Ammani Ammal’s story

Dasiyattam and the first professional performances by an Indian dance troupe in Europe - 1838

1838 was a year of many events, some routine but some of greater importance. For example it was the year when the world’s first photograph of a person was taken by Louis-Jacques-Mandé Daguerre of the Boulevard de temple. It was of a person in a top hat, getting his shoe shined at the corner. It was also the year when The Times of India, the world's largest circulated English language daily newspaper was founded as The Bombay Times and Journal of Commerce. The Morse code had been invented, Queen Victoria’s coronation took place, proteins were discovered and the Duke University was established here in N Carolina. On the colonial end, the French were negotiating with India on new slaves for Mauritius after a British ban on slavery. The British were not too happy either, for they had lost the first Afghan War. The French presence in India was miniscule, with just Pondicherry near Madras and Mahe in Malabar.

But this is not about all that and traces the travails of a young girl called Ammani, starting at Pondicherry and across the seas to France and other European cities.

At Tiruvendipuram or Tiruvaheendrapuram - 6 leagues away (33km) from Pondicherry, ceded to the British (In 1712, by the Raja of Ginjee) by its previous rulers and now in the Cudallore Taluk, the Tengalis and the Vadagalai sects were feuding as usual, and the priests of the Devanatha temple would soon be asked to intervene, as it had high standing in the South Arcot district. The 2000 odd year old Devanatha Vishnu temple planned and developed by Adisesha and dating back to the period of the Chola ruler Vikrama, was busy and as usual, during prayers, the singers sang devaram while the dancers danced (like many other Vaishnavite temples, this one too had a number of temple dancers and singers in their payroll).

As I mentioned previously in the article on the Tanjavur Quartet, the history of Devadasis is very often misunderstood and confused with anglicized definitions of courtesans and prostitutes due to the influence of zealous missionaries of that time. But I will not get into that study as yet, let us be content with the fact that these dasis in the service of the lord actually sang and danced (let’s not dwell upon other aspects of their decadence, as yet). Their dances were usually conducted in temples and palaces, to the accompaniment of Devaram singing set to ragas or older panns. The 1800’s were a period when the Devadasis were decried, stigmatized and their art forms derided. Their nautch (Natch in Hindi, anglicized) dance otherwise known as dasiyattam was on the chopping block. Father away, in Tanjore, the Quartet had finished laying the margam for the new attam, (known today as Bharatanatyam) and some dancers were slowly adapting to it. However the musicians in Tiruvendipuram were perhaps slow on the pickup of new instruments like the violin. In any case, Ramalingam a nattuvanar of the area, continued with his old methods and managed his small troupe ably.

The nattuvanar, most usually male, was integral to a dasi’s performance, he was the troupe conductor and dace choreographer who also knew the music aspects intimately. His nattuvangam involved playing the cymbals, holding the rhythm with jatis (tha dhi dhinna…), sometimes singing the song and controlling the laya or tempo of the dance. Now as you can imagine this was a tall task and required one to know and master so many sub arts, so it took a long time for one to become a nattuvanar and not many made it. And dasis were also particular, for the dancer needed to be familiar with the style of a nattuvanar before performing with him, so this led to creation of teams performing dasiyattam or in later days Bharatanatyam.

His troupe comprised himself, Ramalingam Mudaliar, Tillammal the Taikelavi in charge of the girls aged 30 (perhaps 50 in reality), a Thooti player and singer Saravanan, a maddalam player Devanayakam and three young dancers. The dancers were Ammani aged 18, two sisters Sundaram aged 14, Rangam aged 13 and accompanied by a little understudy aged 6, Ramalingam’s granddaughter named Vedam. Tille was apparently the mother of the two sisters and Ammani her niece.

Whether they expected the invitation from the French in Puducherry is not clear, but it came like a bolt from the blue and was fraught with all kinds of danger and social issues. It involved crossing the seas to France and Europe and spending a period of 18 months singing and dancing in those unknown places. It also involved crossing the oceans. The troupe acceded to the request, perhaps due to economic hardship or some other reason such as repression by the British. Much effort was put in to secure their release from temple services and eventually they reached the French Notary’s office to sign a well preserved contract, written in French. The event organizer or promoter to acquire their services was one EC Tardivel who had come all the way from France.

