ARTISTES AT THE ROYAL DARBAAR
by Sapna Rangaswamy, Baroda


Dec 2000

Maharaja Sayajirao Gaekwad III, the adopted son of Rani Jamnabai was married to the Tanjore princess Chimnabai I in the year 1880. In the form of dowry, a troupe of dancers and musicians came from Tanjore to Baroda. This troupe included two dancers named Gaura and Sarada. They were the first dancers of Baroda. It was they who brought Bharatanatyam to Baroda, almost 120 years ago.

Gaura was the daughter of Kamu Amma, belonging to the family of 'Nattuvanaars' -a family of teachers. Sarada was from Kumbakonam in Tamilnadu. They were accompanied by two nattuvanaars and the two teachers were Vadivelu and Sabhapati. Gaura stayed in the services of the court for 32 years and retired with full pension along with another dancer Kanthimathi who also served the court of Maharaja Sayajirao Gaekwad for 35 years.

"At that time it used to be a status symbol for a Maharaja to have as many dancers, musicians and poets as he could afford", says Maharaja Ranjitsingh, grandson of Maharaja Sayajirao. "When the government of India stopped the 'Saliyana' of the royal families it became difficult to maintain all these artistes, so from 1950 onwards, the rulers discontinued the practice of maintaining court dancers", says Ranjitsingh.

Gaura's student Saraswati Kalyanaraman is at present in Bombay and conducts a dance school. Kanthimathi died in 1953. Kubernath Tanjorkar is her son. He received his training mainly from his mother and Guru Shri Meenakshisundaram Pillai for 3 years. He also learnt Hindustani music from the court singer Ustad Faiyyaz Khan who used to sing at the Kirti Mandir.

"Maharaja Sayajirao had a dream to set up a University at Baroda in order to promote performing arts. He built Baroda and also started the university which earlier was affiliated to Bombay and after the Maharaja's death became the 'Maharaja Sayajirao University' ", informs Ranjitsingh.

Today the palace does have a court but the glory is missing. "But even after the stopping of the practice of maintaining court dancers they are called to perform on festive days and on special occasions, for which they get gifts and rewards", adds Maharaja Ranjitsingh.