Of Men, Women and Morals: Gender, Politics and Social Reform in Colonial South India
Intersections: Gender and Sexuality in Asia and the Pacific
Issue 22, October 2009

Of Men, Women and Morals:
Gender, Politics and Social Reform in Colonial South India

Chandhrika G.

  1. The trajectory of social reform in colonial India has shown that women's issues were intensely ideological, a site of battle between contentious traditions or a discursive space for colonialist and nationalist ideologues. In short, they were always surrounded by debates in which state and society vied with each other to produce the moral justification for and against ideological issues concerning women. Women's historians have already problematised women's issues of the nineteenth century and one of the subaltern historians, Partha Chatterjee, focusing on Bengal, contends that women's issues had disappeared from the agenda of public debate by the end of the nineteenth century.[1] The women's movement in colonial south India with its avowed cause of devadasi reform clearly indicates that women's issues did not disappear from the agenda of social reform and public debate in colonial India. In the Madras Presidency during the 1920s and 1930s, women were actively involved in the social reform movement effectively articulating what they required for themselves. The present work engages with Muvalur Ramamirthammal, a reformer from the marginalised devadasi community and her battle in the 1930s for emancipation of devadasi women from prostitution and the men of the devadasi community from debauchery. Through an analysis of the notions of sexuality, conjugality and womanhood, the paper seeks to bring out the ideological underpinnings of social reform in colonial south India in the first half of the twentieth century.

    The lost world of the devadasi
  2. The term 'devadasi' literally means 'god's servant.' Known as 'tevaradiyal' in the Tamil speaking areas of south India, in the common parlance of the language she was called 'thevadiyal' a derogatory term implying a prostitute. The earliest recorded evidence of the existence of tevaradiyal occurs in the eleventh century inscription of Rajaraja Chola who donated lands and houses to the dancers who performed services to the Brahadiswara temple.[2] Evidence from temple inscriptions belonging to the later Vijayanagar period suggests the emergence of an elaborate system of economic patronage and support to devadasis by courts and temples. As Vijayanagara became the bulwark of Hindu dharma, it assumed leadership in the cultural space as well. The empire's patronage of art, continued by the Telugu nayakas in southern Tamil Nadu led to the formulation of a distinct Karnatik tradition in the field of music and dance.[3] Located at the centre of this artistic efflorescence, the devadasis as temple dancers who performed the sadir, the prototype of Bharatanatyam, gained importance and achieved a respected status in society for their excellence in music and dance. After the decline of Vijayanagara, Tanjore under the Maratha kings became the centre of music and dance culture in the eighteenth century. The patronage of the Maratha rulers of Tanjore to the temples and to the devadasis was crucial to the evolution of a performing art tradition in south India.[4] In the nineteenth century with the decline of the royal patronage of the Tanjore court the devadasis faced a reversal of their fortune. Some of them turned to smaller courts like Ettayapuram, Pudukottai or Trivandrum for patronage and support, while many were forced to migrate to the colonial capital of Madras seeking the individual patronage of wealthy merchants and landed elites. As Kersenboom describes:

      …with the loss of the royal patron an entire universe was lost and never recaptured. The aristocratic values of art, devotion and learning and their deeply cultured support by the court that continued an age-old tradition were exchanged for mercenary values, search for patronage of individuals and aggressive publicity.[5]

