Muthulakshmi Reddy – A Trailblazer in Surgery and Women’s Rights: Biography of a “reformer from the inside” by VR Devika

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

(Pioneers of Modern India series, www.niyogibooksindia.com, INR 299) 

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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Gandharva-Sangīta: On the origins of Sangīta (vocal, instrumental, and dance music)

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. […]

Source: Historian of religions and musicologist Guy L. Beck in Ch. 26, “Hinduism and Music” in The Oxford handbook of religion and the arts
URL: https://www.academia.edu/37849233
Date Visited: 13 November 2021

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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Vidyaamagna: webinar & online lessons

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WEBINAR – THE AESTHETICS OF VARNAM IN KARNATIC MUSIC

Sat, 30 July | 2 pm – 3.30 pm (BST) / 6.30pm (IST)  | £10

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.

Mystical Dance!—
—Mazes intricate,
Eccentric, intervolv’d, yet regular
Then most, when most irregular they seem.

Milton’s Paradise Lost (AD 1667), the description of angels dancing about the
sacred hill as quoted by William Hogarth and discussed in the Chapter titled “Variety”:
Oxford Illustrated Companion to South Indian Classical Music >>

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.

Free tala exercises to supplement this webinar

Adi tala = 8 beats (4+2+2 here simplified as 4+4)
trikala (3 speeds)
“ta ka dhi mi” = 4, “ta ka ju nu” = 4

1st speed: one beat (kriya) = 1 syllable (jati) = 8 matra per avarta
2nd speed: one beat (kriya) = 2 syllables (jati) = 16 matra per avarta
3rd speed: one beat (kriya) = 4 syllables (jati) = 32 matra per avarta

Ata tala = 14 beats (5+5+2+2, here simplified as 2+3+2+3+4)
“khanda jati ata tala”
trikala (3 speeds)
“ta ka ta ki ta” = 5, “ta ka dhi mi” = 4

Source: Tāla Anubhava: Experiencing South Indian Rhythm
Concept and audio © T.R. Sundaresan & Ludwig Pesch

Keeping tala e.g. for Adi tala (8 counts): a clap for the first beat (samam), followed by 3 finger counts starting from the small finger marks the first half; and a clap followed by a wave (twice) mark the second half; Ata tala (14 counts) differs as 4 fingers are used including the forefinger (twice), rather than 3 fingers (once) in Adi tala.
Art © Arun V.C.

Tips

  • Practice these gestures “silently” during a live recital or recording
  • Apply your practice while watching a video:
    – Basic hand gestures for Adi tala (8 beats) & Misra chapu tala (7 beats)
    – Precision tala keeping for the following drum and konakkol solo

More excercises: Practice four widely used Carnatic talas >>

Previous webinar

Find a copy of the Oxford Illustrated Companion to South Indian Classical Music

Food for thought

What’s the difference between Hindustani and Carnatic music?

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.

Read the full article by Bharatanatyam music expert BM Sundaram: The Tanjavur Quartet: Margadarsis of Bharatanatyam (Sruti Magazine, courtesy dhvaniohio.org)

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Video | “There is more than one form of being a devadasi”: The complex world of India’s devadasis – Interview with filmmaker (Lady) Beeban Kidron

Interview with filmmaker Beeban Kidron, plus exclusive clips from her new film. Sex, Death and the Gods explores the complex world of India’s devadasi, girls devoted to a goddess and then sold for sex at puberty | Lindsay Poulton and Joanna Moorhead, theguardian.com, 21 January 2011 >>

Documentary maker Beeban Kidron (4:49): “They [the devadasis themselves] know what an education means. And what an education means is a possible way out. Not necessarily a way out but a possibility that you could earn your money some other way.  […]  This is about economics. This is about poverty. This is about not having alternatives.”  […]  

Girl taken out of school at a young age by her mother (5:30 onwards): “It’s been two years.  […] No money in our hands, so I don’t go [to school].”

Beeban Kidron (7:27): “One of the things that is fascinating but complicates the whole issue is that there is more than one form of being a devadasi. I think what is important is to know and to understand that the elite devadasi are actually the grandmothers of Indian national dance bharata natyam in the elite world of temple and court. These women were the lovers of princes and priests and other high caste men. And it was a huge privilege and a sign of social mobility to be a devadasi. But there has obviously been a break in the tradition and it was made illegal in 1947 as the British left India. […] We have to be careful how we view things. And that was the journey for me.  […]  That system of dedicating young girls is abusive, is sex slavery, and so on. It’s paradoxical, you have to raise the age of consent, you have to work with the women, you have to help them educate their daughters, you have to help with the alternative.”

Read a recent interview with Beeban Kidron in The New York Times, on protecting children online

https://www.nytimes.com/2019/08/27/technology/baroness-kidron-children-tech.html?utm_source=pocket&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=pockethits

The Baroness Fighting to Protect Children Online
By Natasha Singer, August 27, 2019

Beeban Kidron has successfully pushed stricter limits on how tech companies can target children online in Britain. […]

A member of the House of Lords, she had just flown in from London to attend an international meeting hosted by the social network. And now, in a hotel thronging with tech executives, she was recounting her plan to overhaul how their companies treat children. […] Read the full interview here >>

More (documentary) films by Director, Producer and writer Beeban Kidron on imdb.com >>

Learn more about the devadasis throughout (known) history in Music, Dance and the Art of Seduction

http://www.worldcat.org/oclc/826453329

Chapters by Joep Bor (pp. 233), “On the dancers or Devadasis: Jacob Haafner’s Account of the Eighteenth-Century Indian Temple Dancers” and Tiziana Leucci (pp. 261), “Between Seduction and Redemption – The European Perception of India’s Temple Dancers in Travel Accounts and Stage Productions from the Thirteenth to the Nineteenth Century”

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Tip | Online research library: Musicresearchlibrary.net

Merger of websites: The two sites www.musicresearch.in and www.musicresearchlibrary.net have now merged! We have closed www.musicresearch.in and moved its contents to www.musicresearchlibrary.net. In the ‘musicresearchlibrary.net’ site, a menu ‘musicresearch.in‘ has been created which will house some of the earlier contributions of senior scholars. Please like and follow our Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/Musicresearchlibraryadmin/ for latest news and updates.

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