– Ravi Shankar Sepuri
Natyanjali Dance Festival is known for its serenity and marked by the devotion of the dancers dedicating their dance as worship “ Aradhana” to Lord Nataraja. The festival commences on Maha Sivarathri Day every year in chidambaram. Dancers from all parts of India participate representing all classical forms like Bharathanatyam, Kuchipudi, Mohini Attam, Kathak, Oddisi etc. congregated at Chidambaram and offered their Dance recitals to Lord Nataraja. The festival’s uniqueness lies in its devotional aspect and thus differs from other dance Festivals.
About the Programme: This is a festival dedicated to Cosmic Dancer. The festival, which is dedicated to Lord Shiva is a congregation of dancers from all over the world, is held just outside the Nataraja Temple. On Maha Sivarathri night the prakaras on the temples are lit up with thousands of small oil lamps. Special pujas are offered inside the temple, while dances are performed outside and they go on through the night. This is in line with the belief and custom of the Hindus to wake through out the night of Maha Siva rathri. On Maha Sivarathri day the festival starts at 1800 hours and concludes at 0545 hours next day. On other days the festival begins at 1800 hours and concludes at 2300 hours.
The town of Chidambaram is located 70 Kms from Pondicherry and 245 Kms from Chennai. Life of the town revolves around the magnificent temple of Lord Nataraja. The temple has carved pillars depicting Lord Nataraja in 108 poses of Bharathanatyam classical dance in the eastern tower. The temple embodies the element of Space in the Pancha Boothas. “ Chith” meaning knowledge and ‘ Ambaram’ signifying space form together to make the name Chidambaram.
About Bharathanatyam: This art is the blend of Bhava, Raga and Tala expression, melody and rhythm and hence called Bharathanatyam. One of the oldest forms of classical dance forms of India today it has spread to all corners of the world. Earlier this art form was considered something exclusive to the elite classes but now it is being taught in schools and colleges of arts.
Regarding the origin of Bharatha Natyam, it is said that Lord Brahma handed over the fifth Veda to Sage Bharata to popularize it. For this, he wrote the Natya Shastra, which is a comprehensive work on the techniques of classical dance. After he handed over Bharatanatyam to the world, it went through a lot of changes. For quite a long time, temple dancers or Devadasis, who were dedicated to the Lord, performed it. Through the centuries, the art form retained its beauty and charm. With the passage of time Bharatanatyam moved out of temples to palaces to be patronized by the kings.
But the Devadasi system soon was abolished and the dance form too was lost into oblivion. In the 19th Century it was revitalized and redefined by four brothers, namely, Chinniah, Sivanadam, Ponniah and Vadivelu, popularly known as the Tanjore Quartret. They organized all the basic Bharatanatyam movements of pure dance into a progressive series, adavu. Each adavu is a basic unit taught in systematic order and then combined with others to produce choreographed Bharatanatyam sequences based upon the rhythmic pattern of a musical composition.
It was at the same time that composers like Maharaja Swathi Thirunal of Travancore composed songs specifically for Bharatanatyam. In fact it was the king-composer who was responsible for introducing the Thillana into South Indian music and into Bharatanatyam. Even today, the Thillana is an integral part of Charatanatyam performances.
In the 20th century, Rukmini Devi Arundale, who established Kalakshetra in Chennai, helped to revive the dance form and brought back the beauty of this art. She was the first woman from an upper caste family to learn and perform this art form in public. She removed unpleasant elements from dance, devised artistic costumes and used ‘padams’ to spread the spiritual importance. Then the course of Bharatanatyam changed significantly.
Today, Bharatanatyam is a very popular dance form and is respected worldwide. Many music festivals during the December season in Chennai also incorporate dance performances and separate dance festivals are also being organized.
Natyanjali in other places: Now Natyanjali is also being arranged in Kumbakonam, Tanjavur and Chennai in various Siva Temples for a couple of days around Maha Sivarathri.