While the abolition of the devadasi system in 1947 through the Anti-Devadasi Act managed to rescue hundreds of women who were forced into the age-old practice, it also pushed an ancient art form into oblivion. Vilasini Natyam, a temple dance form that used to be performed by the temple courtesans and was “banned” when the Act was passed, would have been lost forever if not for the efforts of dance exponent Swapnasundari. “Back in the day, girls used to be donated to temples, where they were tortured. The practices were anti-women, which led to religious prostitution,” says Swapnasundari, who has learnt the art directly from the erstwhile Vilasini Natyam dancers.
As a prelude to her performance in the city on March 3, she will be conducting a two-day workshop to educate people about the rare art form. She says that the initiative is a way to reclaim this classical, traditional dance form.
The repertoire of the act comprises temple and court dances, which are performed to music in Telugu and Sanskrit. Differentiating Vilasini Natyam, which originated in Andhra Pradesh, from other genres, Swapnasundari says, “In its essence, it’s a solo dance practised by women.
It combines the gentleness of Odissi and the grammar of Kuchipudi. But it’s older than both these dances. The movements in this dance are very similar to the way a woman’s body moves, as opposed to, say, in Bharatanatayam, where the body is trained to move in an unnatural way.”
Having performed at the National Centre for Performing Arts (NCPA) a couple of years ago, Swapnasundari is excited about the workshop that she will be conducting. She says, “The workshop is an add-on this year. It will help the attendees understand the basics of the dance form. I’ll explain the background, its repertoire and techniques involved. I’ll also make them try the techniques during the sessions.”
Tracing the roots
An Indian classical dance form that originated in Andhra Pradesh.
Draws its lineage from the 12th century.
Was practised only by women.
Artistes were called the Kalavantulu, derived from Kalavati (a woman excelling in an art).
Ritual and ceremonial dance, performed at temples and courts.
Banned as per the Anti-Devadasi Act in 1947.
Revived in 1996.