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MUDDUPALANI (C. 1730-1790)


Muddupalani was a poet and courtesan. Her story encompasses not just that of her life, but also the subsequent publishing history of her erotic epic Radhika Santwanam which has been systematically marginalized and explained away, not just by Western Orientalists, but also by scholars in modern India who were otherwise dedicated to reclaiming India’s past.

Muddupalani was a member of the court of Tanjore (Thanjavur) under King Pratapsimha (1739-1763), a Nayaka ruler. These kings were highly educated and the women of their courts could compose verse in as may as eight languages. These women had almost absolute social, sexual and economic freedom, and commanded the utmost respect from those around them. The epic describes the sexual education of a young girl at the hands of Radhika, Krishna’s aunt, who is also having a relationship with him. It describes in detail what pleases a woman sexually. In one section she takes the initiative and in another Krishna appeases the anger of the woman with embraces and kisses. The work was brought out in imperfect editions in the nineteenth century, but Bangalore Nagaratnamma (q.v.), also a courtesan, brought out a definitive edition in 1911 directly from the manuscript. Nagaratnamma’s edition was banned, and though no longer proscribed today, it is still very difficult to obtain any of Muddupalani’s works.
 
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