  3. The devadasis perceived themselves as following a murai or organised way of life. Custom demanded the initiation, training and induction of the devadasi into the system through a number of rituals performed at various points of time. Dandiyam, pottukattu, cadangu and santhi were some of these ceremonies. The young devadasi even before she attained puberty was married off to god in a ceremony popularly called pottukattu in which a thali or pottu was tied around her neck through the mediation of the temple priest. Once she attained puberty, after the symbolic consummation rites called santhi she came to be called nithyasumangali or one who is free from widowhood as god's wife. Thereafter she chose her patron who accepted her as his sexual partner without having to marry her. Usually the patrons were from land owning non Brahmin elites or from Brahmin elite who administered the temple lands. Neither could the devadasi claim the status of a wife nor could the children born out of this sexual contract claim the right to live with the father or inherit his property.[6]
  4. In the nineteenth century the term devadasi came to be equated with prostitutes. Their identity was derived from their talents in the performance of music and dancing. The devadasis did not belong to a single caste but were drawn from diverse groups like the Melakkarar, Nayanakkarar, Nattuvanar and the Sengunthar. In the early twentieth century these caste groups assumed the name isai vellalar which meant the cultivators of music. The devadasi undertook rigorous training in music and dance from a very early age under the tutelage of a guru. Moreover as god's wife and nityasumagali the devadasi enjoyed a ritual status in the ceremonies of the temple and also in the household ceremonies of her patron. On her death flowers, sandal paste, etc. were sent from the temple for the dead body and the funeral procession started after the bier carrying her dead body was kept before the temple for a while.[7] However this high ritual status did not entail a corresponding social status as she was considered tainted both within and outside her community. Nevertheless a devadasi enjoyed considerable economic status and power within her household. Devadasis were given lands by their patrons. But they held the land under inam which meant that the land belonged to the temple but the income from the land could be enjoyed by the devadasis. Moreover the inam was hereditary, provided the devadasi dedicated a female heir even as a minor to the temple as the next devadasi. Unlike the case of wedded Hindu women, the Hindu law allowed the devadasis to adopt a girl child for this purpose. Through this right to adopt and the right to inherit the landed income, the devadasis acquired an economic status through temple patronage. But this economic status was a double bind as not only was the devadasi trapped in the system but she was forced to perpetuate it by dedicating a minor girl child.[8]
  5. The men of the devadasi community did not have the right to inherit property but depended on the women of the community for economic sustenance. They eked out a living by teaching dance and music to devadasi girls and also by providing musical accompaniment to the devadasis during the latter's performance of sadir in temples and in houses of the socially prominent men. They were not allowed to marry or have sexual relations with the devadasis who were dedicated to temple service and received inam. Nevertheless they could marry girls of the community who were not dedicated to temple service. Usually the girls born to and adopted by the devadasis were the rightful heirs of the inam whereas the girls born to or adopted by the men in the community were neither entitled to property nor expected to provide service to the temples and landlords.

    Sexuality, conjugality and public morality
  6. Devadasis and nattuvanars[9] continued to migrate to Madras city from the provinces throughout the nineteenth century in search of economic patronage and avenues for performing their arts. Many of them settled among the well-to-do in the prosperous quarters of the city. Until the later part of the nineteenth century, the devadasis and nattuvanars continued to enjoy the patronage of the provincial courts and temples, especially in the Kaveri Delta. But in the beginning of the twentieth century they lost their livelihood and the sadir was nearly extinct. The demise of the sadir as an art form and the loss of status of the devadasi were not merely due to the decline of patronage but more due to the public condemnation of the sexual morality of the devadasi and the marginalisation of sadir as a vulgar form of art in middle-class discourses on respectability. The process of disenfranchisement of the devadasi was completed through the criminalisation of the devadasis and their dance by the colonial state. Central to the disenfranchisement were the puritan-colonial ideology of female sexuality and the nationalist reform ideology of the proper place of women in the nation.[10]
  7. The Europeans in the nineteenth century included devadasi dance in the category of 'nautch'- an anglicised version of 'nach' the Hindi term for dance.[11] Nautch was viewed as a sexually suggestive entertainment and the dancing girls were taken for prostitutes. That the dancing girls were attached to temples in South India was all the more reason for the colonial ideologues to decry them as symbols of the moral depravity of Indian society and Hindu religion. The rise of the urban middle class coupled with the social reform movement that stressed the virtues of domesticity and female chastity struck at the root of the devadasi system. Under the sway of nineteenth-century Victorian moralistic attitudes, upper caste / middle class social reformers and nationalists began to be embarrassed about the explicit sexuality and eroticism in Hindu culture. The social reformers of the nineteenth century deplored the erotic aspects of sadir and viewed the devadasi as a shame on Indian society for engendering a sexual relationship outside the patriarchal norms of conjugality and middle class sexual morality. The devadasi did not fit into their scheme of constructing the patni or morally pure wife as the embodiment of Indian womanhood. The social purity movement begun in 1880 in Madras by Raghupati Venkataratnam Naidu was influenced by the Purity Crusade in Britain and America.[12] It was the precursor of the anti nautch movement begun in South India in 1892 as a mobilisation against the dedication of women and girls as devadasis for temple service. Anti-nautch activists attempted to eradicate the devadasi system by abolishing the hereditary offices to the temple and court service and by eliminating the performance of sadir. Even though the activists did not secure legislation against dedication until 1947, they succeeded by the early decades of the twentieth century to stigmatise and push sadir to the margins of social life.[13] The Madras High Court denied the devadasis status as artists on the ground that their singing and dancing were merely 'vestigial' whereas their real income was from prostitution.[14] The colonial state as well as the society sought to valorise marriage, construct a Hindu community organised around marriage, and sanitise the Hindu cultural practice.

