Educational and dancer Srividya Natarajan has educated underneath celebrated artistes like Kitappa Pillai and T Brinda who have been descendants of illustrious devadasi households. Writer of No Onions No Garlic and co-author of two graphic novels – Bhimayana and A Gardener within the Wasteland, Natarajan is carrying ahead the legacy of classical dance in Canada, the place she presently resides. In her new guide The Undoing Dance, she revisits the key world of Devadasis and brings to life their dance, their music, and their traditions.
SheThePeople.TV spoke with Srividya Natarajan about The Undoing Dance, the world of Devadasis, the classical dance scene in India, and extra. Some edited snippets from the interview.
What led you to chronicle such an fascinating topic right into a ebook? Who do you hope reads this guide?
Forty years in the past, when my mom needed to take me to Tanjavur Kittappa Pillai to review dance, a number of individuals, together with my then instructor, declared that it was a horrible concept. Fortunately, my mom ignored all of the arguments towards the transfer. By my mid-teens, I used to be puzzling over the distinction between the best way public opinion painted this extraordinary man’s character (‘bad’) and skills (‘declining’), and my very own expertise of his educating (fantastic, life-changing). It took some time to daybreak on me that the ‘public’ whose opinion had been so freely provided, had been, via no fault of my mom’s, largely Brahmin. That unappealing portrait of Kittappa was framed by the Brahmin narrative about sinister or uncooperative non-Brahmin academics, honed over many many years of cultural contestation.
The distinction between the Kittappa of the Brahmin tales and the Kittappa I truly knew obtained me eager about the best way caste limits and inflects information within the Indian context.
To this present day, most performers and college students are taught to see Bharatanatyam by means of an upper-caste lens. They miss out on its fascinating and layered historical past: a historical past of Devadasi and Isai Vellala creativity, of influences derived from Maratha cultural coverage and colonial annexation of princely states, of shifting boundaries between people types and courtly artwork, of dance orchestra devices coming into vogue (just like the violin) and going out of it (just like the tutti). The Undoing Dance started with my very own curiosity about who formed and owned this type, and who appropriated it, and is an try to vary the lens by way of which individuals view Bharatanatyam historical past.
I would like younger individuals to learn this ebook, and open their minds to the potential of extra essential approaches to this dance’s historical past and present predicament.
Did you allow the world of dance to pursue a PhD on the College of Hyderabad? Please inform us extra about this transition.
I didn’t truly depart the world of dance in the course of the years (1992 to 1997) that I used to be engaged on my PhD. I used to be nonetheless learning with Kittappa each time I might, and performing every time an fascinating alternative got here my method.
The ebook brings collectively your skills as a author and dancer. What influenced you to enter the world of storytelling?
I beloved studying, particularly British novels of the 19th century, and my levels earlier than my PhD have been in English Literature. For my PhD, I appeared on the means devadasis have been represented in texts, together with novels, produced roughly between the 1880s and the 1960s. My thesis was submitted to an English Division. My want to put in writing fiction, I feel, fairly naturally adopted from my years of brooding over different individuals’s writing.
The Undoing Dance
You’ve educated beneath celebrated artists who have been descendants of illustrious Devadasi households. What attracted you most in the direction of the dance, music and traditions of this world?
I’m moved by the authenticity of the dance that emerged from that world. When artists of Devadasi heritage enacted the connections between dance and agamic ritual, what I noticed was their saturation in an area or household custom, and the straightforward, sensible intent of pleasing the gods by finishing sure bodily actions and displaying sure mudrais. They didn’t pressure to be ‘expressive’.
Within the typical younger dancing individual of sixteen or eighteen summers, that emotion comes throughout as so painfully insincere that any self-respecting gods must be asking for his or her a refund. I additionally love the area Devadasi performers created for exploring secular, on a regular basis themes that an agnostic like me can determine with. When it’s finished by a dancer who just isn’t being vapidly coquettish, when it’s stripped of gestural cliché, when musicality and richness of life expertise are delivered to bear on it, the interpretation of erotic poetry—the a lot maligned sringara—may be an amazingly highly effective, massively life-affirming, fantastically dignified type of inventive expression.
I don’t perceive why so many dancers at the moment really feel that nothing will fulfill the gods besides theatrical shows of high-voltage bhakti and mystical ecstasy on the stage.
