From Nautch to Natyam

Tiger Varadacharaiar

An article by SRIRAM VENKATAKRISHNAN in The Hindu

The 1932 Conference of the Music Academy was in progress at the People’s Park behind Ripon Buildings. Tiger Varadachariar was presiding and by December 27, several debates on ragas had happened and resolutions had been passed. In a couple of da ys, the conference would wind to a close and it did not appear that it would be any different to the conferences of the previous years. Outside, a great debate on “Sadir” or the dance of the Devadasi was raging.The first legislation against the Devadasi system had been passed in 1929 and with that dance was moving out of the temples and was confined to private events and in the homes of the rich. This had been objected to by the anti-nautch activists who demanded that a total ban on dance was the only way out to clean society.

In response to this demand, a group of art-lovers had taken on the task of getting the public to perceive the beauties of classical dance.

Renaming the art E. Krishna AiyarThe first move was to rename the art as Bharatanatyam. When this happened is not recorded, but the term first appears in the proceedings of the Music Academy’s Conference in 1932. The Hindu, reporting on the discussions of December 28, in its issue of 29th states that “The Experts of the Music Conference at their discussion today took up for consideration the subject of “Bharata Natyam” in respect of which a resolution had been given notice of by Mr E. Krishna Aiyar.”

Tiger Varadachariar then read out the resolutions which read as follows:

“Bharatanatyam as a great and an ancient art being unexceptionable, this conference views with concern the rapid decline of Bharatanatyam and appeals to the public and art associations to give it the necessary encouragement.

“This conference requests the Music Academy to take steps to disseminate correct ideas regarding the art and to help the public to a proper appreciation thereof.

“This conference is of opinion (sic) that inasmuch as women are the appropriate exponents of the art, it is desirable that to start with, women’s organisations do take immediate steps for giving proper training in the art by instituting a course of instruction for the same.

“This conference is of opinion (sic) that in order to make dancing respectable, it is necessary to encourage public performances.”

Muthiah Bhagavatar was the first to speak. He felt that dancing or nritya formed part of Bhava Sastra and was the most important element in music. He was also of the view that dancing was not strictly confined to women. Men had practised it successfully from Siva downwards. He hoped that the art would not be allowed to fade away.

‘Kirtanacharya’ C.R.Srinivasa Iyengar was of the view that “while the art may have degenerated now, the defects must be cured and the art must be renewed in all its splendour and glory.” Dr. S. Krishnaswamy Iyengar then gave a passionate speech in which he stated that “dancing and music were closely connected with each other and if they destroyed the former, the latter would also be damaged. To say that dancing should also be abolished because those who practised it belonged to a community which was associated in the public mind with certain objectionable customs was like saying that one should cut off one’s head if one wanted to ward off cold.”

The meeting witnessed women participating and one among these was Mrs. M.R.Ramaswami Sivan, the wife of an administrator, who suggested that dance should form part of school curricula. Others such as C.N.Muthuranga Mudaliar and M.S.Ramaswami Iyer spoke.

A letter from A.A.Hayles, Editor of The Madras Mail was then read out. He suggested that if the dance was to be freed from its present associations, there should be encouragement of public displays and that devadasis should be given an alternative profession, public performances of dance providing them with lucrative opportunity to display their talents.

Putting to vote The resolutions were put to vote and carried unanimously. The Academy, which had in 1931 held a public performance of dance by the Kalyani Daughters and in 1932 of Mylapore Gowri, proceeded to organise a series of dance programmes from January 1933 onwards. More and more people came forward to see the performances and appreciate the beauty of classical dance. Other Sabhas such as the Indian Fine Arts Society then came forward to organise performances and soon the art was understood for what it had always been – a thing of beauty. In time, even the staunchest Anti-Nautch activists such as Dr. Muthulakshmi Reddy came around to the viewpoint of Krishna Aiyar and the Music Academy. The rest is history.

(The author can be contacted at


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