Intersecting Ethnographies: Local Discourses on Caste in Tanjore Company Paintings

With Dr. Indira Viswanathan Peterson
Sep 27, 2022, 4:30 pm6:00 pm
Louis A. Simpson International Building Room A71


Event Description

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This talk illuminates local discourses on “caste” in paintings produced in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries by bazaar artists in the Tanjore “Company” style in the Tamil region. Company paintings are seen as a culturally hybrid genre, and Castes and Occupations (CO) paintings are particularly vulnerable to the assumption that they are driven solely European stereotypes of caste. Here, Dr. Peterson explores the possibilities of recovering aspects of Indian agency in the production and circulation of CO sets. She traces the role of local artists and translators in presenting jati (“caste”) in these sets, and illuminate their embeddedness in a shared aesthetic of representation with the vibrant polyglot literary works produced in the region’s cosmopolitan social world. The paintings express an indigenous elite ethnographic sensibility that diverges, both from some elements of jati relations in contemporary Tamil Nadu, and from colonial ethnographic projects that sought to reify jati as “caste” in new ways. 



Indira V. Peterson is a leading scholar of Sanskrit and Tamil literature and Hinduism, as well as South Indian literary, social and cultural history and performing arts, especially classical music and early modern drama. Her interests include translation, European–Indian culture contact, and comparative literature. Among her books are: The Hymns of the Tamil Saints (Princeton, 1989), and Design and Rhetoric in a Sanskrit Court Epic: The Kiratarjuniya of Bharavi (SUNY 2003). She is completing Tanjore Renaissance: King Serfoji II and South Indian Modernity

M.S. Chadha Center for Global India; Program in South Asian Studies