    Muthulakshmi Reddy and Muvalur Ramamirthammal
  8. The movement for the abolition of the devadasi system came to a head under the leadership of Muthulakshmi Reddy (1886—1968), a medical doctor, legislator and a member of the women's India Association. In November 1927, she put before the Madras Legislature a bill for the abolition of the custom of devadasis serving the temples. This bill was passed as the Madras Hindu Religious Endowments Act V in 1929. Even as the bill was being debated, she realised that it liberated only the inam-holding devadasis from the stipulation of temple service whereas it did not cover those who no longer served temples but were practicing prostitution. Therefore she introduced another bill, popularly known as the Devadasi Abolition Bill which sought to abolish the pottukattu which lured girls to prostitution. The Bill to Prevent the Dedication of Women to Hindu Temples in the Presidency of Madras was opposed by the orthodox Brahmins and conservative congressmen like S. Satyamurthy. It received the lukewarm support of the Justicites and the active support of Periyar and the Self Respectors. The Self Respectors viewed the devadasi system as an institution of the upper caste Brahminical patriarchal order of society and a form of sexual slavery in which non Brahmin women were condemned to prostitution. Their vehement opposition to the devadasi system can be understood in the context of the original shame attributed to the dasi as the shudra woman in Brahminical scripture.[15] While on the whole the devadasi community resisted their marginalisation and represented their protest against their characterisation as prostitutes and contested the legislative measures taking away their income and hereditary rights, some others were drawn into the reform movement and were politically articulate, arguing in favour of reform from the Self Respect platform. Muvalur Ramamirthammal (1883–1962), a Self Respect activist, located within the devadasi community fictionalised the lost world of the devadasis and their degeneration into sexual slavery in her novel, Dasigal Mosavalai Alladu Mathi Petra Mainar (1936).[16]
  9. Ramamirthammal was born in 1883 to Krishnasamy of Tiruvarur and Chinnammal of Muvalur (both Tiruvarur and Muvalur were located in the Tanjore district of the Madras Presidency) in the isai vellala caste, associated with the devadasi system. Her father, like all other men of the community, was dependent on his elder sisters for his living. Resisting the attempt of his sisters to take
    Figure 1. Muvalur Ramamirthammal. Source: B. Jeevasundari, Muvalur Ramamirtham Ammaiyar, Chennai: Maatru, 2007, front cover. Ramamirthammal into their custody through adoption, he moved with his wife and daughter to Muvalur. But since he was not versed either in music or dance, he was unable to get any gainful employment. In her personal memoirs, Ramamirthammal remarks that her father resorted to flight, a typical male option in times of crisis.[17] He ended up as a domestic servant in Madras and on hearing from him about his whereabouts his wife Chinnammal decided to join him. But as his income was not sufficient to feed three people, she sold off the girl child to Achikkannammal, a devadasi from Muvalur, for the paltry sum of ten rupees and a worn out sari.[18] Abandoned by her parents at the age of five, Ramamirthammal soon overcame her loneliness in the process of learning Tamil, Telugu, and Sanskrit languages. In due time, she was also taught music and dance. She contemplated deeply about the devadasi custom and read those religious texts which advocated it. She came to the conclusion that men have forced some women into the degrading profession in order to pursue their indiscreet pleasures and for selfish causes.[19]

