India of 1920s as Seen by Soviet Playwright, Consulting Indologists, Theater Critics

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Abstract

The authors of this contribution analyze the circumstances and the history of a popular play that was staged in the Soviet Union in 1927-1928. Titled ‘Jumah Masjid’, this play was devoted to the anti-colonial movement in India. A manuscript of the play, not indicating its title and the name of its author, was found in the St. Petersburg Branch of the Archive of the Russian Academy of Sciences among the papers related to A.M. and L.A. Meerwarth, members of the First Russian Expedition to Ceylon and India (1914-1918). Later on, two copies of this play under the title ‘The Jumah Masjid’ were found in the Russian Archive of Literature and Art and in the Museum of the Tovstonogov Grand Drama Theatre. The authors of this article use archival and published sources to analyze the reasons for writing and staging the play. They consider the image of India as portrayed by a Soviet playwright in conjunction with Indologists that served as consultants, and as seen by theater critics and by the audience (according to what the press reflected). Arguably, the celebration of the 10th anniversary of the October Revolution in Russia in 1927 and the VI Congress of the Communist International (Comintern) in 1928 encouraged writing and staging the play. The detailed picture of the anti-colonial struggle in India that the play offered suggests that professional Indologists were consulted. At the same time the play is critical of the non-violent opposition encouraged by Mahatma Gandhi as well as the Indian National Congress and its political wing known as the Swaraj Party. The research demonstrates that the author of the play was G.S. Venetsianov, and his Indologist consultants were Alexander and Liudmila Meerwarth.

About the authors

Igor Yu. Kotin

Peter the Great Museum of Anthropology and Ethnography (Kunstkamera) of the Russian Academy of Sciences

Author for correspondence.
Email: igorkotin@mail.ru

Doktor Istoricheskikh Nauk [Dr. habil. hist.], Leading Researcher, Head of the Department of the South and South-West Asia

3 Universitetskaya nab., Saint Petersburg, 199034, Russia

Nina G. Krasnodembskaya

Peter the Great Museum of Anthropology and Ethnography (Kunstkamera) of the Russian Academy of Sciences

Email: nigekrasno@mail.ru

Doktor Istoricheskikh Nauk [Dr. habil. hist.], Leading Researcher of the Department of the South and South West Asia

3 Universitetskaya nab., Saint Petersburg, 199034, Russia

Elena S. Soboleva

Peter the Great Museum of Anthropology and Ethnography (Kunstkamera) of the Russian Academy of Sciences

Email: soboleva@kunstkamera.ru

Kandidat Istoricheskikh Nauk [Ph.D. in History], Senior Researcher of the Department of the South and South West Asia

3 Universitetskaya nab., Saint Petersburg, 199034, Russia

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Copyright (c) 2021 Kotin I.Y., Krasnodembskaya N.G., Soboleva E.S.

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