Ryzhakova S. Sevā vs Tālīm: Students’ Domestic Service in the Music and Dance Traditions of India

Svetlana Ryzhakova –Institute of Ethnology and Anthropology, Russian Academy of Sciences
Moscow, Russian Federation
ORCID: 0000-0002-8707-3231
E-mail: SRyzhakova@gmail.com


Download  |  Go to Issue #2. 2021


ABSTRACT. The practice of using students as domestic servants, who do the daily chores and serve the teacher and his family members, has long been widespread in India. The devotion of Indian students to their teachers is well known and is due to socio-religious norms, on the one hand, and general daily practices and the very atmosphere of different traditional educational institutions, on the other. At the same time, domestic and bodily services were often among the inevitable circumstances of learning. This article analyzes the custom of performing various kinds of service (sevā in Sanskrit) in exchange or in gratitude for learning (tālīm, an Urdu word derived from Arabic through Persian). The study examines motivations, techniques, and results of such services, as well as contradictions and problems that have become particularly aggravated today in connection with the global #metoo movement, which is gaining popularity and attracting increasing numbers of participants.


KEYWORDS: sevā, tālīm, service, teacher, student, artistic traditions, India


DOI 10.31250/2618-8619-2021-2(12)-161-174
УДК 392(540)



  • Citaristi I. The Making of a Guru: Kelucharan Mohapatra, His Life and Time. New Delhi: Manohar Publishers, 2001.
  • Copeman J., Aya I. The Guru in South Asia: New Interdisciplinary Perspectives. London: Routledge, 2012.
  • Devidayal N. The Music Room. 6th ed. Noida: Random House India, 2013.
  • Erdman J. L. Patrons and Performers in Rajasthan. The Subtle Tradition. Delhi: Chanakya Publication, 1985.
  • Lucia A. Reflections of Amma: Devotees in a Global Embrace. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2014.
  • Lucia A. Guru Sex: Charisma, Proxemic Desire, and the Haptic Logics of the Guru-Disciple Relationship. Journal of the American Academy of Religion, 2018, vol. 86, no. 4, pp. 953–988.
  • Morcom A. Courtesans, Bar Girls and Dancing Boys. The Illicit World of Indian Dance. Gurgaon: Hachette Book Publishing, 2014.
  • Mukherji K. P. The Lost World of Hindustani Music. Gurgaon: Penguin Books, 2006.
  • Nevile P. Nautch Girls of India. Dancers, Singers, Playmates. Paris; New York; New Delhi: Ravi Kumar Publisher and New Delhi, Prakriti India, 1996.
  • Ryzhakova S. I. Indiiskii tanets, iskusstvo preobrazheniia [Indian Dance, the Art of Transformation]. Moscow: RGGU, 2004. (In Russian)
  • Ryzhakova S. I. Tantsovshchitsy i pokroviteli: melankholicheskie zametki c bengal'skoi periferii [Dancers and Patrons: Melancholic Notes from the Bengali Periphery]. Vostochnaia kollektsiia, 2015, no. 2 (61), pp. 10–19. (In Russian)
  • Ryzhakova S. Dancers—Musicians—Audience Interaction in Traditional Kathak Performance: Cultural Meaning, Social Function, Historical Shifts. Nartanam. A Quarterly Journal of Indian Dance, 2016, vol. XVI, no. 2, pp. 99–115.
  • Ryzhakova S. I. “Pesni iakshei” i igry liudei: sotsial'nye i kul'turnye osobennosti traditsii iakshagana Karnataki (Iuzhnaia Indiia) [Yaksha Songs and People’s Games: Social and Cultural Features of the Yakshagan Traditions of Karnataka (South India)]. Etnograficheskoe obozrenie, 2016, no. 6, pp. 136–155. (In Russian)
  • Ryzhakova S. I. Pishcha dlia muzykantov: Liubopytnye istorii o tom, kak kukhnia sviazana s artisticheskim mirom Indii [Food for Musicians: Interesting Stories about How Cuisine Relates to the Artistic World of India]. Vkus Vostoka. Gastronomicheskie traditsii v istorii, kul'ture i religiiakh narodov Azii i Afriki [The Taste of the East. Gastronomic Traditions in the History, Cultures and Religions of the Peoples of Asia and Africa]. Ed. by I. T. Prokof'eva, E. Yu. Karachkova. Moscow: MGIMO-Universitet, 2018, pp. 593–620. (In Russian)
  • Sarkar-Munshi U. Another Time, Another Space — Does the Dance Remain the Same? Dance Matters. Performing India. Ed. by P. Chakravorty, N. Gupta. London; New York; New-Delhi: Routledge, 2010, pp. 26–39.
  • Walker M. E. India’s Kathak Dance in Historical Perspective. Farnham: Ashgate, SOAS Musicology Series, 2014.