Nattuvanar Rajarathnam Pillai can’t be remembered by erasing the hereditary apply or practitioners he represented, says his granddaughter

Tomorrow, July 3, Swamimalai Rajarathnam Pillai, Bharatanatyam guru, celebrated nattuvanar, and my grandfather, would have turned 90. Many younger Bharatanatyam fanatics could not know of him. He was the final of the few individuals who represented the cultural phenomenon of being a nattuvanar — a hereditary practitioner from the disenfranchised Isaivellalar neighborhood — who might sing, wield the cymbals, and choreograph concurrently. Although nattuvanars exercised a level of energy, in that they carried out the Bharatanatyam recital, they’d already been pushed to the sidelines after the reinvention of Bharatanatyam within the Thirties. The stigma of the social reform and criminalisation of their feminine ancestors along with the overall disenfranchisement of the neighborhood that adopted backed them into the weak finish of the equation of caste and energy when it got here to relationships with their (typically brahmin) disciples. There usually are not many hereditary practitioners right now, male or feminine, and definitely the entanglement of the few who do exist in such energy relations stays the identical as in my grandfather’s time.

In the pre-pandemic world, his start anniversary would have referred to as for a memorial, with performances by his star disciples. I keep in mind, 10 years in the past, I performed a marginal function within the eightieth anniversary memorial for my grandfather, whilst I initiated the dialog round a remembrance. I just lately found that there had been discussions to plan one other occasion for his ninetieth start anniversary.

When I heard this, I felt each happiness and sorrow — happiness and pleasure in realizing that my grandfather was a talented artiste, and disappointment that I can’t be uncritically celebratory, given the problematic historical past of Bharatanatyam weighing down on the shoulders of daughters and granddaughters of celebrated nattuvanars like him.

My crucial stance comes from the quite a few occasions that it has been identified to me that my politics, my articulation, and quest for reflection, reparation, and reconciliation is at odds with the stance my grandfather took throughout his profession. There is little doubt in my thoughts that he was definitely entangled within the patriarchal, caste-based energy and cultural nationalism that formed Bharatanatyam in his time, and was additionally pushed by a really sensible, materials must assist a household within the Fifties. So, in a means, I’m pushed by this doubt: if my grandfather have been alive right now, he doubtless wouldn’t assist my dancing and the political nature of it.

In writing these crucial reflections, I need readers to grasp that there’s a deep diploma of emotional labour that goes into articulating the nuances of my scenario. This is a central but untold a part of the story of Bharatanatyam within the fashionable world. It is the story of how difficult the politics of entry and denial of entry to this artwork kind are for girls from hereditary households, like me. Somewhat sarcastically, the world of Bharatanatyam is reigned over by a lot of my grandfather’s star disciples. For these sishyas, the affiliation with their vadhyar has given them legitimacy and authority over the artwork kind. By distinction, my affiliation with my thatha, particularly in the case of Bharatanatyam, can solely be outlined as difficult and missing in “sanction,” each personally and professionally.

I write this realizing effectively the consequence that I may be decreased to a voice that’s pissed off, indignant, and unsuccessful. But quite the opposite, I refuse to let my writing invoke pity. It displays the truth of not having had the privilege of studying and being near my grandfather in ways in which his sishyas had. It displays the truth of not having the privilege of being thought-about the respectable service of my grandfather’s artwork, and the dearth of acknowledgement of the socially engineered disenfranchisement that ladies like me stay with. And lastly, it underscores the inter-generational cultural privilege his sishyas accrued by accessing Bharatanatyam by way of a nattuvanar like him.

I like my grandfather and cherish the numerous reminiscences of the seven years I spent round him. He typically sang to me, exquisitely, a tune in raga Nilambari, ‘Kuttiyammava yar adicha,’ to place me to sleep — ‘who was it who beat my little one?’ That would have been his sentiment, to maintain me protected against the clique-ish world of dance and the sorts of struggling that he went by way of himself. This was struggling he couldn’t articulate or disclose in his workspace however expressed within the security of dinner desk conversations.

He would typically say: ‘Padichu velaiku poidanum’ — you need to research and get a ‘respectable’ job — versus a disreputable occupation within the performing arts.

His presence was an integral a part of my childhood. I used to be his first grandchild and loved a sure type of love and a spotlight that got here with it. I’d even say I used to be maybe the grandchild with the best entry to the artwork kind, albeit circumstantially. I used to be born and raised at a time when he was on the peak of his profession as a celebrated nattuvanar, instructing many privileged caste women from ‘respectable’ households, fulfilling the ethical mandate of the reinvented Bharatanatyam. It isn’t any shock that they went on to change into profitable dancers with careers within the very custom that households like mine traditionally inherited.

Social conditioning and my very own circumstances don’t permit me “legitimate rights” over my grandfather or Bharatanatyam, and I too don’t really feel any sense of possession over him or the artwork kind. I don’t suppose I needs to be the individual talking about him, instructing one among his dance compositions, dancing one among his items on his start anniversary — the system doesn’t give me that area. There are others authorised to rejoice his life, his teachings, his artwork, his musicality, and his contributions of their lives.

But I wish to mourn his loss, a loss that occurred too early for me. I additionally, maybe extra importantly, wish to mourn the dearth of legitimacy and alternative that ladies from our households face. If in any respect we’re included, it’s at all times on the margins, decreased to being “carriers of a great tradition,” referred to as in throughout lecture demonstrations or workshops to reveal “old things” that some are inquisitive about (even when in personal these “old aesthetics” are mocked at), or different such actions on the fringes of Bharatanatyam’s financial system. This phenomenon has been occurring for greater than 4 generations now. As others rejoice my grandfather’s artwork and his genius, I hope we will replicate extra carefully on what precisely we’re celebrating, and in addition ask ourselves the deeper (and deliberately invisibilised) questions round ‘legitimacy’, authority, authenticity and energy on the earth of Bharatanatyam.

The author, a social and cultural activist, can also be a performer and trainer of Bharatanatyam.


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