Between Jesus and Krishna: Christian Encounters with South Indian Temple Dance


One of the eight national dances of India, bharatanatyam, partly originates from the area around Tranquebar. During the time that Tranquebar was a Danish colony, devadasis, women who did service at temples through dance, were patronized by the Thanjavur royal court. In 1623, a Danish–Icelandic soldier routinely observed the devadasis dancing outside the Masilamaninathar temple opposite Fort Dansborg, which he was guarding. His accounts of the dancers are interesting at two levels; first, they provide us with unique data on the role of the devadasis at the village level in seventeenth century Tamil Nadu. Secondly, they shed light on a certain imagination and perspective on Indian religion grounded in European Christian thought at the time.

Since the seventeenth century the dance of the devadasis has undergone a dramatic transformation, as it has been taken from its original setting to a national middle class arena in which females of very different socio-cultural backgrounds learn the dance now called bharatanatyam. Stine elaborates on her fieldwork done in one of the bharatanatyam dance institutions situated in New Delhi, and deals with reflections on Hinduism as well as Christianity through dance practice. Parallel to that some methodological reflections on the study on cultural encounters through dance are presented. Though set in very different contexts, the two accounts shed light on Christian perspectives on Hinduism through their encounter with a dominant South Indian dance form.

In this episode, Stine Simonsen Puri, explores history and practice of the Indian temple dance today called bharatanatyam through a focus on cultural encounters with the dance from both a Hindu and a Christian perspective. Being a board member of the Nordic Center India, part of the Faculty of Modern India and South Asian Studies as well as Teaching Associate Professor at the Department of Cross-Cultural and Regional studies, Stine shares her expertise on Indian’s socio-cultural issues. Her knowledge especially stems from her extensive fieldwork at a bharatanatyam Dance School in New Delhi as well as her research part of the Tranquebar Initiative.

Marianne Tykesson is a student assistant as the Nordic Institute of Asia Studies and a Cross-Cultural Studies Student at the University of Copenhagen with a particular interest in the research of social injustice and cross-national encounters.

The Nordic Asia Podcast is a collaboration sharing expertise on Asia across the Nordic region, brought to you by the Nordic Institute of Asian Studies (NIAS) based at the University of Copenhagen, along with our academic partners: the Centre for East Asian Studies at the University of Turku, and Asianettverket at the University of Oslo.

We aim to produce timely, topical and well-edited discussions of new research and developments about Asia.

Your Host

Nordic Asia Podcast

View Profile