Tardivel had decided to bring these exotic dancers (by this time the Portuguese term Bayladeria or female dancer shortened to Bayaderes was used to signify Devadasis) after he felt a certain interest among the French populace to see these dance forms of the orient. Marie Tagiloni, the ballet dancer had already portrayed the part of the temple danseuse in her act.

As events would transpire, the agent in Pondicherry (One Kanakambaram) established contact with Ramalingam and worked out a contract agreement. A decent contract, it was clear in daily and starting/ending emoluments for each member, other allowances, facilities offered as well as penalties for any girl falling pregnant (they would be sent home without any share of the profits). 

Interestingly you can see that the girls were literate, they signed their names in Telugu (Saravanan signed his name in Tamil). The contract period was 18 months from the date of embarkation, free travel and maintenance, and not including per diem, a sum of Rs 500.00 per head in addition to an advance payment of Rs 500.00 per head, all in all a handsome compensation in those days.

A report in the ‘Word of fashion’ dated Sept 15th provides some more details. Tillamal the taikelavi, was not happy about the young girls leaving, even after signing the contract. A lawsuit threat however brought her to her senses and she acceded. A Brahmin boy besotted (one sided attraction apparently) with the pretty lass Ammani came to the harbor with entreaties for her not to leave and even jumped into the water, but eventually swam back ashore after the ship departed. The girls were nonplussed, proved to be merry on the voyage, even though the men were melancholic and seen praying often.

They arrived in Bordeaux on 24th July 1838 after a long voyage, and at this juncture one may of course wonder if the members ran a risk of losing caste as a sea voyage would typically entail. Perhaps the purification costs were part of the remuneration, perhaps they were already excommunicated and lost their temple positions.

The group are soon reviewed, with reports on their looks, likes, dislikes, food and manners. Tillammal is considered surly, one who has surpassed the love of men, one who never smiled. Ammani from the outset is hailed as the perfect creature, noble and gentle. Vadyam, Vedam or vaidyam, is cast as an impish tot. They are shown around Paris, and eventually quartered in a little bungalow near the Seine with a guard in front, lest they be kidnapped or people climb over the fence. Some even suspected that they were imposters and Ribaud even rubbed their skins to check if the black would come off to ensure they were indeed from India. The French who had until then seen a localized version from Tagiloni, were all agog seeing this entourage.

Pierre Jules Théophile Gautier a French poet, dramatist, novelist, journalist, and art and literary critic was the person who got much involved with the press portrayal of the Bayaderes, for he tracked their performances and was smitten by Ammani. Perhaps he was already influenced by Baudelaire about the greatness of the Orient and mentioned India in his writings, though he had never visited the country. As Figueira puts it – He found their dancing an endless enchantment, with his poetic fantasies coming to life. Interestingly, Ammani impressed not only Gautier, but also his friend Gerad de Nerval who mentioned Amany often in his works.

We get a nice description of Ammani from Gautier who met them at the cottage for a private performance – He mentions the olive gold color of her skin, silky rice paper texture to touch, rounded hips, pure in blood compared to the mixed European, oval head, straight nose, pointed chin, low cheekbones, lovely face all in all with a true small mouth. The eyes are simply beautiful, ecstatic languorous and voluptuous and a half smile completes a glorious look. Huge pendants, adorn her ears and the holes still leave a gap, where one could insert a thumb. The lobe top is riddled with openings plugged with small wooden bits for keep it open. In addition, what upsets them all, the left nostril was pierced and a diamond ring inserted.  Two or three copper bangles are seen around her wrists; the upper arm is fitted by a kind of bracelet of an inverted V shape. She wears a sari and between her blouse and pants, the space showing bare flesh is much appreciated. Amber and sandalwood incense smells complete the experience.

