Pari in Indian Theatrical Public Sphere

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T. S. Satyanath


The emergence of Afroeurasian world system, in particular the silk roads and the subsequent Arab expansions established extensive links within Asia, leading to a variety of circulations, ideas, trade, material culture and art forms. Though generally differentiated in terms of Hindu and Islamic categories within the region of South Asia, emergent cultures of such a contact were highly pluralistic and incorporated the prevailing multilinguality and pluriculturality, cosmopolitanism and vernacu­larisms, intermedialities and other aesthetic conventions. Within this context, the present paper attempts to see the development of the category of ‘Pari’ in India. Though central Asian in origin, Pari in India has overlappings with several flying divinities, the Hindu Apsaras andGandharvas, Tantric Buddhist Dakinis and charac­ters in folk and popular culture. In order to explore the cultural dimensions that Pari had reached by the nineteenth century, the study of IndarSabha, a play written in 1853 by Agha HasanAmanat, attached to the court of Wajid Ali Shah at Lucknow is undertaken. The play incorporates all the three dimensions of a medieval Indian performative public sphere, the scripto – centric, phono – centric and body – centric, with 31 Gazals, 9 Thumris, 4 Holis, 15 songs, 2 Choubolas and 5 Chands. However, it is the performances of Parsi theatre companies, starting from the 1880s, that diffused the theme of Pari as a personification of a new sensibility that was emerging due to modernity, not only across India but also in South East Asia. The centrality of Pari within the play and the performative public sphere on the one hand and the development of a new sense of aesthetic sensibilities within the theatrical public sphere on the other is also going to be explored.

Published: Nov 14, 2022

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Cultural Exchange along the Silk Roads: Reading Central Asia through South Asian