A new release from CISA ethnomusicologists Amy Catlin-Jairazbhoy and Nazir Ali Jairazbhoy
This narrated DVD explores the sacred music, dance and rituals of devidasis and devidasas, women and men dedicated to the goddess Renuka/Yellamma. Worshipped by millions of devotees in the border regions of southern Maharashtra, northern Karnataka, and adjacent areas of India, this fertility goddess is best known through media representations and social activism protesting practices linked to sexuality and prostitution. Her musical and social traditions have parallels in the devadasi (women dedicated to male deities) system in Tamilnadu before its reform and classicization in the early twentieth century.
The DVD attempts to balance the typically negative representations of the tradition, which tend to focus on controversial practices and to exclude the unique musical forms essential to the worship of the goddess Renuka/Yellamma. “Fictive documentary” techniques employed include the autobiographical voice of the Goddess, who reflects on elements of her own varied histories and some of the practices of her followers, and the voice of her son Parasuram. Virtuosic performances by women and men practitioners (jogtas and jogappas, including transgenders) are featured in ensembles including the chaundke, a one-stringed variable-tension ‘plucked drum’ believed to have first been fashioned by Parasuram from a demon’s skull. These musical ritualists are necessary for calendrical festivals shown in the video such as pilgrimage during Rande Purnima (“Widows' Full Moon”), when the goddess and her devidasis are temporarily widowed, processions in the “Baby-Dropping Ritual”, and for biweekly mendicancy rounds and oracle rituals. Police threats to confiscate musical instruments, and protest songs sung within the tradition against the dedication of children, attest to contemporary conflicts surrounding the goddess and her music, the endangerment of her chaundke, and the human rights issues at stake.
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