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Temple dancers: from Amany to Sashimani Devi

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These two stories happen to have appeared within the past couple of days. I suppose I have a love-hate relationship with La Bayadère, too.

Sashimani Devi, Last of India’s Jagannath Temple Dancers, Dies at 92


Like most devadasis, or “maharis,” as the dancers in Odisha are known, Sashimani came from a poor family and was initiated into service at the temple when she was a small girl — in her case, at the age of 7 or 8, she said. After she reached puberty, she was considered a “living wife” of Lord Jagannath, the god whose timber image is worshiped at the temple, and was not expected to marry.

Shobana Jeyasingh: my love-hate relationship with La Bayadère

Gautier thought that the devadasis might have some effect on ballet’s bayadère, even wondering if Amany might dance Taglioni’s role. But it was not to be: after the novelty wore off, the public abandoned them in favour of their imaginary counterparts. The devadasis disappeared from view while the fictional figure, immortalised in the iconic 1877 ballet La Bayadère, lived on. Gautier reported that Amany became depressed in London and hanged herself – but that may have been a Romantic fiction too, for the suicide was never recorded elsewhere, and the death of the beautiful beloved is, after all, the fantasised fate of the bayadère in ballet.

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