiya, was conceived by Petipa as a talented and passionate Indian temple dancer. Noteworthy, the French and Russian terms of ‘Bayadère’ and ‘Bayaderka’, have a Portuguese origin, meaning a female dancer. By often employing the word Bailadera, the 16th century Portuguese officers and merchants have extensively described the Indian dancers and courtesans attached to the local Hindu temples and to the royal courts, in which they used to perform various ritualistic and artistic tasks (dance and music concerts) during the main Indian socio-religious festivals. In my presentation I’ll analyse some 16th century Portuguese reports dealing with those female artists and courtesans, in which are mentioned those ladies’ roles, prestige and functions in the past Indian society. Such precious documents throw light on the interactions between the local people and the Portuguese, as well as on the perception and reception of those performing artists and religious practices as interpreted, understood, or mistaken, by the early European travelers and colonial officers in India.