In the 1900s, the struggle against British rule was closely tied to the revival of traditional indian dance forms. Mahatma Gandhi’s non-violent, spiritual leadership made freedom possible and democracy was the only political option. Indians had begun to transform from their feudal past. The future of Indian dancing was in danger during this time of turmoil. British rule led to propaganda being used against Indian art. It was misrepresented as primitive, immoral, inferior, and incompatible with the ideas of Western civilization.
The devadasi (temple dancing) tradition in South and East India has degenerated into de facto prostitutes. Devadasi is “servant to God”. These women were committed and could not marry anyone else because they were considered to be God’s servants. However, they could choose to have relationships and partners. These relationships could last a long time and be stable or for a brief period. They were never economically dependent upon their partners. They would perform in temples, sing in front royals, and receive land and gold as a reward. British colonials were unable to understand the system and began to consider Devadasis prostitutes. The British were also averse to the Kathak dance and began banning it from temples. Kathak was performed in North India by storytellers who performed it in temples and courts to please Nawabs. The Victorians declared that Kathak was vulgar, and called it “nautch,” which means “dance performed by girls to seduce men to submission”. The art form was subject to severe hardship as it was considered an income source for women with low social status. Indian dance is no more able to provide symbolic representations of abstract religious ideas. They are no longer able to show stories of heroes and gods using graceful gestures.
The late 19th and early twentieth centuries saw Western-influenced social reformers launch an Anti-Nautch Campaign to eliminate the devadasis-associated prostitution. The South Indian classical dance scene was virtually extinct by the end of the twentieth century, even in Tamil Nadu. It was difficult to believe that the public would be interested in national culture after it fell so badly for dance and its practitioners.