A lot of mysteries are cleared here, that dasiyattam dancers were not bare breasted, that they wore their hair in a bun behind and that they wore white saris for the dance. They were dressed a little differently in the sense that they had dancing pants on, North Indian style under the sari. The thootti provided the sruti, which the French found boring (Gautier mentions that the music is soft and only enjoyed if the dancers are dancing round you) and a monotone which it is supposed to be, since its holes except for one are plugged. Some of the songs used were dreamy, and light (lilting Devaram – tevaram verses). The dance itself is very original and involves much eye and head movement, and steps in synchronism with the drum beats and cymbals used by the musicians. The last number, perhaps a tillana or a kummi is similar to a Celtic waltz.

The public performances in August that year got tongues to chatter in Paris. The playbill details the events - A salutation, Robing of Shiva, Dance of the melancholy, The doves and the Malapou. The dancer’s days were full and no less than two dozen performances were completed in a month, spanning the theaters of Paris, Versailles and Tivoli. Many articles are testament to their popularity and Ammani’s (known as Amany, Ammale or Amani to the press) statue was soon cast in bronze by Jean August Barre. The statue itself is interesting. As you can see below, an early sketch of the same shows her wearing an Andhra style checkered sari, while the bronze statue is a mirror image of the former. Perhaps Barre made a set of two, I am not sure.


A report in Le Figaro 27th August stated - the ticket sales for the shows set a record and they were sold out days in advance with the result that the season was extended. The Bayaderes it seems took Paris by storm – for the Figaro report says - One finds the word ‘Bayadère’ printed and lithographed everywhere; paper, marble, cloth and plaster reproduce their names, their traits.

Nevertheless, the music is not considered great and is remarked as somewhat primitive. Hector Berlioz states (translation by Inge Van Rij, acknowledged with thanks) - I don’t know if you still remember the peculiar music that accompanied the movements of the Indian bayadères who appeared, around ten years ago, at the Théâtre des Variétés? It consisted of some faint sounds murmured in a low weary voice by those of the bayadères who weren’t dancing; chanting that wavered exclusively on the minor third, around a single tone, continuously sustained by a fife into which an Indian blew, while the rhythm of the dance was marked with the fingers of his right hand on a small drum. If someone had told us that the flute of the Indian musician only produced a single note that was prolonged indefinitely like the buzzing of a wasp, and that his drum only produced a feeble and muted sound, comparable to that obtained by lightly hitting the fingers against the body of a hat; that the bayadères, in the supposed song that accompanies their dance, contented themselves by murmuring every now and then, in an undertone, some words on the note prolonged by the flute of their musician, while embellishing only as required this note by means of two other sounds that form with the main sound the interval of a second or minor third, like la la la—ti do, la la—do ti do la, and continued in this way for an hour, most likely we wouldn’t have wanted to believe it.

It is almost clear that the performance had a Vandanam or invocation, Jatiswaram, Varnam and a Tillana. Perhaps the small girl performed a Padam.

Athanaeum - Paris, Aug. 1838. A performance before the monarchy - the Bayaderes whose performance at the Tuileries, before the Royal Family, is elaborately discussed this morning in the Journal des Dibats, after that journal's most flowery fashion. These nymphs are five in number….. While dancing, they are accompanied by three male musicians, of an inferior caste, each of whom bears his part on an instrument of but one note; the band consisting of a tiny pair of cymbals, almost hidden in the hollow of the hand, a pipe, and a tamtam. ………… But, nevertheless, their dancing and their costume, as first displayed to a select set of connoisseurs, underwent considerable modification and veiling before they were exhibited to royalty. On the former occasion, the breast and shoulders were closely covered with gold tissue, and immense petticoats perfectly concealing the shape were gathered round the hips, but all between these two masses of drapery lay bare. To present thus the torrid zone of the human form at court and upon the stage, was pronounced not comme il faut; when, therefore, they danced before Louis Philippe, the Bayaderes were totally enveloped in scarfs.

The writer questions - Everyone in Paris, however, will go to see them once, which will suffice to make their trip lucrative. But, after all, was it fair in M. Tardivel to kidnap these poor creatures, and bring them to Europe, where they must lose caste, and where their devotional pirouettes can only last as long as other nine days' wonders?

