ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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The Legacy of Balamani Ammal in Tamil Theatre

Affirming a History Lost in the Conjunction between Social Respectability and Historiography of Arts

Tracing the life and works of Balamani Ammal, who lived in the late 19th and early 20th century, flags off the aspects of gendered history of theatre. It is a rich history of someone who ventured into many forms—Sadhir, stage dramas, “novels,” Sanskrit plays, and Harikatha. It also reveals her exceptional interest in introducing new technical devices like petromax lighting and creating silhouette through the use of lights. She, along with her sister Rajambal, formed the first ever all-female theatre company in Tamil Nadu. Using Balamani Ammal’s sketchy life available through scant resources, the paper would like to raise issues with the historiographic practices existing in theatre history from a gendered point of view.

A Mangai (V Padma) ( is a feminist theatre practitioner and academician, retired professor of English from Stella Maris College, Chennai. She has been actively engaged in Tamil theatre, specifically community theatre as an actor, director, and playwright for more than three decades. She has researched in the areas of theatre, gender, and translation studies. She has directed over 35 plays. Her book Acting Up: Gender and Theatre in India 1979 Onwards has been published by Leftword, New Delhi.

The history of cultural practices—patronage, skills, resources, and fame—are appendages of default patriarchal systems. In a society that is constructed purely on the basis of caste hierarchy, it becomes all the more pronounced and assumed for any history to largely address upper caste, middle class, urban, educated, and male members. It is ever more frustrating to notice that in a society like Tamil Nadu, which has an almost continuous tradition of a bardic community from at least the 2nd century BCE with its own ebb and flow, one has to sift the pages of history to find names of women as practitioners of art and culture. It is even more appalling when the histories we cannot find are only two centuries old. How and why are the traces of women’s lives and works in art erased? Why do the best of minds with reformist zeal and progressive ideology turn a blind eye to women’s monumental struggles for survival and success? These questions will remain.

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Updated On : 31st May, 2022
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