‘Unspoken Realities’, an event conceptualised by Shreya Nagarajan Singh Arts Development Consultancy, will bring together two iconic hereditary artists – Padma Shri R Muthukannammal and Sangeet Natak Akademi awardee Annabattula Lakshmi Mangatayaru. This marks the first-ever meeting of two artists who have lived parallel lives in more ways than one – across states – and built a legacy through their art, unbeknownst to each other. The event will be moderated by Yashoda Thakore, a Kuchipudi and Devadasi Nrityam artist who herself hails from a family of hereditary artists.
While Muthukannammal is a seventh-generation Sadir artiste who hails from the hereditary Isai Vellalar families of dancers and musicians who were associated with the Pudukottai royal court and the Murugan temple in Viralimalai, Mangatayaru – or Amma as her students fondly call her – is a kalavantulu artist from Andhra Pradesh. She is the granddaughter of the legendary Annabattula Buli Venkataratnamma, whose ancestors were invited to perform at the Uma Suryeswara temple in Mummidivaram in East Godavari.
Trained extensively by her father Ramachandra Nattuvanaar and her grandmother, Muthukannammal is the keeper of a rich repertoire, including Tanjore courtly pieces and the Viralimalai kuravanji, and was all but seven when she had her ceremonial dedication to the temple or the pottukkattuthal. An iconoclast, despite being marginalised in the wake of the anti-nautch movement, Muthukannammal continued to identify herself as a devadasi, and performed, practised, and even today teaches Sadir.
Mangatayaru (together with her sister Annabattula Leela Sai) is the last living artist of a hereditary clan whose artistic lives were blotted out in the face of moral policing. And who, like Muthukannammal, was extensively trained by her family in the rich Telugu repertoire and kalapa librettos unique to their family. The sisters who are deeply dedicated to ensuring their community’s art forms do not die have been imparting dance and music to those interested, even as their own folk continue to shun their art.
Surviving patriarchy, social and economic adversities, and even sharing a repertoire, the stories and thoughts of these women are not representations or reflections but lived memories and realities that are important to us all.
The event, supported by Kalavaahini Trust (founded by Malavika Sarukkai), will be held on Tuesday, January 10, 2023 at Amethyst, The Folly, Chennai.