Srividya Natarajan; Photograph Credit score: Richard Joseph
Acclaimed Sufi kathak dancer Manjari Chaturvedi began ‘The Courtesan Project’ to erase stigma surrounding courtesans. She stated it’s surprising how in an unfair document of historical past these sensible artists have been known as “fallen women”. In your story, Kalyani has to maintain her origins hidden due to the stigma hooked up to her lineage. In terms of Devadasis, you transcend simply storytelling and convey the bitter fact and actuality to the floor. What do you assume acquired misplaced within the understanding and notion of Devadasis?
The historical past of Devadasis turned inextricably braided into the ‘other woman’ questions that have been debated within the wrestle between British colonial powers (who stated Indians have been unfit to rule themselves once they had regressive cultural practices like sati and baby marriage) and Indian nationalists (who dedicated to reforming Hindu tradition). In contrast to the powerless youngster bride or the coerced sati, the grownup devadasi ladies of the 1920s and 1930s actively resisted being seen as victims. Their very resistance confirmed their standing as “bad women” and foreclosed on probably empowering methods during which they might have entered the ethos of recent India.
As an example, many devadasi communities accepted that ‘reform’ ought to forbid the dedication of minor women to temples, however needed to proceed of their performing roles and of their place as academics and guardians of the humanities. Not one individual outdoors their communities took up this very smart suggestion of a means ahead.
In The Undoing Dance, I attempt to depict the gradual massing of forces towards them: identification with prostitutes, cultural disgrace, authorized reform, colonial understandings of family construction and of property, lack of patronage, lack of inherited temple rights, upper-caste and nationalist demonisation of their practices, seizure of their property by their very own menfolk, the drying up of efficiency alternatives…these should have been unhappy and determined occasions for a lot of of those ladies.
How difficult was it to pen the descriptions of devadasi artwork? What, in accordance with you, is one solution to honour this lovely custom?
The problem in depiction lay partly within the drained language that has encrusted descriptions of Bharatanatyam. I needed to attempt to seize the uncooked great thing about the Devadasi dance as a sort of homage. However honouring the shape is a considerably empty gesture whether it is purely nostalgic; there live descendants of Isai Vellala households whose dance heritage might be a part of the schooling of younger dancers, and who might use the safety of an revenue. The curiosity and collaborativeness of dancers who search to study from Isai Vellala academics must be real; they shouldn’t find yourself being one other spherical of upper-caste appropriation, with Isai Vellala repertoire turning into the newest marker of being culturally on-trend.
What do it’s a must to say concerning the classical dance state of affairs within the nation right now? How has the shift been through the years?
When individuals begin paying to carry out and to be seen, dance turns into a pastime moderately than a ardour and a lifelong journey. Within the Canadian metropolis the place I reside, I can’t get dance college students to point out as much as class even in the future every week—they’re too busy with different issues, and once they come to class they need to make movies of the whole lot, not truly study the repertoire with their our bodies and their minds. Not shocking, since within the diaspora, “I’ve done my arangetram” marks the bounds of ambition for a lot of women and girls. The recycling of exhausted repertoire and the return to drearily acquainted tropes turns me off the December season in Chennai. Maybe the scene in Delhi or Mumbai is best, however I don’t comprehend it.
I discover the dance scene fairly shallow and miserable, general, although there are all the time exceptions.
What’s your writing course of?
Having a writing course of can be a luxurious! I’ve labored very lengthy hours in my day-jobs, and writing has needed to occur in matches and begins. I are likely to faff round for hours when I’ve to put in writing, letting the concepts construct up in my head, earlier than I can set them down on paper. Once I begin writing I produce textual content in a short time, although it may be fairly dreadful at first. Then I revise and revise until I’m able to drop. Whereas I revise, I lookup information and dates and phrases, to get issues actual.
Who’re the ladies which have impressed you?
My grandmother, who was married at 9, who turns 100 years previous this month, and who has retained her love of music and her equanimity. My mom, who’s a workaholic. Any variety of ladies writers and political activists: Aphra Behn, the Brontes, Elizabeth Gaskell, Savitribai Phule, Virginia Woolf, Maya Angelou, Toni Morrison, Arundhati Roy. My most up-to-date instructor R. Muttukannammal. Blues or jazz vocalists: Billie Holliday, Bessie Smith, Ella Fitzgerald. Thumri singers like Gauhar Jaan. My music instructor T. Brinda and the good dancers in her household, T. Balasaraswati and Lakshmi Knight. I might go on and on!
My life has been filled with inspiring ladies who’ve sprung out of the pages of biographies or have strummed tanpuras and made me self-discipline my unruly voice.
Photograph credit score: Richard Joseph
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