  10. Ramamirthammal rebelled against the system when her foster mother decided to arrange her liaison with a sixty-five-year-old local trader. Instead she married her music teacher Suyambu Pillai and thus challenged the tradition which opposed the devadasi's sexual relationships with the men of their community. Suyambu Pillai was involved in the nationalist movement and marriage to him made Ramamirthammal free of the customary practices of the devadasi and allowed her to turn her interest to politics and social reform.[20] Attracted by Mahatma Gandhi, Ramamirthammal began her political career in the Congress, participating in the non-cooperation movement in the Tanjore district. She was instrumental in the formation of local associations of devadasis and came to be known for her abolitionist stand supporting Muthulakshmi Reddy with whom she was in correspondence.[21] She campaigned among the devadasis not only for the abolition of the system but she also motivated them to break the vicious custom and settle for a household life through marriage with someone of their choice. She organised abolition associations, conduced inter-caste marriages and preached devadasi abolition in different districts.[22] Her reform activities irked some men who threatened to smash her skull if she continued to preach against the devadasi system.[23] It is reported that while she was addressing a public gathering, the custodians of orthodoxy climbed up the stage, pulled her hair and cut it off violently to the utter shock and surprise of everyone present.[24] Ramamirthammal continued her discourse undeterred by this violent act of humiliation and degradation. After this incident she never grew her hair long again, but kept it very short. Perhaps it is her absolute involvement in the cause of devadasi abolition that made her quit the Congress to join Periyar's Self Respect movement. Her analysis of the devadasi system and its root cause was located within Periyar's critique of Braminical Hindu culture, thus striking a different note from Muthulakshmi Reddy whose proposed legislative measure was a moral intervention in the restoration of the dasi to virtuous Hindu womanhood.

    Dasigal Mosavalai
  11. Ramamirthammal's novel, Dasigal Mosavalai is primarily a piece of Self Respect literature articulating the ideology of the Self Respect movement. It voices the travails of the devadasis as a community in the context of the dwindling aristocratic patronage and the changed social mores of the modernised elite. Instead of stereotyping the devadasi as a degraded prostitute, Ramamirthammal makes space for a multiplicity of devadasi voices: the old and the young, the traditional and the reformed, the superficial and the sincere, the superstitious and the wise, the wicked and the good. She follows the conventions of fiction with a strong narrative element, a complex plot thick with intrigue and unexpected twists and a number of characters, women and men who argue for and against reform. As the story unravels itself, the zamindari and its central position in the debate on devadasi reform as well as the complicity of the Braminical cultural ethos are brought out clearly by the author whose political convictions are expressed in unambiguous terms in lengthy Self Respect discourses. A mixture of autobiography and propaganda, the novel portrays the lived lives of the devadasis and voices their ultimate realisation that the system was exploiting them.
  12. The novel captures the life of the devadasi in its moment of transition from one historical time to another. Kantha and Ganavathy, two devadsis from Kamalapuram, under the influence of their mother, Boga Chintamani, an old guard, endeavour to lure wealthy zamindars in to their web of deceit. Somasekaran, heir to Dharmapuri Zamin falls under their spell and leaves his wife on the very day of their marriage to live with the dasis. Gnanasundari, the daughter of the zamindar of Sornapuri and the wife of Somasekaran realises that unless the social evil of the devadasi system is abolished many a
    family would be ruined. An educated and intelligent girl, she sees herself in the enlightened role of a reformer who must not only make the errant husband wise but also bring about a change in the attitudes of the orthodox elders of the Dharmapuri Zamin. In her effort she is supported by Gunabushni, a reformed dasi who marries a person of her choice and leads a decent family life. Gnanasundari is also helped by Natarajan alias Tiruchi Mainar, who was once a playboy but was saved from falling into the snare set up by Ganavathy and Kantha due to the intervention of Gunabushani. He goes to Kamalapuram in the guise of Mama, an appellation for the male who works as the agent of the dasi. With his help finally Gnanasundari succeeds in making Somasekaran see reason. Gnanasundari's plan is unravelled and the dasis' web of deceit is exposed as all the important characters in the novel meet in Tiruchi the city chosen for a Social Reform Conference.

    Figure 2. Illustration of Somasekaran with Kantha. Source: M. Ramamirthammal, Dasigal Mosavalai Alladu Mathi Petra Mainar, Madras: Pearl Press, 1936, p. 128.

    Womanhood pressed into the rescue of manhood
  13. Gnanasundari, the protagonist of Ramamirthammal's Dasigalin Mosavalai, is portrayed as an example of the new enlightened woman. She is introduced by the novelist in the following manner:

      …As Gnanasundari was the sole heir of the zamin, she was brought up with lot of love and affection. She had a tutor employed at home to teach her English and Tamil at an early age. She could read, write and speak English and Tamil fluently and soon matured into a graceful and intelligent woman, fascinating the eyes of the beholder with her beauty and virtues. Though her studies were at an end, she cultivated her mind by reading magazines and books. She had acquired a fair knowledge of the affairs of the country, contemporary social reforms and the conditions in other countries through discussions with elders. Gnanasundari was thus a well informed young woman with firm views on social reform, a bright star in her samasthanam.[25]

