The Sabha itself was a product of colonial times. When the patronage of royalty and aristocracy was vital for the survival of the arts, a new city like Madras posed challenges – the ruling elite was English and had no intention to support artistes. The aristocracy, namely the dubashes or translators, provided the necessary support from the 17th century onwards. In the 19th century, new classes of wealthy professionals – lawyers, businessmen, doctors, and accountants – took over, with the support of Indians in Government who were the closest to what could be termed royalty in an egalitarian city. That saw the birth of the Sabhas – a group of wealthy patrons getting together to support the arts by way of providing venues and performing opportunities for artistes. Beginning with Madras city, the concept of the Sabha as a cultural patron spread to other towns in the Presidency. […]
Today we associate the Sabhas most closely with classical music and dance.
The decades immediately after Independence were the best for the Sabhas. Faced with the end of princely patronage and the simultaneous onslaught of cinema, musicians and dancers looked to the Sabhas for support. There were plenty of opportunities – the Sabhas did not operate just in December. […]
For up-to-date information from several leading periodicals and other websites, simply type one or several keywords such as a personal name or institution you want to learn more about (e.g. “carnatic”, “karnatak composer”, “hindustani musician”, “ragamalika”); optionally add a city or state (e.g. “Madurai singer”, “Karnataka violinist”, “Trivandrum music festival”, “Chennai music season”):
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Muthulakshmi Reddy – A Trailblazer in Surgery and Women’s Rights is the story of a pioneer path-creator for women. She was the first girl student in Maharaja’s School for Boys in Pudukkottai, the first Indian woman surgeon from Madras Medical College, the first Indian member of the Women’s Indian Association, the first woman member of legislature of Madras Presidency, the first woman deputy speaker and the first alderwoman.
In this book the author describes the indomitable spirit of a woman who campaigned to get rid of the practice of wet nurses, fought for girls’ education and widow remarriage, equal property rights for women, education reform, and rural healthcare for women. She took up the case of getting the practice of dedicating young girls as Devadasis abolished.
“Muthulakshmi Reddy was a reformer from the inside, as it were like Dr Ambedkar was. Which is different from being like a corrector from the outside.” – Gopalkrishna Gandhi
Excerpts (pp. 13-14, & 17-18 and Ch. “The Devadasi Question”, pp. 119-143)
Muthulakshmi was privileged as the daughter of this educated and liberal Brahmin man who gave her the much-desired access to formal learning. However, Muthulakshmi faced discrimination on account of being the daughter of Chandrammal, who belonged to the Melakkara community. The women of the community were trained in music and dance, and were permitted to perform in temple processions and rituals, and for the public on social occasions. Marriage in the conventional sense was barred for them according to religious rules, but they could be chosen by an upper caste male patron of means as a companion outside his own legal marriage. The children born in such relationships were not formally acknowledged by the fathers. Most members of the Melakkara community carried the name of the village or town they hailed from as identity, like Tirugokarnam Kanakambujam or Tiruvalaputtur Kalyani. […]
Muthulakshmi endured unkind remarks from boys who would stand at road corners as she walked to the Nellumandi Baliah School with a writing slate in hand. ‘Here is a daughter of a Thevaradiyar (a corruption of the word ‘devdasi, used in the Melakkara community for women dedicated to God in a ritual marriage but were partners to the male members with no strings attached) going to school, they would shout. To avoid the boys, she chose to walk through smaller lanes and by-lanes.
‘Any art or culture worth preserving will certainly hold its own against all times and against all conditions. Our attempt should be to free it from its ugly associations and the incrustations of ages which now keeps it dim and repulsive to many so that the divine art may be learned by all … then only India’s art, the rich legacy of ages, will shine brighter and will command respect and admiration of the world.’ [Endnote 1.: Muthulakshmi Reddy, “Anti Nautch Movement”, Madras Mail, 17 December 1932]
Muthulakshmi was concerned that the word ‘Devadasi’ was considered as an abusive term in Tamil. She wanted to release women born to Devadasis from the curse, and give them a future free of such an association. If dance and music were so integral to the system that so oppressed a woman, they must be halted too, so that new art could emerge.
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The non-sacrificial, musical counterpart to Sāma-Gāna in ancient times was Gandharva-Sangīta, later Sangīta, which has three divisions; vocal, instrumental, and dance. Performed by “Gandharva” musicians in Indra’s heavenly court, earthly Gandharva-Sangīta was a replica of this celestial music. […]
Gandharva-Sangīta was also associated with pūjā, a form of worship with non-Aryan or indigenous roots that eventually replaced the yajña as the cornerstone of Hindu religious life. Instead of oblations into a fire, pūjā involves offerings of flowers, incense, food, water, lamps, and conches directly to deities or symbols on an altar. In pūjā, singing and playing instruments are conceived as offerings that are integrated with the other elements. […]
The association of religion with the production of the arts, while present in Western history, is paramount in India. Currently, the content of artistic production is largely taken from Hindu religious texts, with many performance genres derived from religious rituals. […]
I interpret image-worship in two ways, in one form of image-worship, the person who contemplates the image becomes absorbed in the contemplation of the qualities for which it stands. This is image-worship in its wholesome form – in the other form of it, the person who contemplates the image does not think about the qualities but looks upon the image itself as the primary thing.
Gandhi on image worship in Singing Gandhi’s India, p. 78
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STELLA SUBBIAH (Artist Development Lead, Bhavan London)
In conversation with
LUDWIG PESCH (Author of The Oxford Illustrated Companion to South Indian Classical Music)
VIGNESH ISHWAR (Musician)
Today, as in the remote past, India’s musicians and dancers share a vast and varied repertoire. Apart from facilitating oral transmission, the underlying vocabulary helps to convey feelings underpinned by aesthetic principles and values. So it hardly surprises that the best-loved lyrics are those endowed with scope for reflection and debate among listeners, critics, and the artists themselves.
For this webinar we focus on several key composers whose vision shaped South Indian music and dance as we know it today. We will consider the compositional form of Varnam or Varna, in Karnatic music which can be interpreted as not only colour, praise , or syllable but also as melodic movements. These melodic movements of Arohi, Avarohi, Sthayi, and Sanchari add to its structure and offer various musical possibilities for musical interpretations.
Bharatanatyam Historically, Bharatanatyam was mostly prevalent in Tamil Nadu, though traces of it were found in the 20th century in what are now Kerala, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh. Today it is taught and practised throughout the globe. The term ‘Bharatanatyam’ has been in existence at least from the 15th century but we do not know the compositions the dancers performed in the early years of Bharatanatyam. […] The repertoire added during the time of Tulaja and Serfoji II owes its credit to four brothers of Tanjavur who belonged to a traditional natyacharya family. They were Chinnayya, Ponnayya, Sivanandam and Vadivelu, the ‘Tanjavur Quartet’ we know.