At 79, Padma Shri Ummathat Ki Rani is busy pushing for a Kodava ‘lipi’

Rani's entire career has been dedicated to preserving and promoting the folk dance form, Ummathat, of the Kodava tradition.

ByBellie Thomas

Published Jan 27, 2023 | 1:26 PM Updated Jan 27, 2023 | 3:56 PM

Rani Machaiah (seated) was felicitated at a function in Madikeri on Thursday, 26 January. (Supplied)

The news came as mellifluous as the song that accompanies Ummathat, the traditional dance form of Kodagu.

Rani Machaiah — better known as Ummathat Ki Rani  — was at her home in Madikeri when she received the news of the nation honouring her with Padma Shri.

Congratulatory calls have been flooding her from relatives, friends, well-wishers, and most importantly, from her large number of students since Wednesday, 25 January.

“A train of thoughts crossed my mind,” the 79-year-old shared her experience with South First. “I have worked for around 50 years, promoting this traditional dance form.”

She has been leading Ummathat since 1984 and she had trained over 10,000 students.

Rani recalled taking her students to different states to showcase the dance form. “Ummathat is performed by a troupe of 20 — two will be singing and the other eighteen will dance to narrate a story,” she explained.

“This dance form is similar to the traditional ones of every other state,” she added.

Creating masters

Rani doesn’t dance anymore. But she still teaches students to master the art form. She had trained several batches of students.

Padma Shri Rani Machaiah. (Supplied)

Padma Shri Rani Machaiah. (Supplied)

“Once they get married, they leave and a new batch joins. Girls of any age can join the troupe,” Rani said.

Her students had performed in Lakshadweep, Goa, Chhattisgarh, Himachal Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir, Haryana, Mizoram, Odisha, Punjab, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, and several places across Karnataka.

“We get invitations from various places and institutions from all over the country and we perform our traditional Ummathat there,” Rani, who has dedicated herself to preserving and promoting the traditional dance form, said.

Rani was born in 1943 in Siddapura in the Kodagu district. Her husband, the late Machaiah, was an advocate, who passed away when she was 65.

Her son, Sathish Machaiah, 55, is a software engineer in Bengaluru. Rani’s daughter, Saritha Devaiah, is a homemaker in Kodagu. Her husband Devaiah owns a plantation.

When asked about her inspiration to take up Ummathat, Rani said it was personal interest.

Now, a lipi

Rani is the chairperson of Kaveri Kalavrunda Sangha, an organisation she founded. She is the recipient of the Rajyotsava Award and many other honours.

She was a former president of Karnataka Kodava Sahitya Academy and at present, she is encouraging groups of Kodavas working on designing a lipi — alphabet or script — for the Kodava language to preserve its literature since the language doesn’t have a lipi now (traditionally, Kodavas use the Thirke script, which is an abugida).

“It will look somewhat similar to Kannada and it will have phonetics and extra words that are used in the Kodava language in Kannada lipi,” Rani said.