Tuesday, 20 February 2018

A river with water near Thyagaraja's samadhi

If you are in Thanjavur for the dance fest at Sivaratri time, then you have the mornings free to see around. And there is lots to check out.

We took our guests to the village of Thiruvaiyaru, known around the Indian music world as the place where the great Carnatic music composer Thyagaraja lived and attained samadhi and where every year, artistes gather to pay tribute at this samadhi at an annual aradhana.

Thiruvaiyaru is about 14 mms from Thanjavur and because of the newly-laid highways close to it, has also got its main road relaid, so access is easy.

Thyagaraja's samadhi is a very quiet place when you visit it now. It sits by itself on a swathe of river sand which is where the pandal is erected at aradhana time - for people to listen to concerts held on two small stages built facing the samadhi.

Workers were busy putting back the simple boundary fences of metal when we got here.

Surprise of surprises, the Cauvery river that runs alongside the samadhi zone was holding water ( the photo above) . Water that must have been some 4 to 5 feet deep and spread over half a kilometer.

"How did this water hold when the monsoon rains have been limited last year?", we asked the men around.

They pointed to a check dam built some 200 mts away on the river bed. It was this dam structure that had helped store the water since late last year and now helped irrigate some 300 acres of fields - paddy and sugar-cane mostly.


The river with water made for a great sight.

Funding and hospitality; making life easy for dancers

The Brahan Natyanjali Foundation which curates and manages the Natyanjali fest seems happy that over the years, funding and support from Thanjavur has grown and takes care of most bills.

It receives substantial support from the South Zone Cultural Centre, Tamil Nadu's Art & Culture as well as Tourism departments and from the Palace Devasthanam.

The Palace Devasthanam based in this town has under it some 90 temples in the Thanjavur zone; though these temples fall under the state's HR & CE department, the Devasthanam also plays a role in the affairs of these temples some of which are very old.

A few local hotels are also active supporters, providing accommodation for visiting artistes. 

Vedha's Stay which is located in South Main Street not only provides rooms to artistes from outside Tamil Nadu but also opens its halls to practice sessions for the dancers who stay here.

It also has a smartly managed dining area - the breakfast is very local and good.

Picnic time at World Heritage site

The Brahan Natyanjali held inside Sri Brihadeeswarar Temple, a World Heritage site is now held over seven days, to accommodate requests from artistes from across the country.

Dancing at the base of the giant Nandi ( photo above) and in the heart of the majestic temple complex at night is a rare experience and many dancers look forward to it.

The last recital though is closed at 9 p.m. - to give enough time for the temple staff to secure the complex.

Though many foreign and Indian tourists stop by to watch a bit of the recitals, the attendance of local people is thin.
Often, there are hardly any people for the final dance concert of the festival.


But you cannot miss the streams of school children who file into the complex even as late at 8 p.m. - the last quarter of the academic year is for picnics and educational tours!

Driving across Tamil Nadu . . .

Driving across Tamil Nadu is a pleasure - most main roads are well maintained. But if you take the roads close to the coastal region then there is a sharp turn every 50 metres!

And these are the roads you have to take if you are visiting temples and destinations in these parts of the state.

When we left Nagapattinam, at the end of the third dance recital we chose to head to Thiruthuraipoondi, then to Mannargudi and drive to Thanjavur.

We were told this was the best route to take to Thanjavur.  Most parts of the road were recently-laid and if you are driving well before midnight you have small traffic on they road.

Thanjavur is becoming like Madurai - a town that does not sleep.

A string of food and badam milk joints are open well past midnight - around the city bus station. And many new hotels have come up in the past two/three years in the old fort zone of Thanjavur. 


The accommodation and the shopping zones may be welcome but the lovely old houses between the famed sandhus ( lanes) which are unique to this old fort zone that lies north of the Big Temple have all but vanished.

Sunday, 18 February 2018

Teeny dancers on stage; in Nagapattinam

The sun was setting the evening we arrived in Nagapattinam. The chaotic traffic slows down travel from the highway to the town centre.

That evening was the final day of the Natyanjali at the Sri Kayarohanaswamy Temple. 

Here, the festival has been nurtured by dancer-guru Padma Subrahmanyam and her team while a group of Nagapattinam seniors take charge of the day-to-day conduct of the event.

In one corner of the temple yard is the permanent stage where dancers perform against  a massive, printed backdrop of visuals of carved temple pillars.



Since many local dance academies were featured that evening, the yard filled up quickly with guests. It was an evening when the teeny-weeny dance students got their time on stage. And the big moments were celebrated by their parents and well-wishers.


Hosts of the Natyanjali now make it a point to include local dancers/ dance students in their schedules. 

Sri Thoniappar

As you travel on the famed East Coast Road, simply called ECR in Tamil Nadu ( it starts from Chennai city and hugs the sea coast in some sectors ) you cannot miss the buzz of the Sivaratri celebrations at all local temples.

In the past few years, music and dance concerts have become part of these celebrations. Perhaps one or two concerts, featuring local artistes that start at 9 p.m. and end after midnight.

The flex banners and small posters alongside the highway tell you the stories.

The wellknown Sri Sattanathar Temple in the heritage and temple town of Sirkazhi ( some 16 kms south of Chidambaram) also hosted concerts - though only for Sivaratri night.

We visited this temple the next morning and the lone priest showed us around and told us of the temple's histories and legends.

Lord Shiva is also called Thoniappar here. And there are different versions of legends of this avatar. 

Up on the massive gopurams, only on two of the four here we spotted the stucco sculpture of the lord and his consort in a large boat amongst many other figures ( seen in the photo below) .



The Natyanjali provides for visitors to look closely at the temples - but you need to give time for this.

Saturday, 17 February 2018

Warm hospitality of Chidambaram

Hospitality has been an integral part of the Natyanjali Trust team. 

All the artistes and special guests and invitees are invited for dinner which offers a menu of traditional food. 'Tiffin', as it is called in these parts.

A large hall inside a traditional Chettinad house that belongs to the A. C. Muthiah family serves as the dining space and artistes can take a break here after their performance.

There is another tradition that the Trust team follows; every evening each member brings home-made food to the dining hall - carrot halwa, idlis and podi, keerai dosa, oothapam and curd semiya.


One recalls the hospitality of the earlier times when over 200 people would dine, morning, noon and night. The kitchen would work round the clock to feed artistes, guests and workers. 

It cost a bit for the hosts but donations of rice, sugar and dhal from Chidambaram-based well-wishers offset part of the expenses.

A Kathak guru's simple anjali

After watching three groups perform inside the Chidambaram temple, we moved on to a large yard outside the temple on its south side where the Natyanjali Trust has been carrying on its legacy after being thrown out of the temple.

A large stage is erected at one end of this sandy ground, similar to the one the team used to put up for the Natyanjali when it was held inside the temple. Chairs are provided for some 300 people. And in one corner, a few stalls offer snacks to people who stream in to watch the dance recitals.

Among the groups which performed on Sivaratri night was one from Virginia in USA - Salangai Arts School of Dance led by guru Akila Subrahmanyam.

The young dancers came in early, watched the recitals that went before theirs and then presented a neat concert - keenly watched by their parents and well-wishers.

Earlier, guru Shama Bhate from Pune who teaches Kathak spent three minutes offering a solo anjali on the stage before inviting her group to perform; this simple tribute was straight from the heart and touching.

Her dancers got a big round of applause ( seen in the photo here)