    An upper caste non Brahmin girl, well read in English and Tamil (not Sanskrit which was upheld by nationalists and Brahmins), Ganasundari is endowed with a rationalism and social consciousness typical of a Self Respecter. She believes that 'ideas grasped by women come into practice very soon' and accepts the offer of marriage to Somasekaran because his mother makes an appeal to her that her consent is essential for the progress of the Dharmapuri zamin.[26] On the day of the marriage she is happy at the thought of the marriage as 'an opportunity to good work.' Here is the new womanhood which prioritises social reform to personal happiness. Even as Somasekaran lives with the dasis in their residence in Kamalapuram, Gnanasundari neither blames the husband nor despairs but makes her father-in-law realise the futility of the Brahminical dharmashastras and the need for rationalistic reforms to free people from blind customs.[27] Instead of wallowing in self pity and blindly accepting the status of a discarded wife as her fate, she makes up her mind to solve the problem by using her reason. First she stops Somasekaran's access to money and wealth through a notification in the newspapers that the Dharmapuri zamin will not be responsible for the credits extended to him. Then she herself sets out in the guise of a rich man and approaches Kantha and Ganavathy who throw away Somasekaran in favour of greener pastures. Her exploits in other guises continue till the end of the novel. But in Gnanasundari one can find the ideal womanhood delinked from domesticity but fighting a heroic battle to preserve the domestic space not necessarily for its own preservation but primarily as the valid space for rescuing manhood and, in extension, society from moral retrogression.
  14. Taking as a starting point the emergence of the novel 'as the dominant fictional prose narrative, fit for the consumption of the newly educated literati' in Bengal in the second half of the nineteenth century, Jasodhara Bagchi analyses the construction of womanhood in Bengali nationalist fiction, especially in Bankimchandra Chattopadhyay's Anandmath.[28] She discusses at length the characterisation of women in Anandmath and concludes that 'in creating Shanti,' the heroine of the novel, 'Bankim delinks wifehood from the enclosed space of domesticity.' Shanti dons a male sanyasi's robes and fights the British along with her husband. The heroic struggle for the motherland gives an outlet to Shanti's unusual energy.[29] According to Uma Chakravarthy, Bankim's heroines answered the needs of the nation in crisis which required a new kind of woman. 'A ravaged nation required heroic action from both men and women; if anything it was women who could actually release such potential for action. It was therefore incumbent upon them to energise men who might easily fall into temptation otherwise.'[30] Even though Ramamirthammal had been attracted to nationalist politics and had taken part in the Gandhian non-cooperation movement in the 1920s, her novel is completely devoid of any reference to the nation and women's place in the nation. To express it in postmodernist language she was wary of the nation state and the class which represented it and which she equated with upper caste Brahmin. But the nationalist notion of the heroic woman in the rescue of manhood and the pursuit of progress finds expression in her creation of Gnanasundari.

    Of men, women and morals
  15. The entire debate on devadasi reform took place in the public sphere over its moral implications for the society. Notions of purity, chastity and sublime sexuality and ideals of monogamous marriage, loyalty in conjugal relationships and social respectability which informed the debate are reflected in the novel along with Periyar's ideas of an egalitarian society.
  16. The men of the devadasi community did not have an independent income and depended on the women of the household for their daily sustenance. Ramamirthammal portrays the ills of such an economically-dependent existence through the life of Karunakaran, the son of Boga Chintamani. He is at the beck and call of the mother who forces him to marry Senavathy, a girl from the dasi community in order to provide the household with a slave to take care of all the work. Thrown out of the house by Boga Chintamani soon he deserts his wife and daughter. Unable to feed the child, Senavathy sells her to a dasi in the hope that the child will have at least food and shelter. The girl child, named Vivekavathy comes of age and learns of the betrayal by the parents. But she is courageous and wise enough to escape the dishonourable way of life by eloping with her music teacher and marrying him on her own accord. The character of Vivekavathy is modeled on the author herself who in her real life had married her music teacher. Karunakaran exemplifies the debauchery of the men of the community, a standing evidence of servitude and loss of self. Through him the novelist appeals to those men to develop self respect, individuality and economic status.
  17. The novel ends with the description of the Social Reform Conference being held in Tiruchi. In the conference Gunabusani, the reformed dasi, addresses the dasi women thus:

