As curtains go up on the pageant that showcases the 500-year-old Bhagavata Mela Natakam, the stage will as soon as once more witness the approaching collectively of historical past and tradition

As curtains go up on the pageant that showcases the 500-year-old Bhagavata Mela Natakam, the stage will as soon as once more witness the approaching collectively of historical past and tradition

Cauvery delta shouldn’t be solely the granary of Tamil Nadu, it’s also the place civilisation and tradition have thrived. Dance, music and theatre performances are as common because the area’s portray, craft and structure. Art is an integral a part of historical past right here, with successive dynasties — Chola, Nayak, and Maratha — being nice patrons.

River Cauvery has made the land fertile and the area affluent. After the harvest season, summers are full of temple festivals that remember Thanjavur’s wealthy heritage. Folk and classical dances and music are carried out at these festivals as an providing to god. Every village as soon as had its personal therukoothu troupe, whose vibrant and energetic shows added to the festive cheer. With folks arts on the verge of extinction, only a few such teams exist now.

But an annual occasion that has managed to maintain the efficiency tradition alive on this half is the Bhagavata Mela Natakam. Poor documentation has made it tough to hint the historical past of such historical artwork varieties that have been predominantly oral traditions. Bits of data must be painstakingly gathered from totally different sources to current an entire image. I’m lucky to have interacted with veterans within the area resembling Ganesa Iyer, ‘Sutradhar’ Krishnamurthy Sharma, and several other others from Melattur village.

From ’Prahalada Charitam’

From ’Prahalada Charitam’
| Photo Credit: SRINATH M

After the autumn of the Vijayanagar empire a number of natyacharyas, students, artistes, and composers from there sought refuge within the Thanjavur courtroom. King Achyutappa Nayak (1577-1614) provided patronage to them they usually settled down in close by villages of Melattur, Saliyamangalam, Sulamangalam, Theperumanallur and Oothukkadu. They have been taken care of effectively in order that they might proceed to pursue their artwork.

Melattur, earlier often known as Unnathapuram, was known as Achyutapuram or Achyutabdi by these artistes as a mark of respect and gratitude to the king. The village was dwelling to nice composers resembling Bharatam Kasinadayya, Melattur Veerabhadrayya, Bharatam Narayana, and Gopalakrishna Sastry. Pieces of the Bharatanatyam repertoire — alarippu, sabdam, swarajathi, pada varnam, tillana — have been first conceived and composed in Melattur.

Melattur Gopalakrishna Sastry, a disciple of Narayana Tirtha, additionally composed natakas. His son Venkatrama Sastry was an ideal scholar, well-versed in music and dance. He wrote the present-day Bhagavata Mela dance dramas, dedicating them to Lord Varadaraja. ‘Mela’ means group, and Bhagavata Mela Nataka refers back to the efficiency staged by a bunch of bhagavatars. It is claimed that he wrote 12 dramas, skilled the native boys in all facets of the natakam, and staged them in entrance of the Varadaraja Perumal temple. His  Prahalada Charitamu is extraordinarily common, so is  Harischandra, introduced in two components.

Celebrated composers and musicians of the period used to attend the pageant. The affect of Bhagavata Mela is clear in Tyagaraja’s opera  Prahalada Bhakti Vijayam.

After Venkatrama Sastry’s passing away, the nataka custom continued until 1855. The finish of the Maratha rule and different components impacted the artwork type and ultimately, the performances stopped.

Musical varieties, starting from dharu to dwipadai, are integral to this artwork type. Venkatrama Sastry’s mastery over music comes by way of within the good utilization of a number of ragas. The raga Ghanta assumes a special flavour in Bhagavata Mela, and is famously often known as Melattur Ghanta. Devagandhari, a delicate raga, was chosen for the entry of Hiranyakashipu, whereas the hanging Atana for Leelavati’s  pravesam

 (entry). In the Nineteen Seventies, Veeraraghavan and Thirukkarugavoor Srinivasa Raghavan dealt with the music for the natakas. Veeraraghavan’s renditions of Nilambari, Ritigowla, Sindhu Bhairavi, and Srinivasa Raghavan’s Kanada was the discuss of the city.

From ‘Harischandra’

From ‘Harischandra’

In 1938, Melattur V. Ganesa Iyer (grandfather of Melattur S. Natarajan and Kumar) with the assistance of Balu Bhagavatar (natyacharya), Ramani Iyer (nattuvangam) and Gopal Iyer (music) revived the annual occasion. Over the years, he confronted a number of challenges and difficulties to maintain it going. He needed to even promote his land and different valuables. G. Swaminathan, son of Ganesa Iyer, was skilled together with different boys from the village, and he performed the lead male roles.

An actor par excellence, Swaminathan would play each position with equal finesse and ease, whether or not it was a booming Hiranyakashipu, a peaceful Harishchandra or the humourous mom of Devadevi. Despite extreme monetary crunch, Ganesa Iyer made positive that those that got here to observe the performances didn’t go dwelling empty abdomen. Natarajan, son of Swaminathan, was inducted at age 5 and he excelled in enjoying feminine roles resembling Leelavathi in  Prahlada Charitamu, Chandramathi in  Harischandra, and Yasodha in  Kamsavadham. Swaminathan’s second son, Kumar, took on all of the male leads as soon as carried out by his father.

In the Nineteen Fifties, E. Krishna Iyer helped the troupe to get grants from the Government, apart from providing his invaluable solutions and writing articles to popularise the artwork type. Mohan Khokar, a scholar and historian, adopted swimsuit.

Natarajan, who strove arduous to uphold the custom, handed away in October 2020, simply when he was making ready to have fun the eightieth yr of the Melattur Bhagavata Mela Natya Nataka Sangam. The musicians and artistes of the group have determined to proceed the good custom underneath the management of Melattur S. Kumar, who along with his fantastic group of dancers (Venkatasubrahmanyan, Srikanth, Aravind, Vijay Madhavan, and Prasanna), singers (Thiruvaiyaru Brothers – Narasimhan and Venkatesan, and Prabhakaran) and musicians (violinist Andan Koil Durai, mridangist Nagai Sriram, suddha maddalam and ganjira artiste Kannan Balakrishnan, and flautist Mukundan) has put collectively the 2022 version.

“The pageant is necessary at many ranges. It is about taking ahead the imaginative and prescient of my grandfather, father and brother. It can also be about maintaining alive a novel and wealthy creative custom that has put Melattur on the worldwide cultural map,” says Kumar as he gears up for the week-long celebration.

Night-long occasion

Before the appearance of electrical energy, stems of banana bushes have been planted in rows. They have been minimize to half their sizes from the highest and earthen lamps have been positioned on them. The excessive density Iluppa ennai (oil extracted from mahua seeds) was used in order that the lamps would burn shiny all through the evening.


Today, there are two factions staging Bhagavata Mela Natakas at Melattur — Melattur Bhagavata Mela Natya Nataka Sangam, headed by Kumar, and the Bhagavata Mela Natya Vidya Sangam, helmed by Mahalingam (Mali). Vidya Sangam staged the performances on May 14 and 15, and in addition launched a e book titled  Krishna Jananam. Melattur Kumar will stage the natakams from at present to May 27, and can current  Prahlada CharitamHarischandra (two components),  Sita Parinayam and  Valli Thirumanam.

The Thiruvaiyaru-based author is a musicologist.

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