fifty years ago January 22, 1971 Archives

From the Archives (January 22, 1971): Mylapore Gowri Amma

Rukmini Devi: It is with deep sorrow that I realise that a great artiste has left us. One by one India loses these persons and, unfortunately, with them also disappears a great tradition. Our younger generation does not have strong enough roots in our religious or cultural traditions for these to flourish when modern Western civilisation is overwhelming India. With an awakening of the consciousness of our art and the winning of freedom, wider knowledge and appreciation of art has taken the place of the deeper understanding. Among the great dancers whom I have known, Gowri Amma was the first one whom I met. It was after seeing Meenakshisundaram Pillai’s two disciples, Jeevaratnam and Rajalakshmi, dance, that I decided to learn this art. I searched everywhere for a teacher, but as often happens, one searches everywhere except nearest to oneself. Many teachers were suggested to me, but I went to meet Gowri Amma in the home where she lived in Mylapore. My first lesson started with her as my teacher with the sabdam “'Sarasijakshulu”. After that I arranged for her to come to Adyar to my home to teach me. I was learning secretly at that time for a large number of people in the country were against the dance and by a strange coincidence it happened that a campaign was going on for the abolition of this dance from temples. Many newspaper people came to interview me to get public opinion with regard to this abolition, particularly among women. It was a strange surprise to them when I told them that I was against the abolition of these dances and that if the social customs of the country led to prostitution and vulgarisation of the art then such social customs should be changed while the artistes should be given support and encouragement. I was unhappy to find that they abolished the dance from the temple, for it was a very important aspect of our temple worship. This resulted in Gowri Amma becoming unemployed and she had to give up living even in the house allotted to her by the temple. She requested me many times to persuade the temple authorities to let her have the house. I regret to say that I was not successful.

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