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.

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