      Do you want fame or shame now? If you want fame then get rid of prostitution today. If you want shame, then go and build huts for a day in every town. What do you seek through this shameful profession? What else have you achieved but disease and suffering?…Aren't other women living happily with a single man?…You can lead a secure life and earn fame if you give up your greed and wicked thoughts and choose one man. The world is changing rapidly. Your trickery will not bring results anymore. Do not be deceived. Join the future world today.[31]

  18. Ramamirthammal, while allowing the many voices of dasis to be heard through the novel, views the whole system with disfavour as it makes them mercenary, avaricious and immoral. They seduce rich but vulnerable young men and exploit them. By reducing the dasis from artistic performers to professional prostitutes who trade in sex, the author makes a moral judgment on them. She advises them to give up their promiscuous way of life and settle in monogamous relationships. Privileging marriage and wifehood over dasihood she disapproves of love and sexual desire outside the patriarchal norms. While Periyar viewed the devadasi system as an anachronism sustained by Brahminical hegemony, and the devadasi as a perpetrator of 'structured debauchery,' he valorised neither marriage nor motherhood as ideals for women.[32] To quote his words '(J)ust as how Brahminism condemns a very large portion of the working population to shudrahood so it had condemned women to the servitude of marriage…To the extent that a woman lives up to the norms of a chaste and ideal wife to that extent she accepts and revels in her slavery.'[33] Throughout the novel Ramamirthammal's dream of an egalitarian society and the contradictory, lived realities of gender run parallel to each other.
  19. When women were claiming space in the public sphere in the twentieth century they legitimised their claim through their civic identity as 'chaste wives, loving mothers and useful citizens.'[34] It is in this sphere that the devadasis, who had earlier enjoyed a cultural status as artists and public performers, suffered a loss of status through criminalisation by the colonial state and marginalisation by members of the dominant middle class, representatives of the nation in the making. Ramamirthammal's novel clearly shows that in an age of transition when monogamous marriage, respectable sexuality and motherhood were emerging as the qualifying norms of citizenship in the new nation she accepted those norms and showed the gateway for the women of the devadasi community to follow her path of rational reform to negotiate marginalisation and achieve active political citisenship. Ramamirthammal expresses her hope through the words of Gunabusani who remarks at the end of the conference: 'The resolutions and proceedings of the Social Reform Conference will awaken not only South India but all of India—that is my desire.'[35]


    [1] Partha Chatterjee, 'The nationalist resolution of the women's question,' in Recasting Women, ed. Kumkum Sangari and Sudesh Vaid, New Delhi: Kali for Women, 1989, 233–53.

    [2] Vijaya Ramasamy, 'Aspects of women and work in early South India,' in Indian Economic and Social History Review, vol. 26, no. 1 (1989):81–99, p. 95.

    [3] Saskia C. Kersenboom, Nithyasumangali: devadasi Tradition in South India, New Delhi: Motilal Banarasidas, 1987, pp. 32–38.

    [4] Lakshmi Subramanian, 'Embracing the canonical: identity, tradition and modernity in Karnatic music' in Performing Pasts: Reinventing the arts in Modern South India, ed. Indira Viswanathan Peterson and Davesh Soneji, New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2008, pp. 43–70, p. 46.

    [5] Kersenboom, Nithyasumangali, p. 48.

    [6] S. Anandhi, 'Representing devadasis: Dasigal Mosavalai as a radical text,' in Ideals, Images and Real Lives: Women in Literature and History, ed. Alice Thorner and Maithreyi Krishnaraj, Mumbai: Orient Longman, 2000, pp. 233–53, p. 235.

    [7] Amrit Srinivasan, 'Reform and revival: the devadasi and her dance,' in Economic and Political Weekly, vol. 20, no. 44 (1985):1869–76.

    [8] Anandhi, 'Representing devadasis,' p. 236.

    [9] Nattuvanars were those men of the devadasi community who taught and trained the devadasis to give public as well as private performances of the sadirattam, a pre cursor of the Bharathanattiyam, a classical Indian dance form.

    [10] Indira Viswanathan Peterson and Davesh Soneji, 'Introduction' in, Performing Pasts: Reinventing the arts in Modern South India, ed. Indira Viswanathan Peterson and Davesh Soneji, New Delhi: Oxford UP, 2008, pp. 1–40, pp. 17–19.

