How the art of Devadasis was appropriated to create the world of Bharatanatyam

Devadasis got caught in a web of multiple political agendas, and the condescending elite made “vulgar” Sadir into the “respected” Bharatanatyam.
Wednesday, February 10, 2016

By Dr. Swarnamalya Ganesh

Everyone can learn Bharatanatyam. Popular history of this art form will tell you how post-colonial India achieved this. A dance form that was practised only by one community, Devadasis, (often addressed as caste) of women up until then, was freed of its “evils” and was democratized. So much so that today the typical perceptions of a “perfect” middle class or upper middle class Indian girl includes, apart from her being well educated with a successful career, adept in house-keeping, also soft and graceful, displaying aptitude for learning of arts such as music and dance.

“The vagueness with which caste is used as a rubric under which to organize society” was the larger problem in pre-colonial India. The ambiguity in understanding this complex social order remained a huge problem in colonial and post- colonial Indian politics.

William Methwold, the seventeenth century English writer, for instance used the term “cast” interchangeably with what he termed “tribes or lineages”. In his broad division of tribes that included Bramene (Brahmin), Committy (Komatti), Campo Waro (Telugu Kapu Waru), he also included Boga Waro and explained ….

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