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Sadhir -Mother of Naatiyam

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An apparently glorious step ahead in one direction is sometimes an almost invisible, but significant step back in another. The so-called ascension of Sadhir – the precolonial temple dance in Tamilnadu – to modern Bharatanatyam had been seen as empowerment of Indian women and certain Indian cultures. It had been perceived as a constructive means of uncovering and banishing the exploitative path from Devaradiyar – women pledged in the service of god in the temples of Tamilnadu – to Thevadiya – sexworkers. But to some, it had also been seen as a forced transfiguration of unformulated rawness of the dancing body to over-grammatized, mindless objectification of the same. For some others, this path was not even a story of transgression, but of a class shift – of the Devaradiyars becoming landless workers in the postcolonial socio-economic stage, from being elite artists dependent on the grants coming from feudalist power centers: “dancing girl to working women”, as Vijaya Ramaswamy puts it.  
None of these points of view are black and white, of course. But we can be sure of one thing: there existed a bunch of artists – dancer-singers and Nattuvanars, who identified their art with their life. They were born and brought up within an apparently safe system of powerful patronization – thus were given a certain wealth and power. They underwent strict training processes and were provided with a certain attitude towards art and life. They were not afraid of hard training, not inhibited to entertain different classes in the society, nor afraid to subvert – in art as well as life – rigid social laws and taboos. For many of these women, their entry into the life of a Devadasi was their key to a certain matriarchal sense of independence, and more significantly for us, into the sense of freedom and self-worth that the creative process of art provides. These women did not see themselves as victims of the system, as the 1947 Devadasi Abolition Act (Prevention of Dedication) formulated by Dr. Reddy proclaimed.   

 Viralimalai Mutthukkannammal 

“I have been singing these songs to myself since I stopped dancing in my thirties. Sometimes I think, “Why do I bother?” It might seem like I have lost everything, and these songs may not be important for other people, for you, but they are – and always will be – a part of me. So I keep singing.” – says Viralimalai Mutthukkannammal (b. 1929) to Davesh Sonaji. Born in a dance-proficient family in Viralimalai closely associated with temple dance in the Muruga temple as well as the Pudukottai Shiva temple, Mutthukkannammal had been a Devaradiyar who trained under her famous Nattuvannar father and grandmother. She continued to perform over many years, in spite of the diminishing patronization of the temples and the royalties, in the characteristic style of Sadhir, in which the performer danced and sang at the same time, as against the modern demarcation. Her communications with Sonaji, profoundly coincide with his interview with the old Devadasis in Andhra Pradesh. Sonaji writes – “Today there is no audience, but this is not a criterion for performance. The melams [Devadasi dance gathering] have become part of the interior world; they have moved from the realm of public spectacle into the realm of nostalgia and memory.”  



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Udalveli’s attempt: celebrating an extinct art form, celebrating a forgotten artist, addressing complex questions about the dance-history.      
We value life so dearly since it is not eternal. The same goes for history and culture that inscribes our past, enabling us to ask questions to the present, while molding the future. Yet, certain histories, certain cultures are preserved with greater care than multitude of certain others that disappear as rejected memories. The history of Sadhir is one such. Udalveli, in its exploration and celebration of body (Udal) and space (Veli), wishes to commemorate some such memories associated with the incredible strength of art in dealing with abuses, exploitations, subversions and appropriations, even rejections.1  
Udalveli sees itself as a space where the lines between theater and dance go through an osmosis and together become life itself. This Sadhir workshop is one of its first such attempts that concentrates on dance – not by decontextualizing it as an isolated exercise as is often done in festivals – but as a rich, complex history with deep socio-cultural connotations that makes a dancer think who she really is, what her body signifies.              
However far we imagine we have travelled from the Devadasi era, these questions have not stopped bothering us: ‘What is moral?’, ‘What is obscene?’, ‘What is freedom?’, ‘What is a choice?’, ‘What is objectification of the dancing body?’, ‘What is the intention of the dancing body?’ and so on. Udalveli, in this workshop conducted by Mutthukkannammal, looks at how a certain raw sense of freedom of the body and mind works in shaping a dance form – in creating movements, in presenting Abhinaya, and how that has been lost in the postcolonial reformulation of this form. If theater is about freeing oneself from a rigid notion of identity, dance is freeing oneself of rigid notions about the limitations of the body – physical, intellectual, social and political limits. Udalveli is keen to address this by creating a space for interaction between art-practitioners from two generations – one being the defamed history of the other – standing at a distance as far as forms and aesthetics are concerned, but directly or indirectly facing the same questions about not only dance but society, economy and gender.  
Last but foremost, Udalveli intends to commemorate this over-80 artist, who has struggled hard all her adult-life – with her patronized lands sold out and the line of patrons disappearing – but has not been defeated by it. This workshop is also about learning to find ‘art’ in the life of a single mother of two working class children, strongly defining her own sense of work and worth in her dance. 

Honoring a legend  who is unknown to the art world by Udalveli arts foundation .
Respecting her and the art form that she has inside her ,we would like to raise a sum of Rs.50,000 for Muthukannamal.



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