STORY OF TAMIL DEVADASIS – Part 5 (Post No.6092)

Written by London swaminathan

Date: 18 FEBRUARY 2019

GMT Time uploaded in London – 10-48 am

Post No. 6093

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  1. Rama Nanjappa

     /  February 18, 2019

    Every social institution in India has a religious dimension. While the origin of such institutions is lost in remote antiquity, we have over the years lost sight of their social functions and religious significance. Viewing things from a Western perspective, we have tended to overlook their historical role and functional utility. The Devadasi system is one such, where every Tom, Dick and Harry reformer has hastened to condemn it. No doubt this system, like so many others had strayed from the true path and purpose over the centuries, but which institution even in modern times has remained in a virgin state? A system cannot be judged by bad specimen.
    I remember that Nirad C.Chaudhuri , the famous author,had written a long article in The Illustrated Weekly of India justifying and defending the Devadasi system. This was many years ago, may 30 or so years. It flew in the face of Western and Westrnised Indian critics of the system.
    The last century witnessed a remarkable incident involving a Devadasi. One Ardhanari, a cook and wrestler from the Mysore palace was suffering from some ailment which could not be cured by the palace physicians. He was advised to visit Palni and pray at the Hill shrine of Lord Subrahmanya and partake of the prasad there for a cure. He came to Palni and stayed there for a few days. During his stay, ( May 1908) on a festival occasion, a Devadasi from Madurai came to the temple to dance, as per the practice. She danced to a Tamil devotional song, ( வங்கார மார்பிலணி) and did neraval at the line சிங்கார ரூப மயில் வாஹன நமோ நமோ. This Ardhanari, who was illiterate and had no literary or musical taste or talent, was struck by the beauty of the song and the words and the abhinaya. He experienced ecstasy. He learned from the Devadasi that it was a Tiruppugazh hymn of Arunagirinatha. Our Ardhanari was so captured and enraptured by the hymn that he took down the address of the publisher and got the book. But being illiterate, he could not read the Tamil words. He learnt Tamil alphabet from an elementary school boy, all of eight years, and started learning to read the letters of the hymns. Later he met Ramana Maharshi and Seshadri Swami at Tiruvannamalai. Seshadri Swami told Ardhanari that Tiruppugazh was a Mahamantra and asked Ardhanari to visit Valli Hills ( near Arkonam) and do tapasya there. Ardhanari went there and stayed on the hills for 12 years, reciting only Tiruppugazh. During his stay there, he used to hear the hymns being sung in different tunes (Ragas) at night- this was evidently an extraordinary, super-human source. Ardhanari picked up the tunes and began singing Tiruppugzh in those very tunes. He travelled throughout the old Madras Presidency propagating Tiruppugazh. Ardhanari came to be called Tiruppugazh Swami, though he had taken sanyas under the name Swami Sachchidananda! Within 30 years he made Tiruppugazh reach every nook and corner of the Tamil speaking area. He passed away in November,1950; by that time he had made arrangements for the continued singing of Tiruppugazh in the tunes he had set by divine dispensation..

    Thus we see that even in the recent past, the Devadasi had been instrumental in bringing about a spiritual/devotional revolution in Tamil speaking areas! Alas, we do not know her name! As they say, God cooks in many pots!


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