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The devadasi who wrote about dance

Venkatasundara Sani’s ebook is a rare documentation of the Bengaluru-Kolar custom of temple dance

Venkatasundara Sani’s ebook is a rare documentation of the Bengaluru-Kolar custom of temple dance

The giant pillared halls of the Ulsoor Someshwara temple, one of many oldest in Bengaluru, bustles with exercise and a whole lot of devotees. The Vijayanagara-style mandapa holds a number of tales — probably the most outstanding of which is of a girl who formed the Bengaluru temple paddhati of Bharatanatyam.

Though a lot of town’s music and dance historical past has been misplaced within the sands of time, B.L. Rice’s Mysore Gazeteer is a crucial supply of data. Published someday after 1873, it mentions two temple dancers, Mariya Sani and her daughter Venkatasundara Sani, who have been related to the Ulsoor Someshwara temple.

Venkatasundara Sani was born into the hereditary dance group that carried out in temples, and is believed to have lived within the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Proficient in music, dance, poetry, and languages comparable to Sanskrit, Telugu and Kannada, she had additionally studied historic treatises and motion techniques. In 1908, underneath the aegis of the Mysore Trading Agency, Venkatasundara Sani printed a ebook titled Rasikajana Manollasini, also called Sarasangraha Bharatha Shastra.

The ebook is a surprising revelation about dance of the early twentieth century. Only 4 chapters survive, but they cowl a variety — poetry, dramatics, music, gesture, posture, and temple rituals. Venkatasundara employs precision in her codifications, a number of of that are much like these discovered within the Natyashastra and Abhinaya Darpana. The ebook is written in a posh mixture of Kannada, Sanskrit and Telugu, usually mixing phrases and vocabulary from every language in attention-grabbing methods.

From the language used extensively within the ebook and a research of dancing communities of Kolar and Bengaluru, it’s possible that Venkatasundara Sani was of Telugu origin. The suffix ‘Sani’ is utilized by many belonging to the Kalavantulu group, and likewise, Kolar’s dance custom signifies that the outstanding hereditary nattuvanars right here have been of Telugu origin.

Her inclusion into the Bengaluru dance panorama factors to the cosmopolitan cultural cloth of town even on the flip of the nineteenth century. A up to date of different well-known dancers of the time comparable to Bangalore Nagaratnamma and Kumbakonam Balamani, Venkatasundara Sani was a girl of conviction. In the very first chapter of her ebook, she writes: “To be habitually isolated is my method. This human body is full of lust and is temporary. But the soul is permanent.” Her ruminations are intriguing — What made her pen such strains? Who was her target market?

Fading custom

At the time when Sani was writing the ebook, there was an ominous shift within the political local weather, with rising hostility in direction of hereditary dancers. By the late 1800s, dancers have been being changed in temples with dolls. The 12 months 1910 noticed the start of a ban on dancers in temple areas. The custom was on the point of fading away. Venkatasundara left for us her textual content as a reminder of a treasured custom. Perhaps she believed that the temple custom would at all times maintain relevance and thus devoted herself to the venture of documenting it.

The most necessary piece of repertoire talked about in Rasikajana Manollasini is the ritual dance often called the Ashtadikpala Pushpanjali. Venkatasundara mentions every of the eight cardinal gods, adopted by Eeshaana (the summary type of Shiva) as being propitiated with several types of white flowers together with jasmine, hibiscus, lily and tuberose. She incorporates ritualistic actions into the dance comparable to prokshanam (sprinkling of water to sanctify area) and even performs a small shlokam with particular mudras, actions and postures (karanas and charis). She makes use of the time period ‘Bharatha Natyam’ to discuss with her dance, by saying “Someshwarasya agre sthitham Bharatha Natyam karayeth” (performing Bharatha Natyam on the Someshwara temple).

The ebook additionally affords attention-grabbing insights into meals and drugs. Venkatasundara features a primary paanakam recipe with mulberries, in addition to dwelling cures for chilly, fever and joint ache. This not solely signifies her huge schooling however reiterates {that a} dancer’s understanding of the human physique stays important, then or now.

As urbanisation took over, Venkatasundara Sani’s voice was drowned within the melee of improvement. Her contribution to the documentation of Bengaluru’s dance custom is invaluable, and her perspective, surprisingly private. Many such tales of the ladies, who formed India’s cultural historical past stay hidden in forgotten temples and manuscripts, ready to be found.

The Bengaluru-based author is a dancer and analysis scholar.

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