Dedicated to Sriram Venkatakrishnan This post is about his book “The Devadasi and the Saint”,a biography dealing with the life and times of Bangalore Nagarathnamma.Lot of research,documentation and hard work has gone into making this book a memorable one.My heartfelt congratulations to him for this.An engrossing book about a devadasi,not an ordinary one but one who could be queen amongst them.
I heard this name first in the early sixties or so and when I asked my father he evaded the issue.Devadasis were still a hush hush topic,not fit enough to be discussed openly.In 1969when I gave birth to my daughter,Sushmita,my mother in law wanted us to make a trip to Thiruvaiyaru.Her father was ailing and wanted to see her and the new born.We made a trip to her native place.Her family lived in Bavaswamy Agraharam and her father,C.V.Rajagopalachari.At that time I did not realise what a great personality he was and how instrumental he was in Nagarathnamma building this Thyagaraja samadhi.
One cool morning my husband’s cousin,Choodamani,also an accomplished singer,took me to see the samadhi.I was so very happy to see the serene surroundings,the flowing Cauvery and the idol of Thyagaraja.Although not a professional singer,having learnt music for a number of years,I could appreciate the ambience.It was still unsullied.I was curious about the statue of a lady facing the samadhi.Choodamani told me in short the story of Nagarathnamma,the devoted disciple.After that the name was always at the back of my mind and in course of time vanished.It was one of Sriram’s post and a chance comment that my interest about this surfaced.Later he informed me it was published by my brother,Padmanabhan.Immedeiately I contacted my sister in law,Chandra and since it was published some years back,it was retrieved and sent to me.His other book “Carnatic Summer”was also sent.
Once I started reading this,it was so very absorbing and it was like a literary fiction.Every chapter progresses to the next with such ease and grace.Starting life in not very wealthy circumstances,Nagarathnamma rose slowly and became an important part of the social structure and circles first in Karnataka and then Tamil Nadu.Her centre of activity revolved around Madras.She was no ordinary devadasi but learned and scholarly,multi lingual,cultured and had rich patrons and admirers.Her first project was to fight for the rights of her community,taking great pains to distinguish them from Nauch girls or prostitutes.The second ,her life’s mission to build a samadhi for her God,befitting his stature.
The book vividly describes her struggles in achieving this alongside her fight for justice.The term generally denotes girls to be dedicated to the temples and considered to be married to Gods.There was a section of orthodox singers who neither wanted these devadasis nor the Nadaswara Vidvans to participate in the any function relating to Thyagarajar.It is to the credit of Nagarathnamma that she fought against all these and also played a major role in uniting various factions and making the annual celebrations a success.In the end she sells her properties,jewels and everything she had to make her dream a reality.She lives a peaceful life ending her life equally peaceful.This in gist is the theme of the book.Suddenly I realised I am almost repeating whatever he has already narrated in this book.In a way it is also beneficial to new comers who are hearing about devadasis and the book.Surely they would be interested in knowing more.
I am very proud that my husband’s maternal grandfather played such a major role in building the samadhi and maintains it and managing the trust formed by her.It is sad to see with the advent of Television broadcast,much of the sanctity is gone.This fact is also mentioned in the book as also the poor maintenance now.
In conclusion,I want to quote from the book.”No one has seen the Gods,Sri Rama&Krishna.Few have seen their devotee,Sri Thyagayya.Through Nagarathnamma,we were able to view the significance of his devotion”May I add but for Sriram,we would not be knowing of Nagarathnamma.
I am not a professional writer.only a Facebook writer at the most.There may be mistakes here and there.I am sorry for that.Thanks to Chandra for sending me this book and giving me an incredible experience.