13 June, 2021

Plucks Of Tonal Purity

In her 150th year, Dhanammal continues to epitomise nuanced, delicate music

Plucks Of Tonal Purity

Gender and caste biases plague India, where, paradoxically, certain castes saw women enjoy greater power and rights than the men. It used to be so even a few decades ago. The Devadasi community presented one of the finest examples of matriarchal families. Temples employed them to perform certain duties, including singing and dancing to signal the different pujas. Effectively, they were ‘married off’ to the gods. In real life, the extremely talented Devadasis would also be invited to sing and dance at other public and private gatherings, and became very sought-after. Devadasi women were not obligated to get married and run households for their partners, but were treated with respect by them. These women could continue living with their own mothers, grandmothers, maternal uncles and brothers, raise children, and retain the status of being the heads of their families. This set-up allowed them the luxury of spending significant chunks of their time nurturing their art and pursuing excellence. This often meant interacting directly with composers, poets and other male...

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