Vintage Devadasi video and audio

While hearing/reading about Devadasis, their graceful dance and their mellifluous voice, have you ever wondered how they might have danced and how their voice could have been? I mean is there any audio and video of them?

Well, look no further than the information in this post. 😀

Video of devadasis from Baroda, dancing in the early 1930’s


Click on the image to go to the video. The dance starts from timestamp 8:06 (No audio)

This was bought to my notice when Minai, the blogger of Cinema Nritya Gharana, wrote about it a few months ago. This video led us into a virtual cat and mouse chase, which she wrote in her blog. (See the first and second links in the references)

Interesting things to note from this video:

  1. The musicians  – the one playing the instrument (called Tutti, similar to a bagpipe) was the drone. It was much later that Tampura was used as a drone for dance performances
  2. The nattuvanars – There are two of them, one is a senior and the other junior.
  3. The mridangam – hung around the neck
  4. The harmonium – In this video, it is kept on a stand, however there are photographic evidences that depict the harmonium also hung around the neck
  5. The types of dances starting with the alarippu.

Who are these two dancers?

They are the replacement dancers sent to the Baroda to dance at the court of Maharaja Sayaji Rao Gaekwad III (ruled from 1875 to 1939). Before these two devadasis, Gauri and Kanthimathi (due to their association with Baroda, they were known as Baroda Gauri and Baroda Kanthimathi) were sent as part of the dowry package of princess Chimnabai I of Tanjavur, when she got married to Maharaja Sayaji Rao Gaekwad III in December 1880/ January 1881.

Is there more information about Gauri and Kanthimathi?

Of course, there is a lot of information about them. The dance scholar B. M. Sundaram wrote a book titled “Marabu Thanda Manikkangal”, published in 2003.

Gauri and Kanthimathi, who were responsible for their troupe and appearance, were together paid 433 rupees every month (while the nattuvanar, mridangist, and thuthikarar collectively got only 282 rupees).  They performed twice a week for the Maharaja Sayajirao after he finished his dinner.  Sayajirao, who did not know Tamil or Telugu, was known to say “I do not need to understand the language as the message of the lyrics is shown through abhinaya.” Gauri and Kanthimathi choreographed five new dances for the king, mostly in Hindi, using the mudras and adavus from Bharatanatyam along with other creative movements as they each enacted various scenarios:

  • Radha Krishna dance
  • Kite flying dance “Laal Patang Ki Jarthu” – A kite in flight is nearly thwarted before the two make peace
  • Scorpion dance “Kaajupakari” – After fainting from a scorpion sting, a friend tries to gather herbs to save her life
  • Madhumatta dance “Door Sakshagir” – An alcoholic Muslim man tries to tempt his Hindu Brahmin wife with a drink
  • Snake dance “Naadar Mudimelirrukum”

For more details, read these fascinating posts (here and here) by blogger Minai who is doing an amazing job of collating classical dances in Indian movies and documentaries.

Is there any other video of Devadasis?

Other than T. Balasaraswati’s dancing and the Kalavanthulu (name for devadasis in Andhra) Krishnajyoti, the search for others continues. 🙂

Click here, here, herehere, and here (at timestamp 3:43) for T. Balasaraswati’s dancing  [UPDATED]

Click here for Krishnajyoti’s dancing

Audio of Devadasis singing

Coming to second part of this blog post. The above video of Baroda Devadasi’s dance had no audio. So, how did they sound? For this we need to understand some background information. In the book written by Amanda Weidman titled “Singing the Classical, Voicing the Modern” and also in Davesh Soneji’s “Unfinished Gestures” the practice of devadasis producing gramaphone recordings is described in detail.

[Gramophone] recording presented a way for women from both [Devadasi and Brahmin] communities to be heard without being seen, to escape association with their bodies.

Gramophone companies, however, initially run not by Brahmins but by Americans and Europeans, actively recruited devadasi women for their first recordings.

Between 1910 and 1930, their best-selling recordings in South India were of [Kanchipuram] Dhanakoti Ammal, Bangalore Nagaratnammal, Bangalore Thayi, Coimbatore Thayi, M. [Madurai] Shamugavadivu, Veena Dhanammal, and Madras Lalithangi [Yes, mother of MLV], all women from the devadasi community.

Also, see one of my previous posts (click here) mentioning this gramophone recordings.

On February 28th edition of The Hindu, I read an article that mentioned nothing about devadasis, but about archiving and documentation of gramophone recordings.

he [Vikram Sampath] has established the Archive of Indian Music (AIM), which is actually a repository of gramophone recordings from all over India! Henceforth, to listen to some of the best voices and divine instruments across genres – Hindustani classical, Carnatic classical, theatre, early cinema and folk – all you have to do is log on to

It is a work in progress. Today, I have with me nearly 24,000 tracks of recorded sound, of which I have so far uploaded 600 pieces. Digitising the gramophone plates is no mean task. They were all in the original analog form of a 78 RPM or a Vinyl disc (EP or LP). We imported special equipment for the digital transfers. My technician Chethan Kumar tirelessly cleans the records, digitises and catalogues them on a daily basis. The whole journey so far has been gratifying because in just a month and a half since the website went up, there have been 35,000 plays by people from Iran, Pakistan, Australia and the U.S. We have so much more material, such as tribal recordings by artists from Chattisgarh, which will soon be up for listening pleasure. It has been a learning experience at every step

Could it be possible to find some devadasi recordings? On finding familiar names, I was so excited! So, here is the list of the archive links that have the original devadasi’s vocals and in some cases instrumental music.

(UPDATE: All the links became deadlinks. So, updated them with new ones)

Name of the Devadasi Link
Bangalore Nagarthnamma
Bangalore Thayi
Coimbatore Thayi
Kanchipuram Dhanakotiammal
M L Vasanthakumari (devadasi lineage)
M S Subbulakshmi (devadasi lineage)
Madurai Shanmukhavadivu (mother of MSS)
Salem Godavari
T. Jayammal (mother of T. Balasaraswati)
T R Rajakumari
Thiruchendur Shanmukhavadivu
Veena Dhanammal
Madurai Kamu ammal

Since this is a work in progress, I will keep the list updated as and when new recordings of other devadasis appear.

Other interesting original recordings are:

(UPDATE: All the links became deadlinks. So, updated them with new ones)

Kamala Lakshman

Tanjavur K. P. Sivanandam (descendant of Tajore Quartette)

Vasundhara Devi (mother of Vyjayanthimala Bali)

Mahatma Gandhi

Rabindranath Tagore

So, next time someone talks about the way devadasi danced or sang, just say yes we have evidence for those! 🙂 Enjoy!!!

References and further reading:

  3. Singing the Classical, Voicing the Modern: The Postcolonial Politics of Music in South India
    By Amanda J. Weidman 2006 (
  6. Unfinished Gestures: Devadasis, Memory, and Modernity in South India. By Davesh Soneji 2012 (

3 responses to “Vintage Devadasi video and audio

  1. An excellent gathering of related information into one post! Thank you for the glowing reference. 🙂 To add to your list of videos, there is Bala’s dance at the ’63 Edinburgh Festival (3:43):, and the first Bala link you listed also includes brief footage of Mylapore Gauri Ammal’s abhinaya. The AIM site is astonishing – such rare gems uploaded for all to listen to using such a simple and intuitive interface.

  2. Hi Minai,
    Oh yes, I forgot the Edinburgh Festival clip. Thanks for pointing it out and stopping by.

  3. Pingback: Some historical snippets of BN – Part 14 – Gamakas in BN? | Bharathanatyam and the worldwide web·

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s