Peek into the courtesan’s world

Yashoda Thakore.  

Courtesan dance theoretician Devesh Soneji and dancer Yashoda Thakore together presented an unusual lecture demonstration on the social and aesthetic worlds of courtesan dance in South India, complete with clips of dances by erstwhile Devadasis under the aegis of Natya Samgraha at Saptaparni last week.

This presentation focused on the intertwined worlds of social history of courtesans and their dance performance in the Telugu-speaking courtesan community, also known as Devadasis. The presentation of archival material about the community and the performance of courtly dance and the music repertoire revealed complex layers of history and aesthetics that has given rise to contemporary classical dance forms. It is impossible to disconnect the dance and dance repertoire from the community. The presentation considered how nationalism, caste politics and other forces had a major role to play in Devadasi reform.

A lady from the Kalavantulu (Devadasi) family, Kotipalli Hymavati, was also invited to take part. The video clippings screened in the background included that of R. Muttukannamal performing Salaam Sabdam, a few basic steps by Lakshmi Prasanna and Maddula Venkataratnam performing a padam Okasarike.

The event was structured to present Devesh Soneji reading out excerpts of his research work on Devadsis of South India and Yashoda presenting a number in the ancient style of Devadasis. Svaari Vedalenu that Yashoda danced to, was a song set in raga Bhairavi that was sung during the ‘uregimpu melam’ — the temple procession — in the village of Ballipadu West Godavari region . It describes the procession of the local deity ‘Ballipadu Madanagopalasvami . The song used to be sung by both temple dharmakartas and women from the Kalavantula community.

Yashoda also presented Salaam Daruvu as it was presented in those days. The Salaam Daruvu from Godavari region was reflective of colonial Thanjavur. Though originally divided into three stanzas each with different orientation, some time in mid-twentieth century, these compositions were strung together and performed as one piece by this community. Of them, the first two verses were addressed to Pratapa Ramasvami, worshipped in an 18th century temple in Thanjavur now known as the Vijayaramaswami temple. These verses date back to the rule of Pratapasimha, a patron of composers like 18th-century Melattur Veerabhadrayya. The third verse directly addresses a hero identified as Serfoji II of Thanjavur, whose company the heroine seeks, explained Yashoda.

Yashoda then presented Swara Pallavi in arabhi sans korvais like in jatiswaram and performed in Sarvalaghu with a little laya variation. The unhurried lyricism helped abhinaya in this tradition, she explained.

In the varnam she presented, she explained how in the Godavari delta region, the first half was presented with the artiste remaining seated sans adavus. She exemplified this number accordingly. This was on Lord Brihadeeswara of Thanjavur.

The last number she presented was a javali, Emoyani Enchakura another romantic lyric, slightly faster and more upbeat in tempo and spirit than the padam.

The event that was hugely applauded and made a case for more, similar, presentations of Devadasi dances. This could raise awareness of our past about classical dance forms that formed the base of Bharatanatyam.

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Printable version | May 15, 2021 3:03:40 PM |

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