The Tribune - Spectrum


Sunday, January 21, 2001
Scene Stealers

Doyenne among dancers

YAMINI KRISHNA-MURTHY, a doyen among dancers, has enthralled audiences with her scintillating, power-packed Bharatnatyam performances for four decades.

Yamini initially trained at Kalakshetra and was groomed by such masters as Kanchipuram Ellappa Pillai, Mylapore Gouri Amma, etc. She also received training in Carnatic music, Veena, Kuchipudi and Odissi dance forms. She was made Asthana Nartaki of the Triumala Tirupati Devasthanam. She also received the Padam Shree in 1968 and the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award in 1977. She now runs the Yamini School of Dance in New Delhi.

Yamini KrishnamurthyShe expects total dedication from her pupils but is of the view that most of her students are not committed to her. She is brutally frank when she says, "I am a good technical teacher but do not share an emotional bond with my students. So, after learning, they disappear." She does not believe in guru dakshina.

"A lot has been written about me, write about Bharatnatyam", Yamini says. The dance form, according to the dancer, has a history of over 2000 years and has been reconstructed from references contained in important works in Tamil and from sculptural motifs. It is accepted that Bharatnatyam belonged chiefly to the temple and its precincts. Historical evidence also suggests some link with the royal courts.


The difference between the two was in the attitude and degree of abstraction rather than in intrinsic quality. The popularly-known Tanjore Quartet — musicians, dancers and dance master brothers-- popularised it with patronage from the Tanjore rulers.

The tradition continued until the early 20th century when social stigma against temple dancing affected the image of Bharatnatyam.

The reconstruction was led by E. Krishna Iyer and Rukmini Devi. Yamini pleads: "Let not this art form die. The country will be poorer if it does."

First woman of SEWA

ELA BHATT is a revered person in Gujarat. When I sent her an e-mail requesting an interview, she forwarded a 16-page reply explaining SEWA’s ideology and how the movement has grown over the last 25 years. There was not a mention of herself or her achievements. When I asked herabout her life, she said simply: "My life is SEWA, and Ihave written about it to you".

What Ela Bhatt has been doing since the time of Independence is based on Gandhian ideology. This philosophy still holds true and the need to talk about it is even more now as the MNCs might force the unorganised sector into oblivion.

Ela Bhatt feels we only got political freedom in 1947. Economic empowerment of the poor and women of our country is still to come. "Gandhiji called economic impoverishment symbolic of the moral collapse of society. We joined a students’ movement (me and my husband, Ramesh) to fight for freedom. We initiated the labour movement in India. It was around 1971 that migrant women in the city cloth market came to me for help. They were only paid 30 paise per trip to take bales from wholesaler to a retailer. We organised them into a Textile Labour Association. This was followed by many women’s groups forming associations."

Ela Bhatt"It was the case of Hawa Bibi, a bidi-maker in 1971, which initiated SEWA. As she was making bidis from home, she was exploited by wholesale merchants. We were inspired by Gandhian thinking and realised the gravity of the situation. Ninetytwo per cent of our workforce is in the self-employed sector and is outside the purview of labour unions. We tried to register those who were self-employed, but were refused permission. Moreover, organising the unorganised sector was also difficult.

It was only around 1974 that we were able to float SEWA (Self-Employed Women’s Association). The organisation started with Rs 72000. Today they have Rs 28 crore as capital money and 2-lakh membership.

SEWA has taken over marketing, imparting skills, teaching quality control and improvement, training by experts in different fields (designers come from as far as Paris and New York to give designs and take the work from Kutch and Banaras).

SEWA’s biggest contribution has been the provision of a huge marketing network. There are 6,000 strong district associations of women artisans. It provides modern tools, loans, training and technical guidance in agriculture, too. Water management education is another major achievement of SEWA.

Today, SEWA is emulated and admired. Women all over Gujarat and Maharashtra have organised themselves and formed different cooperatives. Ela Bhatt just provides guidance and oversees the overall functioning.

SEWA is working full time to fulfil its two goals — full employment and self-reliance for all members. Jobs in the government sector are dwindling so we need more organisation in the self-employed sector. This means emulating what Ela Bhatt’s SEWA has done.

— Belu Maheshwari

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