The first trans woman President of the Karnataka Janapada Academy – Matha B. Manjamma Jogati was felicitated with the Padma Shri Award for her contribution to folk dance on 10th November, 2021.
The Gesture That Won Hearts
Before receiving the award, Manjamma Jogati took the fringe of her saree towards President of India Ram Nath Kovind and waved it thrice, her hands as if drawing a circle then breaking knuckles on the floor with a large smile before the President could pin the medal on her.
According to people, the gesture is known as – ’taking off Drishti’ or ‘warding away any evil eye’. In spiritual terms, it is the act of ‘cleansing the aura of a person’.
Pertaining to popular belief, a good wish or a blessing from a transgender can bring good luck.
Birth Of Matha B. Manjamma Jogati
Initially known as Manjunatha Shetty, Manjamma was born in the Kalikamba village in Ballari district of Karnataka. Her educational qualification is till the 10th standard which was when she began to identify herself as a woman.
“I’d wear a towel around my hips as if it were a skirt. I’d help my mother with chores. I loved to be with the girls in my class, to dance and dress up. By the time I was 15, I had fully embraced my identity as a woman.”
At the ripe age of 15, she began behaving like a teenage girl. Her family tried real hard to “cure” her. Her brother thought a goddess had entered her body so he tied her to a pole and beat her to make the goddess leave.
The teenager was referred to a doctor and then to a priest, who said Manjunath was “blessed with devi shakti” and should be left alone. But after the visit to the ashram, her father disowned her.
Finally, in 1975, the parents took the teenager to Huligeyamma’s temple, near Hospet, and got him to perform Jogappa.
Jogappa is an ancient community of transgenders who have dedicated themselves to the service of Goddess Renuka Yellamma. In the initiation ceremony, a Jogappa is considered married to the goddess and is not allowed to return home to their families.
And thus, Manjamma Jogati was born.
Life Of Manjamma Jogati Before Becoming A Folk Dancer
At the young age of 16, Manjamma set out on a solitary journey with nobody but herself to rely on making her prey to the dreadful world.
She started off as a beggar. Draped in sarees she would beg on the streets when one day her innocence was exploited as she was raped by six men who robbed her.
In fact, Manjamma was so tired of the detestful life that she was leading that she had decided to kill herself. However one fine day, at a bus stand near Davangere, she saw a performance by a father-son duo. The father sang a folk song and the son danced while balancing a steel pot on his head.
Manjamma had always been fascinated by Jogati Nritya so she went up to the man and asked him if he would teach her, to which he wonderfully agreed. Thus began Manjamma’s journey.
Manjamma Jogati’s Calling As A Folk Dancer
Manjamma Jogati found her true calling in Jogati Nritya, a ritual folk dance performed by the Jogappa community. She went every day to her father’s hut and learnt the dance.
According to Manjamma, it was exciting to balance the chombu (pot), and sometimes even the idol of a deity on her head while moving gracefully.
Soon, a fellow Jogappa introduced her to Kaalavva, a folk artiste from Hagaribommanahalli and asked Manjamma to audition for her. Manjamma danced as Kaalavva sang. Eventually, Kaalavva began calling her for small roles in plays and then bigger lead roles too.
Thus began Manjamma’s venture into the world of theatre and dance. Since then, she has never looked back.
Jogati nritya owes its identity and popularity largely to her. A typical Jogati dancer is an expert in stunts such as lying down and picking up coins from the floor using just the mouth, while also balancing a pot on the head.
Manjamma was honoured with the Karnataka Rajyotsava Award in 2010 and her life story is part of school syllabi and the Bachelor of Arts course at the Karnataka Folk University in Haveri district.
In 2019, she was appointed president of the Karnataka Janapada Academy, becoming the first transgender person to attain the position.
India is a great example of unity in diversity as Manjamma Jogati shall forever remain an icon and an inspiration throughout the world.
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