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At the same time he is like the Vedic priest, through whose ritualized activity and precise expertise are fashioned those forms by which others can aspire to the same realization of wholeness. Popular cities include Bhubaneswar, the capital, Puri, Konark and Cuttack, each consisting of many temples and shrines. With a history spanning years, the state of Odisha, as we know it today, came into existence in Like many other parts of India, Odisha was subjected to foreign rule and invasion, from the Afghans in the sto the British in the s.


It is largely a rural area that has suffered from many natural disasters, including floods and famine. Though Odisha is considered the poorest state in India in economic terms, it has vast supplies of minerals and other raw material. It is the home of Odissi classical dance, many other semi-classical and folk dance styles as well as rich traditions of music.

Here, dance and music belonged to the deepest forms of meditation and served as a medium of worship. Though Odissi classical dance in modern times is seen by many as a performing art, several gurus and exponents continue to practise it as a form of worship and devotion, where the beneficiaries are all those who come into contact with them.

Guru Surendra Nath Jena died in , leaving behind a rich legacy. His son, Nirmal, and his three daughters, Pratibha, Rekha and Rama, are passionate and devoted bearers of the Jena style of dance and music.

Wives of the God-King : the rituals of the devadasis of Puri

Nirmal and his wife, Chitrita, also an exponent of the Jena style of Odissi, have lived in Sydney, Australia since , when they first established the Odissi Dance Company. During the day the building was used as a primary school and at night it took on the garb of a theatre academy with a makeshift stage lit by the glow of torches. A wealthy landlord had sponsored this institution where students, having been at regular school all day were trained by their gurus in the evenings.

Their schedules were hard and only those deeply interested participated in this other activity. Six months of the year they spent on the road leading the nomadic life of Jatra performers. For five years Surendra lived this adventurous, vibrant but exhausting life with fifty other people both men and boys since women had no roles to play. They crossed the countryside on bullock carts laden with stage properties and accessories, punctuated by intense rehearsals, meagre eating and long performances. When the director died the troupe splintered and broke up.

Surendra was seventeen when this happened and found himself lonely, bereft and out of work. He had heard about a temple dedicated to Goddess Saraswati where artistes would go for the divine blessing. He too resolved to undertake a pilgrimage.

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He handed over the few coins he had to a beggar and began his walk to the temple. Three days and nights he was on the road, sleeping under the sky, eating coarse rice. He was putting himself to the test - this was his penance before appealing to Saraswati for her care and blessings. This divine patron of the arts had convinced him of his impending success. Returning hungry and exhausted but exhilarated, he stumbled upon a stranger, an actor in the Ras party of Gopinathpur, who offered him a place in the repertory company.

A blessing indeed Surendra spent the first five years studying the style recreated from the testimony of the old devadasis and gotipuas , the young boys dressed as women who had replaced the devadasis. He also assiduously studied the postures and stances of the wonderful temple sculptures and the symbiotic relationship of man and nature, the spontaneous choreography of everyday life. Soon Surendra left Orissa and moved to Delhi where he started a school with the help of an assistant.


A group of students began to gather around Guruji. His repertory grew. He was now doing what he had always dreamed of, independently. One day Orissa beckoned and Surendra took a trip back home, this time to Konarak. Built in the thirteenth century under the patronage of the Ganga dynasty, this great temple dedicated to the Sun God appears like a carved chariot in motion.

The carvings awed Surendra. They symbolized his interpretation of Odissi. The inspiration was so utterly intense; it led to his creation of Konarak.

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This was in The dance begins with an invocation to Surya, followed by twelve sculptures from the temple, choreographed deftly into a cohesive whole. The stance and attitude of each of the twelve transformed great sculpture into what was real and living.

The Devadasi

Needless to say many other creations followed, all impregnated with realism…. Surendra Nath Jena has given his special style a subtle and sensuous beauty which is the essence of Odissi. The medium of dance executed by a mahari temple dancer served as an offering to the deities of the temple. Dance was an auspicious activity deserving illustration in temple decoration. Not only sculptures of gods and goddesses, but many of dancers and musicians covered temple walls. In Orissa, the expression of dance in sculpture reached its peak in the 13th century Temple of Konarak.

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This complex represented an ancient aspect of Hindu worship, devotion to the Sun God, Surya. The temple is renowned not only for its generous number of dance reliefs, but the magnificent carved chariot of Surya on which it is based. The Padmakesara Deula Karmangi manuscript, discovered in the Konarak area gives explicit detail on the original daily temple ritual of Konarak. A series of offerings was made throughout the day, carrying a portable bronze image of Surya, the utsava murti , to visit various deities throughout the temple.

The dance performance took place as part of the final evening offering. In the dance hall, curd, sugar flowers and the light of the setting sun were presented to the deity.

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After three calls of the silver trumpet, the temple dancers performed, accompanied by drums. After the performance the image was returned to the inner shrine, accompanied by gongs, trumpets and a parasol. Dance ritual was granted an exceptionally high status in the structure and decoration of Konarak.

The dance hall, natamandira , was a common feature of Hindu temples. However, at Konarak an unusual choice was made to give the structure its own space, unattached to the main temple. An uncommonly large number of dance sculptures covered the walls of the natamandira , the repetition enhancing their power.

In contrast to these small lively sculptures stood large, three-dimensional figures of female musicians, high up on the walls of the main temple.

The artistic treatment of these figures is particularly interesting. Not only the full body, grand size and perfection of details, but the serene expression and restraint exude the dignity of the deities. Their placement is in the realm of the gods. The style of dance portrayed in these sculptures is Odissi dance, one of the seven classical Indian dance styles. This art form went into decline, particularly during colonial times. One such guru was Surendra Nath Jena. In his first composition, named Konarak , numerous poses are taken directly from the dance sculptures.

In such a process, a direct translation of tradition may be confidently achieved because poses such as these have been captured in stone and recorded in drawings of manuscripts. Your email address will not be published. Save my name, email, and website in this browser for the next time I comment. Primary Menu Skip to content. Search for:.

Focus Odisha: Big Story - Devdasi of Lord Jagannath, Sashimani Devi

Oxford UP, This book focuses on the tension between the purity and impurity of the devadasis, and examines ideas about kingship, power, sexual purity, the role and status of women, and other central concerns of Hindu religious and cultural life that are associated with such rituals. The devadasis, as can be imagined, were prime targets for an exotic one-sided imaginative reconstruction. I for one do not hold the position that an observer—however well-trained he or she might be—can find an Archimedean point from which to present a truly synoptic view.

However, they are also never allowed into the inner sanctum of the temple, even though not only all the other ritual specialists but also the public at large is allowed into it at certain times of the day.