Yates’s son explains what happened next (though I do not believe they lost any money in the bargain since all shows were full) - On one occasion a rumor reached London that a great success had been achieved in Paris by the performance of a set of Hindoo dancers, called "Les Bayaderes," who were supposed to be priestesses of a certain sect; and the London theatrical managers were at once on the queue to secure the new attraction. Three of them—Laporte, of the Italian Opera; Alfred Bunn, of Drury Lane; and my father set out for Paris much about the same time; it was diligence-traveling or posting in those days, and the man with the loosest purse strings went the fastest. My father had concluded his arrangement with the "Bayaderes" before his brother managers arrived in Paris. Shortly afterwards, the Hindoo priestesses appeared at the Adelphi. They were utterly uninteresting, wholly unattractive. My father lost £2000 by the speculation; and in the family they were known as the "Buy-em-dears" ever after.

The dancers thus moved on to perform at the Adelphi in London where mixed reviews came out. Some liked it, but many did not.

Finally we get a decent description of the dances as understood by the western eye from the Spectator V 11- First, the two young girls, Sundaram and Rangam, advance, and their performance maybe regarded as a type of the rest; for though slight variations of action distinguish each dance, the general character of the style is the same in all. They keep time to the music with the simultaneous movement of every muscle in their bodies and limbs, rolling their lustrous black eyes, and muttering a low chant incessantly, like beings under the influence of some magic spell. Their motions are not so violent as to seem to require effort, and are entirely free from contortions; yet, notwithstanding the air of Oriental languor and repose, the muscular energy that is thrown into every movement makes the process exhausting; and on one occasion we detected what appeared to us an indication of fatigue on the part of one of the girls, attended with a momentary pause, which the other seemed to recognize; and the final salaam, when they bend themselves almost double, the hands meeting over the forehead, seemed a welcome relief. They scarcely stir from the place they occupy, and their principal bodily movements consist of turning round and crouching down, and in this position throwing out first one leg and then the other, resting on the heel: they use the heel as much as the toes. The prevailing movement of the arms is horizontal, crossing the face, and seeming to touch the nose; the long slender arms, and taper fingers pointed with sharp nails, darting to and fro with angular action. There is very little if anything of flowing and serpentine movement of the limbs: nearly all is abrupt and rectilinear, but continuous. The inflections of the body are graceful, but its twining’s are not developed by corresponding movements of the limbs: one action resembles the effect of a choking sensation ; the upper part of the spine curving, the head poking forward, and the eye-lids and brown being drawn upwards. This dance is called "The robing of Vishnu “ The pas dc deuz concluded, the sweet little Vedom performs an elaborate dance of less violent action, termed “The Salute to the Rajah;" her brilliant eyes and teeth of dazzling whiteness seeming to light up her infantine countenance with pleasure. The tall graceful AMANY then steps forward, with a melancholy aspect, and an air of languishment, and rolls her lustrous eyes, that seem suffused with sorrow as if they would literally dissolve with melting tenderness: her movements are more grave and slow, for she is performing “The Widow's Lament;" and she chants audibly a measured strain of woe. The matron TILLE, who all this while has not ceased waving the horsetail fan before the image, now resigns that task to the infant Vedom, and joins Amany, and her daughter and niece, in " The Malapou, or Delightful Dance;" a sort of Indian quadrille, in which the four performers keep their respective places, and the principal movement is bending the body from side to side, and making the arms meet in a graceful curve above the head. Meanwhile, the two cousins have performed “The Dagger Dance, or the Hindoo Widow‘s Excitement to Death; " which is of a more theatrical character than any other, but without the vehement and startling action of ballet-dancing. A fifth dance, “The Carrier Doves," has not yet been performed at the Adelphi: this, we suppose, is kept in reserve.

It is clear from the above that many of the moves are from the dasiyattam routine….

The new sporting magazine was distinctly unsporting - What utter—abominable—inexplicable nonsense. Yet again, what clear—nice—perfect managerial humbug! It is quite clear that the blacks will be slaves; Inkle, Mr. Yates—Yarico, Miss Bayadere!— "White man don't leave me,"—and depend upon it my dear Saundorouna, Ramgoun, Veydoun, Amany, and Tille,—as long as white man can get one single farthing out of your dingy persons and most unpoetical postures—white man will not leave you. Money, and money alone, will, according to the proverb, make the Bayaderes to go, as well as the mare. The thing is a dead failure as a dramatic exhibition…………. So disreputable an attack upon the gullibility of the English public has not been attempted since the man advertised to enter into a quart bottle, at the Haymarket Theatre—or since Yates proposed enacting the part of Cassius at Covent Garden! I wish I had my entrance money safely back in my pocket again.

