Friday, January 7, 2011


"A brief note is necessary to situate myself as a student of one of the hereditary families of non Brahmin musicians and dancers" writes Methew H.Allen in the book "Bharathanatyam - A Reader" edited by Devesh Soneji. "That Rukmini devi was an intimate participant in the disenfranchisement of a community of artists to which my teacher's family belongs must not blind me as a scholar to the fact that she was simultaneously a dedicated artist and organiser who inspired many thousands of young people to study and respect the artistic traditions of India". Actually, this should have been on the jacket of the book as the entire north American academic scholarship is blinded by this one fact. The book makes no critical enquiry into the fact that Bala and her brothers fame and glory was mainly because of the Madras Music Academy the most nationalistic institution, a direct result of the meeting of Indian National Congress populated by Brahmins and other upper caste men and largely due to the efforts of people like E.Krishna Iyer, V.Raghavan, Narayana Menon etc. These men played a great role in the coming out of Balasaraswathi on to the national and international stage and were instrumental in her getting the Sangeeta kalanidhi. This privilege was denied to lesser members of the community. There is no looking into who wrote Bala's essay, when did Bala start performing Krishna nee begane baro, what and how did she teach non Indians etc and how the proximity to the family coloured two generations of academic pursuit in North America. Rukmini Devi had her faults like every one else. Her disciples even more... But they decided to call their dance Bharathanatyam and not Sadir (OK the word was already there but they preferred using that as their dance was different from Sadir). The academia condemns Rukmini Devi for using the word Bharathanatyam and for dancing devotional pieces. Harikrishnan has advised Anita Ratnam to call her dance Neo Bharatham as it is not Bharathanatyam. The same logic can apply for Rukmini devi too. The academia in north America damned Rukmini Devi for calling her dance something else and for introducing new pieces. Why then did Bala not insist in calling her dance Sadir and not Bharathanatyam? Why did she not give her daughter the initial T? These and many more are questions that need looking into........ The academia in NA forgets we are many layered people and that we have something called Dashavataram and accept change and different view points and practices as part of our way of life.. The book does not look into the fact that Muthulakshmi Reddi was the product of a marriage between a Brahmin man and a woman from the Devadasi community. That she was closer to her maternal cousins than her paternal cousins. She had seen both the worlds and hence most qualified to speak on behalf of the Devadasis. She had no intention in taking away the dance and making it her own. She was only looking at the health issues involved in the fact that girls married to the God were having children and had no human right to choose. Girls from poor families adopted by devadasis were up for the highest bidder and became a cash cow for the older Devadasis. None of this is touched by the fundamentalist academia that wants to punch the Bharathanatyam practitioners from outside the community in the face just like the goons who went into a bar in Mangalore and punched girls drinking in a bar saying girls had no right to drink.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011


Guru Kittappa Pillai teaches a Bharathanatyam adavu korvai in the frontal position. Sishya Harikrishnan decides to turn it sideways and back. Wow! material for a future researcher of Bharathanatyam to look for a conspiracy theory. Doing away with Kittappa Pillai's dance?
Harikrishnan's decision to change the direction of the adavu has come from the changed ambience for his dance.You would not believe Srividya Natarajan, Harikrishnan and Narthaki Nataraj were the disciples of the same Guru. Srividya bounces with joy in her dance, stretching her fingers out into the beyond, Harikrishnan dances with his tummy forward, making every movement of his in the face, aggressive stress on a point of view. As aggressive as his oratory. Does this not disprove the theory that every Devadasi danced the same?

Conspiracy theories abound in the Bharathanatyam academia these days. The Tanjore quartet conspired to do away with Devadasi dance by creating the Margam, Rukmini Devi of course the ultimate villain who conspired to take away conjugal bliss from the dance, Ananda Coomaraswamy who took away the different forms of Siva by focusing on Nararaja. etc etc etc etc...... Why cont the academia also look at the original conspiracy theory where the upper caste men conspired to have their cake and eat it too in getting the temple to accept the Devadasi system? They could have a family approved family and also have a learned woman they could enjoy the company of, give her children but have no responsibility whatsoever! it is this that Dr.Muthulakshmi Reddy wanted to change. It is made out that it was the influence of orientalists and Brahmins that made Reddy work on this. But EVR Periyar supported her completely. The dravidian movement was with her. How come no one has studied this?

There is a romantic notion that the Devadasi was powerful and she was given lands etc but the upper caste men knew better. They made the God co owner of everything the Dasi owned that meant she could never sell anything. She just could live there with her many children and their children etc Always at the mercy of the temple trustees and priests.

Balasaraswathi was never a devadasi. her great grand mother had made the wise decision to move to Madras and so her family was not serving in any temple when Bala was born. So why is the North American academia so obsessed with proving Rukmini Devi the villain?

Change is the only constant thing but Wesleyan university's Ethnic musicology department still carries on with one point of view. That of just one family of dancers who were bitter that others were learning the dance they so guarded as their own. (It is the NRI mindset. Every Brahmin you meet in the US laments the reservation system and that non Brahmins are everywhere in India) Every family thinks they are the greatest. Sure they were great but their foreign trip and presentations outside the chamber concert of Veena Dhanammal was surely the result of the "revival" that was happening.