Wednesday, 1 March 2017

Music and dance graces Sivaratri on the coast, in small towns

Back in Chennai, the Association of Bharatanatyam Artistes ( ABHAI) curated its own anjali for Sivaratri at a Mylapore sabha hall.
It drew a generous audience.

The Sivaratri mood in Chenani isn't restricted only to Mylapore, the hub of classical music and dance. Though Arkay Centre has joined Bhavans to host concerts through the Sivaratri night.

Every Lord Shiva temple now encourages dancers of the area to perform. That adds to the mood of the campus.

As we travelled from Chennai to Chidambaram we spotted large illuminations of gods and goddesses, at the head of streets leading to the local temple. Off the Pondicherry bypass, the strains of dance music from a large temple greeted us.


The Natyanjali has become an integral part of Sivaratri.

The Natyanjali hospitality is warm but has to take cuts now

Hospitality has come to be a part of the Natyanjali circuit. A decade ago, when we parked ourselves in Chidambaram, we we treated to breakfast, lunch and dinner at a marriage hall. For free.

There was a small team of cooks who worked 5 am to 8 pm here and served the best traditional food of this zone. Idlis and gostu was a favourite.

Many other Natyanjali organizers followed suit. But the bills have zoomed; and when parents and relatives and policemen and drivers pile on at the dining table you can imagine the BP rate of the host's treasurer!

So the cuts have taken place. Some hosts pay a small sum per artiste for 'tiffin'; some hand food packs and some restrict the guests.


A volunteer at Sri Brihadeeswarar Temple treated us to sundal and ginger tea; which is given to all artistes and gurus after the recital. Great snack that made our evening.

The one and only B M Sundaram

There are some people who are embedded in the Natyanjali.
Musicologist Dr B M Sundaram is one.

He travels from his home in Puducherry ( Pondicherry) to Chidambaram on Sivaratri eve and spends five days here.

Sundaram used to emcee the Natyanjali Trust's festival; sitting in that small, fan-cooled enclosure hidden alongside the main stage, with a window to the stage, he would present the dancers and their pieces. He took time to elaborate on the dance pieces and the compositions; so if you lent Sundaram a ear there was much to learn.

The Trust team has documented much of all the dance pieces presented inside temple here at the festival and even published a book on the compositions suitable for the Natyanjali. "But many dancers go back to Bo..Shambho!..', Sundaram says with a shrug.


Today, Sundaram takes a back seat but spends all the five days with the Natyanjali Trust team as the dances roll at a private venue. He sprang a surprise this season when he sang some abhangs for dancer Deepak Mazumdar from Mumbai.

Where temple dancers performed . . .

Sri Aiyarappar Temple in Thiruvaiyaru is a familiar space to us.
The Sacred Music Festival hosted by Prakriti Foundation of Ranvir Shah is held at three great venues in this town every February.
The temple's spaces have always been chosen for a music concert.

I recall Aruna Sairam singing in the midst of hundreds of lamps one year.
The 2017 edition of the Festival just got over; chitravina Ravi Kiran performed one evening.

For some years, Gopalan and his small team have been hosting the Natyanjali here. Gopalan says that the circular space before the sanctum was where temple dancers offered their prayers in the form of dance ages ago.

This is a splendid space; radiating from the centre are amazing carved stone pillars. They dwarf the dancers this evening as the harsh floodlights pale us all.

If Gopalan's team can be inspired by the lighting that designer Victor Paulraj brings to the Sacred Music Fest, the ambience would be stunning here.

Sunday, 26 February 2017

How about Heritage Tours alongside?

Prof. Kausalya has been sharing anecdotes of the Music and Dance Heritage Tours she is assigned time and again.

Thanjavur's Svatma hotel, heritage and starred, a property promoted by Chennai-based dancer-architect Krithika Subramaniam and her husband invites Kausalya nowadays to curate such tours.

The retired College of Music academic is keen to revive her Music Heritage of Thanjavur tour that starts in the Sivaganga Gardens in the heritage city and ends in Thiruvaiyaru.


I think Natyanjali also provides for hosting such tours; if only gurus  could sign their students to take these when they do the dance tours.

The giant Nandi at the Big Temple; what a backdrop!

On Saturday evening, we travelled to Thanjavur's Big Temple, its outer gopura darkening in the chill evening.
Lines and lines of school students trooped out; this is the school picnic salon. They call these educational tours!
Music floated all around us.

Brahanatyanjali has probably the best platform in India. Dancers perform bellow the stone pedestal of the giant Nandi; on go-uja morning at Pongal time we had seen a Nandi dressed in vegetables and fruits! What a sight that was!

Today, the Nandi kept to herself; its ears taking in the live music as dancers from Mumbai ( Padmini Radhakrishnan's students) and Delhi  ( sishyas of Kanaka Sudhakar) took turns to pay their tribute to the Lord at Sivaratri time.

Some 400 people either sat or stood around the platform, in darkness. Most stopped by for about 10 minutes and then walked on. 
Nowadays, the dancers' groups are big. This is their picnic out!

We met the Delhi dancers backstage where an efficient team served water, sundal and ginger tea to artistes and guests.
They would zip to Kumbakonam's Sri Kumbeswarar Temple, drive down to Mahabalipuram, look around and catch a 1.30 p.m. flight from Chennai.

What a life Natyanjali offers to artistes!

When the clock struck 9, the 100-strong crowd inched closer. A group from Chennai's Nanganallur ( sishyas of Lata Aravindan) was presenting a bit of a dance-drama and the costumes and the storyline was getting much attention.


Held over five evenings ( 9.30 p.m. is shutdown time here), the Brahanatyanjali could do with a much bigger audience.

Now, Thillasthanam also has its dance fest

My Thanjavur atlas nowadays points to Thillasthanam, near Thiruvaiyaru. Professor Kausalya, musicologist recently decorated by The Music Academy at its 'sadas' hosts guests at her Marabu Foundation tiled house in the agraharam here.

Makes for a relaxed nook where you wake up to peacock calls, bright kolams and steaming cup of filter kaapi.

For the past few years, the Natyanjali fever has spread here. So the heritage Neiyadiappar Temple, located on the road to Grand Anaicut and Tiruchi hosted one long evening of dances on Sivaratri night.

Malaysian Mangaleswari Balakrishnan was keen to perform and that got the fest going. Two others came by including a Sri Lankan based in the UK. And then a troupe from Chennai hopped across from Thiruvaiyaru's Sri Airappar Temple.

Now, Prof Kausalya intends to run a 6 pm to 6 am Sivaratri dance fest next year. She doesn't promise much; food and accommodation puffs the budget. But the temple environs and Kausalya's filter kaapi will be great compensation for dancing for the Lord.


Jayalalithaa and Bharatanatyam dancers; both look good on the roads

We hit the south road after breakfast on Saturday. And as we bypassed Mayiladuthurai, ww noticed that the banners and posters of the local Natyanjali competed with those that celebrated the birth day of former chief minister J. Jayalalithaa.

Jayalalithaa herself was beaming warmly. That single visual of her holding a broad smile at what must be a snide dig of light humor by a speaker at her meeting must have triggered that smile.
She looks beautiful. She was stunning when she stepped into politics.

Our dancers also looked resplendent in the banners, some erected on the central road median.


The logos of local sponsors underlined these promos. And all this must certainly popularize the Natyanjali festivals and perhaps draw more people, even if they stop and stare and then take their kids to be blessed by the temple elephant.