James Ewing Ritchie wrote - The dancing Bayaderes, who visited London some fifteen years back, were shocked at what they conceived the immodest attire of our English dames, who, in their turn, were thankful that they did not dress as the Bayaderes.

Let us look at their daily routine. Quoting the Spectator v11 - The Bayaderes have not changed their custom since their arrival in Europe. They live on rice and vegetables, cooked by themselves. Each morning they rise with the sun, descend to the fountain, or the imitation of a fountain, which is prepared for them, and there make their ablutions. They return then to their apartment, and remain there the whole day. The day is passed in singing or sleeping. They do not know how to do anything, and they do nothing. But they are gentle and sweet-tempered, and their indolence does not create either jealousy or quarrels. Their conversation is as quiet as their manners. It is a kind of whispering, timid and monotonous, of which their countenance renders the expression more faithfully than their lips. A day thus passed should be very tedious, but they do not know what ennui is; and it is quite clear that their health is not injured by that idleness. The men keep company with them, but at a respectful distance. The law forbids their approaching or touching the Bayaderes. At night they all lie down to sleep in the same apartment, upon mats, rolled up in their cloaks; the men at the top of the mat, the women lower down. In a few minutes all are asleep— for their simple hearts know no passions—they have neither love our jealousy; still, Tillé watches over all, and remains awake till they are sound asleep

Others focused on their customs - On the arrival of the Orientals in London, their (oriental) feelings were greatly shocked at seeing the flesh of the ox (a sacred animal in their country) exposed for sale, and lying familiarly by the side of unhallowed mutton. We would ask the concoctor of this piece of romance how it was possible for the young ladies (never having witnessed the dissection of the beast from which beef cometh) to discover that the formidable sirloins, briskets, and steaks before them, belonged to an animal at all analogous to the magnificent and sanctified ox of their native country? This is drawing the long bow with a vengeance…………..

Some others opined that it was much better to watch Taglioni’s or Duvernay’s imitations. The Aldine magazine was forthright - The leading speculation at the Adelphi, this season, has been the exhibition of the Bayaderes; a failure, we presume, so far as the treasury of the theatre may be concerned. To us, the dancing of our own chimney-sweepers on May-day is a thousand times more amusing. Still, as the bona fide dance of a foreign, remote, and very ancient nation, the display of the Bayaderes is not without interest.

The London program comprised the acts of laws of Brahma (actually the play - Widow of Malabar), Robing of Vishnu, Salute of the Rajah, the Hindu Lament, the dagger dance and the Malapou.

Actors by daylight stated over many reports - At Adelphi, the young women appeared in A Race for a Rarity, The Law of Brahma; or, the Hindoo Widow, and Arajoon or, The Conquest of Mysore, whose plots were merely frames upon which to present occasions for the Indians to dance. The Bayaderes received unanimous praise in the London press for their exotic dancing and they remained at the Adelphi throughout the fall. Most of the nobility went to watch it. Some opined that the dance by Amani should have been done by the whole group, others liked the dagger dance by Sundaram and Rangom. They received good applause and the scenic effects of the last two acts great. Lady Morgan, the prince and the princesses attended. Since the troupe do not touch utensils touched by Europeans, the entire kitchen of the Yates home is allocated only to the Bayaderes supervised scrupulously by Tillammal.

Then they moved on to perform at the Egyptian hall, Piccadilly. The announcement read M.
TARDIVEL'S MORNING EXHIBITION of the BAYADERES, or Indian Dancing Priestesses, who will have the honor to present themselves at 2 o'clock. At half past 2 will be given the Toilet of Vishnu; at a quarter before 3, the Pas Melancolique; at 3, the Salute of the Rajah; at a quarter past 3, the Pas de Poignard; at half past 3, the Malapou. During the intervals of exhibiting they will promenade and converse with any lady or gentleman who may understand their language. The doors open at half past 1. Admission to the whole 1s.

