Performing Histories of Abhyudayamu and Yakśagānamu

Reading Performance and Performative Literatures of Early Modern South India as Historiography


  • Swarnamalya Ganesh



Scholars have established over the past decades that the tradition of historiography in South Asia was not altogether a Western import. This has allowed us to revisit South Indian vernacular literary texts in a new light. Historians A. K. Warder, Romila Thaper, Nicholas Dirks, and the trio of Sanjay Subramaniam, Velcheru Narayana Rao, and David Shulman have argued eloquently in their writing about seeing Indian literature as serious sources of historical evidence. For example, the trio identify sources such as Karanam-s (service gentry who were book keepers/accountants), Raya Vācakamū-s (chronicles of Vijayanagara Kings), and Tārikh-s (modern members of society who wrote history), all seemingly non-traditional sources authored by ministers, court chroniclers, accountants, army chieftains, and others as important materials. I further this argument to investigate the vernacular performative literatures of Abhyudayamu-s in the yakśagānamu style, from early Modern Tañjāvur. Raghunātha-abhyudayamu, a Telugu Yakśagānamu text written by Vijayarāghava Nāyaka in the seventeenth century, records the daily life of his father Raghunātha Nāyaka.

Abhyudayamu is in the versified prose format of dvipada (poetic metre). It enumerates the genealogy, lifestyle, events, people, and place, as well as the escapades of the King. It literally sequences the dawn-to-dusk life of the Telugu Nāyaka King. The Raghunāthaabhyudayamu, is written in the yakśagānamu genre and has a distinct performative quality with song and dance as its central modes of expression. Performing the yakśagānamu, which extolls Raghunātha’s greatness through historic conquests, administrative prowess, warfare genius, processions, cultural and romantic alliances was a way to report history. It was also the assertion of kinship and identity by the Bahujan (historically serving class) Nayaka Kings. Performing the yakśagānamu daily in open court must be read as layered modes of embedding historic memory in public consciousness.

While some of the performative literatures have been brought to light in the past, through publications and discourse, it is in fact in the experience of performance that vestibules the past into the future that cultural memories are built. Parts of the performed rendition are embedded as videos in this article for illustrative purposes. This study, is therefore a reading of literature complimented by embodied practice, that is rendered as performing histories: enacted literary performances imbuing the interpretive tools for cultural research.