28 February 2014 - QA 2

Dear Gurudev, ancient India has been witness to many age old ancient traditions which are now extinct. One such tradition is the Devdasi tradition. This tradition has given the world the traditional Indian dance forms, like Bharatanatyam, Odissi, etc. The practitioner of Indian classical dance forms would know that these forms are yoga (here implying the union) of body, mind and soul. There seems to be a connection between art forms and spirituality in India. Can you please talk a bit about that?

Sri Sri Ravi Shankar:

Yes of course. Art, dance, music and spirituality are connected. But in the medieval ages, during the Mughal rule, this was not considered very good by the kings who ruled at that time. Especially in North India, the dancers and practitioners of these art forms were looked down upon. This happened only in the Middle ages. Before that, musicians and dancers were honored.

But when they were looked down upon, the women who were dancing and dedicated their life to dance and music were sort of kept aloof (from the mainstream society). People would not marry them and it was not considered a good thing in the family to have people of that caliber. So it became a class of its own, and then it was called Devdasi. That was unfortunate. But later on this stigma was removed.

You know, one of the very famous singers of India also known as the nightingale of India, Mrs. M. S. Subbalakshmi, when she started singing, almost the entire society made her an outcast. And one man married her and brought back the whole system of music and gave it the dignity that it very much deserved. Mr. Kalki Sadasivam is a very great thinker and a journalist. Before M. S. Subbalakshmi, the music and dance forms did not enjoy that high respect that was due to it.

Of course male singers were appreciated but female singers were not. If anyone took up acting in movies, then that was it. Their reputation was finished then and there. There was a huge stigma attached to acting in movies also but fortunately we have crossed those dark ages when people had so much prejudice.