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Tradition preserved with missionary zeal

Art blended with bhakti as the Melattur Bhagavata Mela Natya Vidya Sangam celebrated Nrisimha Jayanti. NANDINI RAMANI writes...

IN A pleasant portrayal, ``Hari-Hara-Leela Vilasam," one of the lesser-known Bhagavata Mela Natakams was presented by the Melattur Bhagavata Mela Natya Vidya Sangam, led by Bharatam Mahalingam (Mali) senior exponent of this unique dance-drama tradition of Thanjavur.

The presentation was part of the annual Bhagavata Mela festival held to celebrate Nrisimha Jayanti.

The play, written by the illustrious composer, Venkatarama Sastri of this village, is said to have been composed on the deity, Sri Sastha also known as Hari-Hara Putra,enshrined at Thirumalairajapuram, in Thanjavur.

The drama was enacted at this temple, during its annual festival, by Telugu Brahamin families who were trained in this artistic tradition.

While most of the dance dramas were composed by Venkatarama Sastri while he lived in Melattur, this play was written by him during his stay in Thirumalairajapuram, Uthukkadu and its neighbourhood. Hence the script was not within the reach of the Melattur groups.

In the late 80s, the script, it is said, was acquired from the archival collection (sung by eminent musicians) of All India Radio, Hyderabad, where it was found by Natarajan of Melattur Bhagavata Mela Natya Nataka Sangam and enacted by his group in 1990.

Mali and his troupe have attempted, for the first time, the production of ``Hari-Hara-Leela Vilasam," and the hard work showed.

The dance format, this time, as presented by the all-male ensemble, seemed more refined with focus on the aspects of Nritta.

Mali in the key-role of Chandaasura (well-known as Bhasmaasura), gave an impressive portrayal of the demoniac character, retaining in his enactment, the old-world charm, with its rustic beauty. Equally noteworthy were the skills of Gopi (Lord Siva), Nagarajan (Mohini) and Subramanian (Kumudvati, wife of Chandaasura).

The story is centred around the episodes leading to the birth of Hari-Hara Suta, popularly worshipped as the Graama Devata as Ayyanar or Dharma Sastha. The play has enchanting tunes handed down through generations of the Bhagavata Mela artistes, providing soulful and lilting music, replete with bhava.

The Sanskrit prose portions were substantiated by weaving in Tamil commentary, probably a practice adopted for the benefit of the villagers.

The musical orchestra led by senior singers Tiruchi Natarajan and Thanjavur Srinivasan, assisted by Saliyamangalam Ramadas and Thanjavur Sriram gave full throated support.

Thanjavur Srinivasan, himself a Sanskrit Pandit, acted as the Granthika (reader of the prose sections, Churnikas, etc.) and gave lively touches to the rendition of verses and extended passages, with his apt musical elaborations.

However, with four musicians singing at the same time, much of the lyrical beauty was lost. Still, some of the bright renderings in Sanskrit, especially the sequence where Chandaasura asks Lord Siva for the boon of immortality, were enjoyable with excellent lyrical content (Sanskrit), a lively dialogue (in Sanskrit and Telugu) between the Lord Supreme and the demon.

Nattuvangam by Thanjavur N. Hariharan was noteworthy for its grip, although the dancers seemed to lack precision from time to time. Thanjavur Senthil (mridangam), Andankoil Durai (violin), and Thanjavur Dakshinamurti gave sincere and powerful support.

Mali's troupe has put in enoromous efforts to sustain their dramatic activity especially after the major fire accident in which almost the entire property perished. It is the zeal and committed effort of each one of its members that keep them going. The three-day festival was inaugurated in the presence of Krishnaswamy Vandayar, A. Natarajan and Nalli Kuppuswamy, president of this Sangam.

It was moving to see senior Telugu pandit N. Visvanathan lending in as Granthika or the reader of the text portions of the play on the first day of the festival.

Variety fare at Melattur

SRI LAKSHMI Narasimha Jayanti Bhagavata Mela Nataka Sangam, led by Natarajan, will hold its annual festival from 17th— 26th May, 2004, in front of the Sannidhi of Lord Varadaraja, the presiding deity at Melattur.

The festival will be inaugurated by Sonal Mansingh, Odissi Exponent and Chairperson, Central Sangeet Natak Akademi, New Delhi. The 10-day fest features Mangala Isai by Tirukkarugavoor Brothers, Bharatanatyam by students of Dr.V. Raghavan Centre, Chennai, Vocal concert by Sumitra Vasudev, Odissi recital by Sonal Mansingh, Telugu Yaksha Ganam — Gouri Sankara Pallki Seva Prabandham by disciples of Lasya Priya academy, Hyderabad. Also in the itinerary are Bhagavata Mela Natakams — Dhruva Charitram, Harischandra (Part 1 & 2), Hari Hara Leela Vilasam, Sati Savitri, Tamil Opera — Valli Tirumanam, Bharatanatyam by Narthaki Nataraj, Mohiniyattam by Gopika Varma and Odissi by Shalini Sharma, will be featured during this 10-day event.

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