As part of Madras Week, dancer Swarnamalya Ganesh gives us a peek into sadir dance and history
For years, Swarnamalya Ganesh has been trying to shine the spotlight on Bharatnatyam’s origins—from sadir attam, the dance of the devadasis. A seven-year doctoral research culminated last year in From The Attic, a compilation of lost sadir dance repertoires of the Nayak period. Now, as part of Madras Week, she is looking to sadir history during the Madras Presidency. “When we talk about the city, we talk about the heritage buildings and temples, but the voices and names of these hereditary performing artistes are seldom spoken about. Dancing in the Parlour is a specially-curated one-hour performance that will look at sadir dance, music, history and storytelling in colonial India,” begins Ganesh, who has just returned from teaching and pursuing her post-doctoral research at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA).
Over generations, sadir artistes have been “named and shamed” and they live almost invisible lives now. “We might think the community is very small in number, but their families are across the world. I met family members of devadasis in the US, but they deny who they are,” sighs Ganesh, who also tracked down pictures and documents relevant to devadasi history at the New York Public Library archives and several others. Her new discoveries strengthened her desire to bring out another production, and though she had barely four weeks to put together Dancing in the Parlour (she returned from the US in July), Ganesh says she was prepared as the “research has been going on for years.” With multiple narratives (she will be accompanied by two students from her dance school, Ranga Mandira), she will use dialogue to re-contextualise the history. “I have chosen four compositions to show how versatile and cosmopolitan they were, like a jawali composed in English by Karur Sivaramaiyya in the early 18th century and a 1911 Sanskrit translation of God Save the King (when King George V visited India) by Pilli Narasaimha Rao Naidu. I will weave a small story around each to explain their context,” she stresses.
Connecting the dots
But one of Ganesh’s favourite pieces in the performance is a Parsi mettukkal (composition), Parsi Kavadi Chindu. “It is a fun composition describing a couple’s journey from Madras to the Kolar gold fields, on the Madras Railway in the 1860s, which is both a visual and auditory experience.” She is also excited about the venue, Luz House. “When sadir moved out of temples, the performances moved into homes—into the parlours and gardens of patrons. And the original owner of the house, Moddaverapu Dera Venkataswami Naidu, a dubash to Parry & Co, was a patron,” she concludes.
Sunday, at the Luz House, from 6 pm. Details: 65651361 / 9600159795
Surya Praphulla Kumar