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Updated: May 18, 2012 16:50 IST

Women Power: Spreading Gandhian values among children

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V.R. Devika. Photo: M. Karunakaran
The Hindu V.R. Devika. Photo: M. Karunakaran

A staunch follower of Gandhi, Devika, founder and managing trustee of The Aseema Trust, strives hard to spread the Gandhian principles.

Meet V.R. Devika, founder and managing trustee of The Aseema (without boundaries) Trust, who is striving hard to spread the Gandhian principles among children. The Trust links traditional performing arts, Gandhi and education.

“Art is closely linked with education. It is a skill which enhances knowledge. We all basically hail from villages which are the treasure houses of traditional arts. But today, we have left all this behind and there exist a great urban-rural divide. To bridge this gap, I turned towards Gandhian principles. According to Gandhi villages are very important. India lives in its villages,” says Devika. She feels by studying more about Gandhi we can understand our country better. With this thought in mind she began various projects in the Aseema Trust.

An ongoing project ‘Spin a yarn,' which is being held in the city schools has completed one year. It is aimed at bringing back the practice of spinning on the charka. It will also encourage children to learn about peace, education, dignity of labour and cleanliness for social action. Devika undertakes the task of spinning on the charka at public places such as the Central Railway Station and Nageswara Rao Park every year on January 30 and October 2.

When she interacts with children, she advises them to take individual decisions such as not to eat coke, chips, etc. Instead, she insists on taking groundnuts and plantains as their skins are eco-friendly.

Devika promotes traditional performing arts such as Koothu, Devarattam, Oyilattam, and so on. They have specific steps, solkattu and rules similar to that of Bharatanatyam which occupies a prime position these days.

Dance and Gandhi

Devika clearly connects this dance form to Gandhi. Beautifully she describes the basic dance salute to fit Gandhian principle for respect of nature and diversity. She interprets it as: With my soul and my body I salute with devotion, mother Earth who is my partner, whom I have to remember in every one of my decisions, and with all the people of all colours, race, faith, animals, rivers, rocks, I share Mother Earth with me. Devika carries this message of harnessing dramatic elements of the performing arts to girls of Avvai Home and many other city schools.

Devika, a native of Karnataka, came to Chennai as a young woman to pursue higher education and began working in P.S. High School, Mylapore, as a kindergarten school teacher. She then learnt Bharatanatyam from the Dhananjayans at the age of 21. She applied dance gestures and mudras and made her teaching so lively that children loved her classes.

Looking at her talent in infusing art and education she was invited to become the director of education and culture at INTACH and the Madras Craft Foundation. She is a globe trotter and with her international travel experiences she established the Aseema Trust.

Devika has many awards to her credit such as the Kala Seva Bharathi from Bharath Kalachar for service to arts and education, Gnanasamudhra Award from Samudhra magazine, Lifetime Achievement Award from Amir Khusro Music Academy, Woman of Substance and Vocational Excellence awards from Rotary Clubs, Woman's Day honour from Jaycees, Best Lecture Demonstration Award at the Natyakala Conference of Sri Krishna Gana Sabha. Devika has given lectures on dance and was also a dance critic for many popular newspapers and magazines. She has also directed shows with 1,000 children of different abilities, socio-economic situations on different themes with folk and classical artists, crafts persons as resource persons.

A single woman, Devika, has faced life with determination and courage. She says, “For me, marriage is not a necessity and I have never felt lonely though being a single woman. Dealing with so many children and travelling far and wide has never made her feel for want for companionship.”

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