    [11] The word nautch has entered the Oxford Dictionary of the English language meaning the performance by professional dancing girls in India. The performers were mostly girls and it is customary to describe them as 'nautch' girls. See for instance, Pran Nevile, 'Nautch girls: Sahibs danced to their tune,' in The Tribune: Spectrum, Sunday, 25 July 2004, online: http://www.tribuneindia.com/2004/20040725/spectrum/main1.htm, accessed 25 September 2009.

    [12] Amenda Weidman, Singing the Classical, Voicing the Modern: The Post Colonial Politics of Music in South India, Durham: Duke University Press, 2006, p. 117.

    [13] Janet O'Shea, At Home in the World: Bhrata Natyam on the Global Stage, Middletown: Wesleyan University Press, 2007, pp. 30–31.

    [14] See Kunal M. Parker, '"A corporation of superior prostitutes" Anglo Indian legal conceptions of temple dancing girls, 1800–1914,' in Modern Asian Studies, vol. 32, no. 3 (1998):559 –633.

    [15] V. Geetha and S. V. Rajadurai, Towards a Non-Brahmin Millennium: From Iyothee Thass to Periyar, Calcutta: Samya, 1998, p. 376.

    [16] M. Ramamirthammal, Dasigal Mosavalai Alladu Mathi Petra Mainar, Madras: Pearl Press, 1936. (translated by Kalpana Kannabiran and Vasanth Kannabiran as the Web of Deceit: devadasi Reform in Colonial India, New Delhi: Kali for Women, 2003).

    [17] B. Jeevasundari, Muvalur Ramamirtham Ammaiyar, Chennai: Maatru, 2007, p. 19.

    [18] Jeevasundari, Muvalur Ramamirtham Ammaiyar, p. 20.

    [19] Ramamirthammal, Preface to Dasigal Mosavalai, pp. 2–3.

    [20] Jeevasundari, Muvalur Ramamirtham Ammaiyar, pp. 25–26.

    [21] Her letters to Muthulakshmi Reddy are found in the collection, Mutulakshmi Reddy Papers, Subject File No. 11 in the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library.

    [22] Thiru. Vi. Ka., Vazhkkai Kurippukal, Part 2. Chennai: Vasantha Pathipakam, 2006, pp. 232–35.

    [23] M. Ramamirthammal, 'A warning to devadasis,' in Kudi Arasu, (13 December 1925). Kudi Arasu, meaning Republic, was a Tamil newspaper, started by Periyar in 1925.

    [24] Jeevasundari, Muvalur Ramamirtham Ammaiyar, p. 45.

    [25] Ramamirthammal, Dasigal Mosavalai, p. 99.

    [26] Ramamirthammal, Dasigal Mosavalai, pp. 102–03.

    [27] Ramamirthammal,Dasigal Mosavalai, pp. 142–43.

    [28] Jasodhara Bagchi, 'Positivism and nationalism: womanhood and crisis in nationalist fiction – Bankimchandra's Ananthamath' in Ideals, Images and Real Lives: Women in Literature and History, ed. Alice Thorner and Maithreyi Krishnaraj, Mumbai: Orient Longman, 2000, pp. 176–91, p. 176.

    [29] Bagchi, 'Positivism and nationalism,' p. 188.

    [30] Uma Chakravarti, 'Whatever happened to the Vedic Dasi: orientalism, nationalism and a script for the past' in Recasting Women: Essays in Colonial History, ed. Kumkum Sangari and Sudesh Vaid, New Delhi: Kali for Women, 1989, pp. 27–57, p. 53.

    [31] Ramamirthammal, Dasigal Mosavalai, p. 282.

    [32] Periyar's views on marriage, motherhood and prostitution are stated in his book, Penn Yen Adimaiyanal? (Why Woman got enslaved), Madras: Self Respect Propaganda Institution, 1978 pp. 1–78.

    [33] Viduthalai, 28 June, 1973. (Viduthalai meaning Liberty, was a Tamil magazine-turned-newspaper, started by Periyar in 1935), cf. Anaimuthu V., comp., Periyar E.Ve.Ra. Sinthanaikal, (Thoughts of E.V.R Periyar.), Tiruchirapalli: Thinkers Forum, 1974, p. 178.

    [34] See Muthulakshmi Reddy, 'A paper against dedication of girls to temples,' in Muthulakshmi Reddy Papers, Subject File No. 11, Part III, pp. 533 –39.

    [35] Ramamirthammal, Dasigal Mosavalai, p. 298.

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