A conclusion is worth reading - This Hindoo dancing is totally different from either; it is the pantomime of emotion-exhibiting the flow of soul, not of the animal spirits. Regarded as one style of the poetry of motion, it is to European dancing what we suppose the Greek music to have been in comparison with that of modern times-rude and limited, but withal expressive.

Holloway’s ointment were perhaps sponsors for Yates’s exertions (note that contemporary Swati Tirunal ordered a consignment of 6 jars). An advertisement followed (Fly p23) - Secret of the Elasticity of the Bayaderes -These surprising dancers have astonished the Parisians and Londoners by their unparalleled elasticity of movement. Taglioni, Duvernay, and the Elslers, celebrated as they are, must in this instance give place to their Indian rivals. Now, the question is, how is this accomplished? We must let the public into a secret. There is an unguent in great repute for an immense variety of external disorders, such as gout, rheumatism, glandular complaints, scrofula, wounds, &c, which is also admirable in giving suppleness to the joints land limbs; and, of course, the Bayaderes, at the suggestion of Mr. Yates, were only too happy to avail themselves of its use. The unguent alluded to is Holloway's Ointment…ta ta……

They covered many more parts of Europe, but from some of the reports, they were not very well received.

Finally let’s get to Strauss and the Indian Galop - The malapua – malpua delightful dance, a quadrille by the bayaderes …..Perhaps danced to a tillana at the end of their performance. As the description in the CD explains - In the summer of 1839, the Bayaderes reached Vienna and performed at the Theater an der Wien. All kinds of Indian festivals were arranged and Strauss wrote a composition as well, commemorating the event. Whether he was inspired by Ramalingam’s Tillana or not is unclear (I doubt it) but he had more success selling it compared to the Indian troupe who by then were doing dances based on their managers whims and far from the margam they set out with.

But the Indian Malapou Galop remained – a chirpy piece (hear it by clicking this link) composed in the honor of the Bayaderes which many opine, had no connection musically to anything remotely Indian.

In all they covered a good distance from Bordeaux to Paris to London to Brighton, and from there to Antwerp, Brussels, Ghent, The Hague, Rotterdam and Amsterdam. They also performed in Frankfurt, Mannheim, Karlruhe, Aschaffenburg, Wiesbaden, Darmstadt, Mainz, Weimar, Leipzig, Dresden, Berlin, Potsdam, Wroclaw, Prague, Vienna, Linz, Munich, Augsburg, Stuttgart, Strasbourg and Bordeaux. I look forward to the works of Joep Bor and Tiziana Leucci who are working on the project reconstructing their complete tour.

What happened at the end? Did they return and live on happily ever after? Perhaps, though Gautier wanted his heroine to meet a tragic end, at least in his thoughts and mind. He mentions that Ammani hung herself in a fit of depression on a foggy day in London, which was most certainly untrue since no death record exists of such an event. But Gautier remembered Ammani for the rest of his life and mentioned her often in his writings.

  1.        There is no anachronism: Indian Dancing Girls in Ancient Carthage in Berlioz’s Les Troyens- Inge Van Rij
  2.        Mamia, Ammani and other Bayaderes: Europe’s portrayal of India’s temple dancers – Joep Bor
  3.        Les Bayaderes – Gautier (Le Orient – Tome second)
  4.       The Exotic: A Decadent Quest  By Dorothy Matilda Figueira
  5.        Widows Pariahs and Bayaderes – Binita Mehta
  6.        Fifty years of London life: memoirs of a man of the world -  By Edmund Hodgson Yates
  7.        Revue universelle: bibliothèque de l'homme du monde et de l'homme Politique, Volume 35 (Pages 201-203)
  8.        Gautier on Dance – Ivor Guest
  9.        Etudes et Recherches Sur Theophile gautier Prosateur – Jean richer
  10.   Translating the orient – Dorothy Matilda Figueira
  11.  Charlotte Ackerman – Otto Muller

