Dance programme in aid of aged Kalavanthulu (Devadasees)
by Voleti Rangamani, Hyderabad
August 3, 2004
I am the founder and dance director of Abhinaya Darpana Arts Academy, a reputed Kuchipudi dance institute, which is striving to develop Temple Ritual dances such as Simhanandini, Mayura Kauthvam and Mahalakshmi Udbhavam dances. During ancient days, temple dancers who are also called Devadasees used to sing and dance in temples and form the pictures of vaahanas of that particular deity (god) of the temple with footwork. Picture of lion for Goddess Durga in Simhanandini dance, peacock for Lord Kumaraswamy in Mayura Kauthvam dance and lotus for Laxmidevi in Mahalaksmi Udbhavam dance.
My father, late Guru C R Acharya brought back this forgotten dance form to limelight. He had taught this dance form to me and at present I am the only dance guru who is teaching this dance form in its proper and systematic style. There is no deviation from its original dance form.
In addition to normal activity of teaching specialized Kuchipudi dances and conducting dance programmes of my troupe, I have extended the activity of my academy in providing financial assistance to old and poor dance gurus. Several such dance gurus are getting financial assistance through my academy.
Now we have expanded our activity towards providing sustained economic support to disenfranchised families of performing artists and ritual experts from South India.
They are called Devadasees or Kalavanthulu. In pre-modern South India, these women constituted self-sufficient and autonomous communities of female performing artists and ritual experts. They did not marry and used to sing and dance in the temples. Thus their lives were fully devoted in the services of God. For livelihood they used to take partners of their choice and were getting financial support from them.
But in early twentieth century, these women's lives were irrevocably shattered by social purity movements and these communities are boycotted from the society and their hereditary practices of music and dance in the temples, vanished in the new found cultural heritage of independent India. Today the displaced Devadasee communities of South India and other similar communities live on social and economic fringes.
These communities were living in an ironic twist of fate and are struggling for their livelihood. They have not forgotten their hereditary practice of singing and dancing, but they are performing this in between the four walls of their house without any audience. Some of them are 80 to 85 years of age. But age is not a hindrance for their art. As a part of research work, Devesh Soneji, a scholar from Canada, and I have toured South Indian temples and nearby villages such as Duvva, Muramanda, Tatipaka etc of the Godavari delta region of Andhra Pradesh and met Devadasees. They sang and performed Javalis, Padams etc., in front of us. We have documented their art. We were very moved by seeing their fate and struggle for existence.
It was about 2 years back that we decided to help some of them at least on a permanent basis by raising funds from sympathizers. Since then Devesh is distributing monthly pension to some of them. They are all performing Kalavanthulu of Duvva and Muramanda villages. Along with some sympathizers, we had arranged their dance programme at Chennai and paid good remuneration to all of them last year. It was a memorable occasion and art lovers and performing artists enjoyed it thoroughly.
We are going to arrange similar programmes by them shortly at Hyderabad (India) also. After their performance all of them will be felicitated and will be paid good remuneration and also their monthly pension will continue. Therefore I request all the art lovers, performing artists, sympathizers to donate liberally for this noble cause and also for continuing the distribution of monthly pension to all of them.
On this occasion my dance troupe will also present some exhilarating dance items. Names of the donors will be mentioned in the programme invitation. Invitations will be sent to all of them. Donations may be sent favoring "Abhinaya Darpana Arts Academy".
Director, Abhinaya Darpana Arts Academy
B-298, New Malakpet
Andhra Pradesh, India
Phone: (91 - 40) - 24411931
Mobile: 98491 41453