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.

Chidambaram makes for a great Natyanjali-plus destination

We holed up on Sivaratri night at a redeveloped bungalow, owned by the great Chettiars. This community has a strong presence here and its roots go a long way, much to do with the Great Temple.
They are generous too; having served the Natyanjali Trust well giving their spaces to visiting artistes and guests.

A. C. Muthiah is one such gracious host.
He seems to nope want the Trust to continue holding its own Natyanjali dance fest in the present community ground and stop cajoling the Dikshitars who 'took over' the unique event.

Chidambaram makes for a great stopover for local explorations.
I have often suggested to dancers that they must include in their Natyanjali tour plans, trips to other local temples, a drive down to the great Pitchavaram groves and track the spaces once made famous by the dancers of the temples.


I guess the 'exam fever' that grips the student-dancers forced them to drive in-perform-pack-and scoot.

Saturday, 25 February 2017

The 'other' Natyanjali in Chidambaram; continues in hope

We moved out and headed to the other venue. This isn't a rival dance fest. It is a firm commitment to the goals of the Natyanjali Trust.
And is continued in a private ground owned by a well known Chettiar family.

We always felt that a better alternate venue would have been the road leading out of the south gopuram of the Chidambaram temple; with the gopuram providing a great, natural backdrop.

But Natyanjali Trust secretary Sambandam  says it will be difficult to get the district administrator's okay for this venue.
"It is too crowded and has many small shops," says Sambandam, who also hopes someday the Dikshitars will welcome them beach to the Great Temple.

At this time of the Sivaratri morning, there are some 100 people curled up in plastic chairs, with shawls clothing them against the 24 degrees chill, with a steady drop of dew.

Chennai-based dancer Srilatha Vinod's sishyas move out after their anjali recital and others walk in.
The hosts have been recycling the large, artificial, nicely-designed stage and all-weather lighting contractor, Thennarasu always has a new set of lights to brighten the stage.


In some ways, this is a cosy, open space to enjoy dances at night. But the audience is thin.

Padma Subrahmanyam keeps her date

We took a quick tour of the Lord Nataraja temple at the stroke of midnight.
The big rush of devotees had exhausted.

In the eastern yard, the Natyanjali dance fest hosted by a Dikshitars-centred group had got through its first half.
The group ousted the Natyanjal Trust, the original hosts of the fest
and now curate their own.
It lacks aesthetics, d├ępends on artistes they know or are very keen to perform at this temple and draws the big crowd of devotees here.

On Sivaratri night, a group of dancers covered a lot of the large stage boxed into a golden-hued backdrop.
Earlier, dancer Padma Subrahmanyam who keeps her Sivaratri dance recital date here had performed.

Some 1200 plus people must have been here this morning to witness the recitals.

Mada Streets of Chidambaram; fast changes in temple town

It is 20 minutes to midnight when we drive into the temple town of Chidambaram.

The mada streets are in 'change' mode these past years.
We spot two large 'lodges' at the far end of North Car Street.
There is a huge demand for accommodation today; the volumes of religious tourism are growing.
More now as people own cars and SUVs and take a quick call to drive out and get their temple tours done on the weekend.

In Chidambaram, the team of the Natyanjal Trust which launched and nurtured the Sivaratri dance fest over 30 years till recently, is a great host.
The food that artistes and workers are served is simple and good; served in a Chettiar family-owned wedding hall.
As is the hospitality at the dance venue.


But now that this group has been forced out of the temple here and holds its dance fest at a community ground and has had to deal with tight budgets too, the hospitality has had to be toned down.

Down the East Coast Road; to the Natyanjali world. 2017

The East Coast Road is in some ways the road to the Natyanjali circuit.
In Tamil Nadu. At Sivaratri time.
Skirting the lovely east coast, the drive is a pleasure.
This year, we set out after dusk. A time when you must be a tad careful on the drive; Indians race down good roads.

In the night, we spotted at some villages giant, extensive illumination fronting the local Shiva temples.
Music floated in the air.
And as we took the bend outside Puducherry, the music of a dance recital in session in the temple yard floated in.


From Chennai to Puducherry, to Chidambaram and Nagapattinam, the Natyanjali dance fest circuit has spread far. And is growing. Even outside Tamil Nadu.