The poetry of Kshetrayya, a 17th century Telegu poet, formed the basis of courtesan dance repertoire in salon performances as part of a rich gestural and mimetic tradition that comes to us today as bharata natyam. The art of interpreting this poetry is often misunderstood as direct translation from literary work into gestural language, like sign language. This is not the case. In fact, what the dancer does is elaborate and embody the poetic voice, usually a woman addressing her lover. The male writer is thus subjected to the female dancer’s interpretation; she provides sub-text and context. 17th century male expressions of female sexuality are inverted to become intimate contemporary explorations of the dancer’s own emotions and desires. My paper will look at the process of embodied engagement with the poems, examining how and what kind of meaning arises in the counterpoint between poem and dance.
Keywords: bharata natyam; Devadasi; Kshetrayya; padam; darshan