Chronicles from the Margins: Emotions, Sexuality, and Courtesans in Early Modern India


  • Sudipa Topdar


Courtesans, Sexuality, Emotions


Under British colonial laws that aimed at regulating prostitution in India and imposing ideals of Victorian sexual restraint, the devadasi system came under vapid attack. Imposing Victorian ideals of sexual restraint, these laws emphasized that the prostitute was meant to be invisible and anomalous to social and political life. Given the prominence of a predominantly male dominated archive, how can scholars approximate the courtesan’s marginalized subaltern voice? One way to understand the emotional and intellectual agency, and sexual autonomy of the devadasis is to examine the poetry they composed and those, written by male poets, where the courtesan is the central character. Doing so problematizes a narrow portrayal of temple women as passive, lacking agency, and as sexual victims. This article examines poetry and songs sung by courtesans in early modern India to conclude that this literature suggests that many of them signified economic and self-autonomy, assertiveness, and sexual agency. 


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How to Cite

Topdar, S. (2017). Chronicles from the Margins: Emotions, Sexuality, and Courtesans in Early Modern India. Asian Journal of Humanities and Social Studies, 5(4). Retrieved from