Tuesday, 5 March 2019

A US dancer recalls a Natyanjali experience of 2011

Here is a FB note dancer Kiran Rajagopalan, based in the USA posted on his page -

Happy Maha Shivaratri! This is a throwback pic to when I performed at the Mayuranathar Temple in Mayiladuthurai during Shivaratri night in 2011 to a crowd of 2500+ people! 
I was also asked to speak in Tamil to the audience after accepting an award, and I was terrified. I had previously performed that same evening in Thirunallar. 

BTW - Mayiladuthurai is one of the best places in the world for food - especially right by the train station!!

Spirit of Mahasivaratri in Thanjavur

Driving around Thanjavur on Mahasivaratri night exposed us to the spirit of this celebration in this region.

Roads leading to temples dedicated to lord Shiva were crammed with bikes and cars; people had begun to head to the temples 8 p.m. onwards and at some places there were traffic jams.
Music floated out of each temple, some taking it far on the public audio systems.
Traffic was diverted on some roads as people gathered on the streets to have a darshan.

But it was to the Brihadeswarar Temple where streams of people were headed, the music of the dance recitals floating in the air.

At 9 p.m. there must have been over 10,000 people. Some 2000 of them sat and watched the recitals. The night was young.

A Natyanjali in a village

Prof. Rama Kausalya, scholar and retired head of a state music college is native to the village of Thillastanam, near Thiruvaiyaru in Thanjavur.
She sent off a SOS message saying two dance groups were to perform at the Shiva temple in her village on Mahasivaratri evening.

So we drove down on Monday evening to the village by the Cauvery tributary, which is bone dry.
When we were here for the Thyagaraja aradhana, the bunds on this river had held up substantial water. Now, that volume seemed halved, the dry bed showing up with all the muck.
Sri Neiaddiappar Temple, where the lord gets an abishekam in pure ghee is said to be a very old temple, just off the road that links Thiruvaiyaru with the Grand Anaicut and Poondi and thence to the Tiruchi highway.

Prof Kausalya says the temple is mentioned in the Thevarams and was known in the 6th / 7th century times.
Two dancers of this village were recruits by Raja Raja to perform at Thanjavur, the deed now proofed in inscriptions here.

That evening, Kuchipudi dancers from Kochi, sishyas of guru Anupama performed first. Then, Chennai dancers T M Sreedevi and Deepthi Ravichandran led their group to perform.
The carpet spread on the temple floor served as the stage.

A simple neat Natyanjali that we witnessed this evening.

Watched by some 100 people of the village, with the professor introducing the dance heritage and the local histories of the audience.

10,000 plus people at Big Temple

On most Mahasivaratri nights, we have been stationed in Chidambaram. Those were the years when a private Trust used to hold the Natyanjali in the eastern yard of this great temple.

This year, we decided to be at Sri Brihadeeswara Temple on the night.
And goodness, there were some 10,000 people swarming the Big Temple campus this Monday evening.
Sadly, the yard leading to this World Heritage site and the first gopuram was badly lit. There were no lights burning in the yard and the road lights alone lit up this space.

Is this how we light up a World Heritage site?


New plans at Big Temple

It was past midnight when we drove into Thanjavur for the Natyanjali at the Big Temple which opened on March 4, Mahasivaratri evening.

Brahan Natyanjali Foundation, a private body used to manage the fest the past years. This year, South Zone Cultural Centre (SZCC) based in Thanjavur, a  government body to promote the arts has taken charge and is hosting the fest with 2/3 recitals every evening for 7 evenings.

The masonry platform that runs around the giant Nandi makes for the natural stage for the dancers.

The Natyanjali in Mayiladuthurai

The Mayura Natyanjali offers a grand stage; some 25 / 30 feet wide, grandly decorated and Chennai-based lighting expert Murugan was at the controls this year; bathing the stage and the artistes in mood lighting to suit their recital themes.
The team which hosts this fest is a tight one and its members are on stage and off it every evening.

The hour we spent here we sat through a production of a locally-based dance academy; its 15 plus dancers fleshing out episodes from the lord Shiva tales.

Dancer Archana Narayanamurthy who came on stage to felicitate the dancers spoke, telling the audience of the challenge in producing the dance they had just seen.

The temple, a sprawling one certainly needs like many others better lighting to hold up the amazing architecture and sculptures here.
We stopped at the gallery of the Nayammars alongside one wall, their names fixed in small legends on the wall.

That Sunday evening, the flow of people was thick; the dance takes place in a yard some metres away from the sannidhi and some people chose to head there, sit for some minutes and watch the recitals.

Monday, 4 March 2019

Exploring heritage; a Mayiladuthurai morning

It is good to see our towns shut down one day of the week. People who work here need rest and leisure and the town wears a quiet, unhurried look.

Mayiladuthurai looked this this Sunday as we stepped out to explore this legendary town where the Lord Mayuranathar Temple was hosting a Natyanjali.

We stopped to look at some antique lamps, went around a church and a kuttai that held some water and were drawn at a colony that sported many large, tiled houses.

We were in Kooranadu. A land within a land, with loads of history.
The place where the Salai/ Salaian Chettiyar community who fled from Kanchipuram settled down after a Chola king appreciated their weaving skills and gave them a royal order. From here runs the great koora / koorai style of weaving, saris now made popular by Co-optex and private players.

We explored a sprawling Chettiyar mansion that is crumbling down while its stunningly carved wood pillars stand tall; met a Chettiyar who employs 400 people to craft wood and metal for temple-designed works of craft, checked out a new little hotel carved out of a bungalow and imagined the tributary of the Cauvery that once ran through this area.

Natyanjali pilgrims, the dancers and their friends often end up performing, praying and dashing off.

Here is an opportunity for the Natyanjali circuit to be fleshed out so that artistes explore local heritage.

Sunday, 3 March 2019

Publicity blitz in Mayiladuthurai

Temple tourism, some call it. That high volume traffic to temples and pilgrimages that takes place every weekend is best seen in the Thanjavur region of Tamil Nadu.

As we checked into a hotel in Mayiladuthurai that Saturday night, well past midnight there was no room open for accommodation in this town.
Flex banners and wall posters on the dance festival for Mahasivaratri here greeted us at many road junctions.

The publicity blitz for the dances struck us the next morning as we stepped out for a spin around town.

The publicity had its impact; every other auto driver and hotel staff was aware of the Natyanjali being held in town, a town where the early hawkers at the town's market are the flowers sellers and where pawn brokers do business in every colony - serving desperate farmers who need a quick loan.