March 07, 2006

A week at Chidambaram

I spent this past week at Chidambaram.
I had to keep my date with the annual Natyanjali Dance Festival which is held inside the famous Lord Nataraja temple here.
This was its silver jubilee edition and there was no way I was going to skip the event.
There is a lot of bonding that takes place on the sidelines of this unique festival. Every year, R. Natarajan, a trustee, invites leading artistes and well wishers of the festival, to lunch at his bungalow. After a typical thamizh sappadu, we gather in the drawing room and chat.
Natarajan has created a stunning pooja room at his bungalow, with the silver idol of Lord Nataraja in the centre, and this is a 'must see' visit.
So Dr. Mahua Mukherjee from Kolkatta, who is a well-known exponent of Gaudiya Nritya, sends her sishyas to the first floor while she shares with us details of her new dance drama project.
Arts scholar B. M. Sundaram, based in Pondicherry, but more often seen in Madras, talks about his student in Bangladesh, a Muslim woman, who runs classes in that country he will visit next month. And Natarajan shows us his large collection of music cassettes of all-time Carnatic music greats, recorded 'live' at kutcheris in these parts in the 50s and 60s.
All this takes place at lunch hour on the final day of the Natyanjali.
One can imagine the amount of interaction and discussion that would have been generated through the five days of the festival.
Another facet of the Natyanjali that amazes me is the manner in which different people of the local community put their hands together to stage this unique event.
A farmer takes charge of manning the accommodation counter so that artistes check in and out smoothly.
A jeweller donates mementoes for the performing artistes.
The owner of a clothes store, over fifty years old, personally manages the dining hall, ensuring that even those who cannot make it here, get packed chappatis or curd rice.
And farm hands, small-time entrepreneurs and skilled workers of this town, work through two days and nights to get the venue ready for the Natyanjali and then stay on to make sure the fest goes on without any hitch.
It seems as if all these people, whatever be their calling and engagement, gravitate to the Natyanjali, in order to make this their own festival. And do so without expecting a fee.

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