Ram Bhat (RB): Namaskara Radhamma. The gejje (anklet) is a significant part of both Bharatanatyam and Yakshagana, and generally we use the anklets available in the market. You and your husband, the late Raghavacharya, mastered the art of making these anklets traditionally. Could you tell us how it all began?
Radhamma (R): It began when the maddalegararu (drummer), Gopalarayararu, from the Yakshagana Centre in Udupi, insisted that we learn and make anklets. We refused at first. But he wouldn’t budge. We suffered a lot of losses, because even after we carefully make them, the anklets might not go well with the sruti (smallest detectable interval in pitch produced by a singer or musical instrument), and only the right ones are selected. But we continued, and were very happy.
RB: What is the difference between the anklets available in the market and the ones you make?
R: Yakshagana people can easily make out (the difference). This is a well-sounding bell; it harmonises with the sruti.
RB: So, it is a difference in sound. Okay, could you explain how you make the anklets?
R: We first prepare a mellow dough by mixing soil, cow-dung, and other materials from the cow. We knead it into tiny orbs after keeping these manis (beads) in them. After that we heat them with wax. This is the beeswax we use. We add a little black to it, and use it only once. After the orbs stiffen, we cut a mouth into it like this (demonstrating). We must cut it very precisely, to the right length, to the right width. We then attach the hook, made with the same mixture using heat. These are the ones prepared. They harden well.
RB: What is the next stage?
R: In the next stage, we place these orbs in a series, one behind the other, on this mould made of soil. See, here is a finished one. We cover them with more soil, and harden it using the remaining beeswax. This must be thoroughly baked. When it turns red hot, we pour melted metal into the hole––here, inside this hole––and the metal encircles the orbs inside. We break this mould once it cools down.
RB: And you get anklets in a series like this. How many anklets are prepared in one go?
R: Around 35. But we are grateful if we can get 20 (good ones) out of that. There is a lot of wastage. Some break. Some will have more soil. My husband used to remove soil really well; I am not very skilled in that. If we, accidentally, make more slit than is necessary, while removing the soil, even the good anklets are lost. So we get around 20 in one round.
Once you remove the soil, it should sound well and go with the sruti. This bell is a little weighty––this has a good lifetime. But we also cannot have a lot of weight. We, hence, hold each anklet with the tongs and rub them against a piece of wood.
RB: All with your hands?
R: Yes, we do everything with our hands. No machines.
RB: And you use coal to melt beeswax?
R: Yes, we can melt 15-20 kilograms of beeswax in the coal pit. There will be wastage. So we must melt a lot. This is the coal. We heat it using coconut shells, and twigs; and use the coal to melt beeswax. If we don’t have the right heat, the wax doesn’t flow well.
RB: Where all did you sell your anklets?
R: To most melas (Yakshagana troupes) around here—from the towns of Kateelu, Dharamsthala, Dharamvara. There was one Mr Subbaraya who gave us the entire contract of materials, anklets, and the costumes too!
RB: Do you know the difference in rates between the ones at the market and the ones you make?
R: They say it is three rupees for one anklet. We take hundred for one bunch. But even if someone pays that much now, I don’t think I can make it. I am weak now.
RB: Do you think your son will continue this?
R: I don’t know. He is into sculpting large idols. He knows the craft of making anklets, but I don’t think he will get into making them. When my husband lived, this was running very well. We would sit together: he would knead the mixture and prepare the mould. I would help him with a quarter of the work. He was diligent in making the orbs––a consistency in the density of soil is required in each orb, for the right sruti.
RB: Since how many years have you been making anklets?
R: It has been 45 years, since the time Gopalaraya requested us to begin.
RB: How did you sell these anklets?
R: My husband would travel to the different melas, note down their addresses. We would make the required number and he would go deliver it.
RB: How many years has it been since your husband passed away?
R:One year and three months.
RB: Thank you for agreeing to interview with Sahapedia. We hope this tradition continues.
R: If there are interested young people, I am ready to teach them. I am 73 years old, but I am ready to teach. But they should have sufficient interest, and knowledge and skill of casting metal.
RB: We are grateful that you worked for this art for so many years. . .
R: I was 12 years old when I got married. And I have been doing this since then. My father’s family were goldsmiths. I knew nothing about metal-work. Here, I learned and gave my everything.
RB: Thank you, Radhamma!