Wednesday, 29 September 2010

A THOUSAND YEARS AND A THOUSAND DANCERS

The temple when we visited it  a couple of years ago The Nandi is  on the right.
It is a thousand years since the first kumbabhishekam of the Brihadeeswarar Temple in Thanjavur was performed.  King Raja Raja Chozhan who built the temple would have been pleased to see this occasion commemorated.

There were many celebrations including an exhibition and the release of coins and stamps by the Government of Tamilnadu. But one that impressed me most was the getting together of a thousand Bharatanatyam dancers to perform at this venerated venue (on September 25). Chennai Doordarshan carried the programme live and so did the webcast from kutcheribuzz.com.   

The dancers performed on the vast area around the huge Nandi. The area had been covered with coloured rugs/dhurries to form a kind of stage. I could spot among other well known performers  Revathi Ramachandran, Srekala Bharat, actor Vineet, Narasimhachari and his wife Vasantalakshmi, and Swarnamalya. It was a tight squeeze for the thousand dancers, they barely had small squares of four feet to themselves. But how organised and disciplined they were, not moving out at all from their limited zones, but skilfully performing within their ambits.

Courtesy: kutcheribuzz.com

It was Dr. Padma Subrahmanyam, eminent Bharata Natyam dancer, who proposed the idea to mark the event thus. Who better? Dr. Padma’s research for Ph. D.was on the karanas (basic dance units of the Bharatanatyam) in the sculptures in the Thanjavur temple, the Nataraja temple at Chidambaram and the Sarangapani temple at Kumbakonam. The Rajarajesvaram temple, as it was known earlier, has beautiful sculptures of 81 karanas (108 karanas form the alphabet of the Bharatanatyam) on the walls of the floor above the sanctum, which were rediscovered about forty  years ago. Though space had been earmarked for the remaining 27 karanas, they were not sculpted. 
Dr. Padma who was the the convenor, coordinator and organiser of the dance spoke of how the programme had taken form. She said that she had invited dancers by email and all of them had responded promptly stating their willingness to participate. Dr. Padma chose eleven  verses from Tiruvisaippa, composed by Karuvur Thevar, the guru of Raja Raja Chozha, to be set to music. DVDs were made of the dances to be performed and sent to them. They practised following the DVDs. There was no rehearsal at all. To see them dance so harmoniously, one would never have guessed it.
All the dancers had come under their own steam, and each of them was rewarded with a pendant, with an engraving of the temple, strung on a pearl chain.
 The compere who made the announcements was well-informed and well-read and his recital of some verses in Thamizh (of which my ignorance is abysmal) was impressive. He complemented Dr. Padma perfectly. Unfortunately I could not get his name. You can see him here with Dr. Padma from 25 seconds onwards.


Dr. Padma made a request to the Chief Minister. “Just as the great king Raja Raja Chozha inscribed the names of his 400 dancers on the temple walls, I request that the effort of the thousand dancers at the event marking the thousandth year celebration may also be inscribed on these walls.”
From The Hindu
My disappointment the following day when I could not see a single picture in The Hindu, my daily newspaper, was great. There was one of Dr. Padma with the Chief Minister, but that did not convey the idea of the grandeur of the performance. Having Dr. Karunanaidhi as the chief guest gave the event an aura of a different kind, and the programme must have gained by the cooperation of various government agencies. The next day, happily, there was a picture in The Hindu. I wonder how many other newspapers reported the event or carried pictures of it.
 Vincent D’Souza, my former boss, and editor of kutcheribuzz.com (the website for classical music and dance)  much to my great envy, was present at Thanjavur for the momentous event. And there are some brilliant pictures on the site. The site is also continuing to webcast the programme, 
See the webcast here: http://www.chennaistream.com/kb/thanjavur1000/
There are some uploads on the youtube too.
Some enterprising person has alerted the Guinness World of Records about this event.



Monday, 27 September 2010

MY COUSIN THE WRITER

The family is feeling very proud, and patting itself on its collective back - one of our clan is now a published writer.

My cousin Sekar’s book, The Goat, the Sofa and Mr. Swami, has been published by Hachette  recently.  There was a book launch to mark the event, and what was to have been a modest crowd at the Pasha at The Park turned out to be a standing-room-only affair. 

My brother Raja, his good friend, ( in the picture above with Sekar) came down especially from Delhi for the event – and was pleasantly surprised to see his name in the ‘thanks’ page – a tribute to their friendship.

Tim Murari, a well-known writer from Chennai, was the chief guest on the occasion, but not having had time to read the book, since it reached him rather late for that, he could not offer any comment. His taciturnity was balanced by the friendliness of the crowd tossing intelligent questions at Sekar, who answered articulately and calmly. Sekar also read an excerpt from the book, making us want to read more.

My mother with Sekar's mother at the launch
The book is an interesting read, and can be termed a gentle satire. The Pakistani Premier wants to visit India to see a cricket series, a dubious premise, but that sets the tone of this story, creating many absurd situations. The novel is in the voice of Joint Secretary Swami, the Indian Prime Minister’s general factotum, and he narrates the story seriously without descending to the ridiculous. And I think that is where the writer’s triumph lies - the  book is not farcical, while the state of affairs (affairs of the state?) is.

Sekar (R. Chandrasekar) schooled in Mayo College, Ajmer, and studied in Vivekananda College here in Chennai and then in the Delhi School of Economics. He went to the US and did a Masters from the University of Chicago, and worked there for some years before returning to Chennai and settling down.

Here is wishing Sekar the publishing of many more books.

Sociable