Monday, January 16, 2017

Narrow outlook

Yes. That is truly how Kutchery Lane opens into the North Mada Street of the Kapaleeswarar Temple. But as one gets out from this narrowest of lanes, all it takes to get into the temple is to cross the street. That small gopuram is over a door to the temple's administrative office. That door does not open for you or me, it is quite possibly an entrance for only the most privileged of the temple's staff and/or devotees.

For a long while, that was the entrance through with the temple's designated devadasi, would enter the temple. She was an integral part of the temple's rituals, and was accorded a high status in the temple's hierarchy. But over the years, the position of the devadasi was stigmatised, and there were likely enough people within the temple administration who were politicking to cut the devadasis down to size.

It was not just at this temple; all over the Madras Presidency and across India, the desire to abolish the devadasi system led to the passage of legislation such as the Madras Devadasis (Prevention of Dedication) Act in 1947. With that law in their hands, the puritan faction of the temple administrators walked out through the office door, into the Kutchery Lane, to the ex-officio residence of the last of Kapaleeswar devadasis and unceremoniously threw her out into the street. And so ended a tradition, one that gave much of today's Bharatanatyam dance, in obscurity and penury. Would it have been any different had the passage been much broader?

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