1.       While it is stated in the contract that the dancers are from Tiruvendipuram which is 6 leagues from Pondicherry and that they danced for the Perumal temple there, there are some inconsistencies.
a.       The girls are grouped as pagoda Brahmins, but they are most certainly isai vellalars or kaikolars if they were weavers.
b.      It is intriguing that they were wearing white clothes, more like Mohiniyattam dancers. Ammani’s dance feature is somewhat reminiscent of Mohiniyattam.
c.       The contract mentions witnesses from Malabar - They are Appuchetty and Subramania Pillay son of Parasurama Pilla, Malabar inhabitants residing in Pondicherry, who are well known to and have accompanied the dancers. So did they come from Malabar? Was Ammani really Ammini from Malabar?
2.       The Holloway ointment aspect is intriguing. How did Swati order 6 jars around the same time? Did he hear about it from the returning dancers, and have it ordered for his own court dancers?
3.       Barre’s statue of Ammani is described as follows by Sotheby’s - its auctioneers - An exotic statuette of the Indian dancer Amany, by Barre, portrays her dancing the Malapou, or dance of delight, in a public performance at the Théâtre des Variétés, Paris, in August 1838. Beautiful details such as the coils of her hair and sparkling brilliance of the tinsel and glass jewelry that adorned her make this a truly sumptuous piece. Signed and dated 1838, it is estimated to fetch £6,000-8,000
4.       The Otto Muller book provides an interesting amount of detail of the dances themselves though it is a work of fiction.

-          The Bayadères, Amany, Saundirounn, Tillé, Ramgoun & Veydoun dancing the malapou, accompanied by the bard Ramalingan and musicians Saravanini & Devenayagon.  By Hamerton, Robert Jacob, courtesy NYPL collections
-          Other pictures from the web



windwheel said...


Maddy said...

thanks windhweel..
to imagine that so much impact was created by this pioneering troupe...

Miriam said...

Hello! I would like to talk about this. Could you give me your email? Thanks Miriam

Maddy said...

it is

Freedom Jammers said...

Amazing is the word. Had not heard of the Bayaderes from Pondy, also them being the first to tantalise Europe, who knows one day some Bollywood / Kollywood types might make a masala movie out of it. If there is a more detailed account please send a link. Thank you for writing about this. Alzbst- Siddhartha

uttara said...

I read Joep Bor's article on Ammani, but your's gives info I have not read before, for example, what the __- is a Malapou (Gallop) !!!
Surely this takes a lot of research. If you are by chance in NY would you beinterested in doing a guest lecture?
thank you very mcuh this is delightful.

Maddy said...

Thanks Uttara
Glad you liked it, regretfully I am miles away in NC, so I will have to excuse myself ...Thank you though!

Did you get a chance to read these - you may like them.

Rajika said...

Absolutely stunned by the wealth of information in your article/blog.
I first heard of this 1838 troupe when researching an article for the lead essay in the Staatsballet-Berlin’s elaborate program brochure for Petipa’s 1900 version of ‘La Bayadere’ in October 2018 [when I was invited to work with the company on the mime portions of that production, by the brilliant choreographer Alexei Ratmansky who often re-stages ballets by Petipa following Stepanov notation. (I’m a Bharatanatyam dancer who has, also watched ballet all her life & Alexei had become a good friend.)]

I did read Joop’s article but could only do research on the web since I was in Berlin. So the wealth of detail and sources in your article have simply floored me. Uttara (whom I know well and is a sound researcher on dance), surprisingly, didn’t apprise me of it but I’m so glad I DIDN’T read it then, because I would then have had too much material and my article went back to Marco Polo’s descriptions of the dancing he saw in a temple along the Coromandel coast on his way back from China - and then went on to discuss, as briefed, what WAS Indian about the ballet - based a lot on the Khudekov/Petipa libretto which told me he was also a Sanskritist and his research had been sound, even if devising a ballet for the Tsar and his court.

Can’t wait to read the two blogs on Mohini-attam (intriguing that these dancers may have been from Malabar) and the Tanjore Quartet.
I’ve left my Email on your site and hope we can continue this interchange further.

Maddy said...

Thank you so much Rajika,
I guess you did not post the email ad in the comment; but you can mail me at and we can discuss

Rajika said...

Indeed, I did not post any ad! And I don't see one when I log onto your comments. Weird.

Maddy said...

And Rajika,
this may interest you