INDIA, May 20, 2011 (RNL): For centuries devadasis played a special role in Hindu temples rituals in India, but since being banned in 1947, much of their history and art have been forgotten.
Devadasi ("Servant of God") is an old Hindu tradition in which girls were 'married' and dedicated to a God or to a temple. The tradition includes dance performances in temples as well as in courts and in private homes. The girls learned various classical Indian art traditions and enjoyed a high social status.
"In the Western mind, 'devadasi' is just a monolithic term for prostitute," says Saskia Kersenboom, a long-time student of devadasi dance and a professor at the University of Amsterdam. His work dispels the prejudice. "They were really professional artists and ritual specialists. The core of their dance was this professionalism."
Kersenboom's teacher bequeathed to her a dance manuscript handwritten by her teacher's grandmother. Last year Kersenboom carried that to India with the hope of reviving the disappearing dance. With the support of a Dutch organisation called Theatre Embassy, she found a pair of elderly musicians who had once accompanied devadasi performers. Their two recent performances in southern India were well received.
Kersenboom says she saw no real interest in a revival of devadasi arts. But she has not given up entirely. Working with the Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts, she plans to publish the dance manuscript from her teacher. For posterity, they are also planning to produce a video of her dancing with the temple musicians.