A cultural leagacy


MARABU THANDHA MANICKANGAL: Thanjavur B. M. Sundaram; Pub. by Dr.V. Raghavan Centre for Performing Arts, No.1, 3rd street, Baktavatsalam Nagar, Chennai-600020. Rs. 300.

THE HOARY tradition of `Sadir', a form of worshipping the Almighty through the medium of dance is now known as Bharatanatyam. This art was practised by many versatile, accomplished danseuses called Devadasis, mostly in temples and private functions.

The Devadasis were recognised as gems of rare brilliance by rulers, Zamindars, landed Mirasdars and also the art loving public who awarded them a special place in society. However, in course of time the stigma associated with their fair name, made even their close contacts refuse to acknowledge their contribution to art and society.

Thanjavur B.M. Sundaram, an erudite personality in the sphere of musicology, has with passion and considerable effort traced the Devadasi lineage of more than 300 years. The term "Devadasi" does not refer to any caste as such, it only means that these women have dedicated their lives and art to the service of God. The salient facts of the lives of as many as 121 Devadasis are well documented.

Some of the illustrious dancers included in this book may be familiar to many in the older generation today. Kumbakonam Bhanumathi, her cousin Varalashmi, the legend among Bharatanatyam exponents ,T. Balasaraswathi, Pandanainallur Jayalakshmi, E.V.Saroja, Girija Pakkirisami were household names in the latter part of the last century. Although most of the Devadasi clan lacked formal education, they were well equipped in Natyasastra, classical music, languages, literature and sastras.

Their charitable dispositions were clearly reflected in the lives of Tiruvidaimarudur Rajammal who distributed all her wealth for deserving causes, Bangalore Nagaratnam, an ardent devotee of Tyagaraja, donated all her material assets to create a corpus for the annual Tyagaraja Aradhana at Tiruvaiyaru.

There are interesting anecdotes about Padmasanibai's two-hour conversation with the Kanchi Paramacharya in Sanskrit, Vidya Sundari Bangalore Nagaratnammal's extempore Sanskrit lecture at a conference in Andhra, the five-volume Sabharanjita Chintamani on the Lakshana of dance written by Avasur Venkata Sundarasini, the "Uttarayagnopaveetham" presented to Bangalore Kamala by the head of the Sringeri Math, the third Chandrasekhara Bharati, are all instances that are indicative of the scholarship of some of the daughters of the temples.

The Devadasi is considered as an auspicious symbol according to the Bhavishya Purana. The Devadasi legacy will remain forever, for is not our country named after the celestial dancer Menaka's grandson Bharata?


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