Wednesday, 29 September 2010


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   

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.


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 (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:
There are some uploads on the youtube too.
Some enterprising person has alerted the Guinness World of Records about this event.


Viji said...

One is thrilled into a respectful.admiring silence at this great wealth of culture that is our heritage

Gauri Gharpure said...

This is simply brilliant.. Such a unique tribute, a creative concept matched with a well-executed effort...Congratulations to Dr. Subrahmanyam and all the artistes, organizers..

rightly disppointed that the photo didn't get a good space..

happened a number of times on our desk that on days when there were excellent stand-alones, there was no space and on low-ad days with huge pages to fill, photographers ended up with something mediocre..:(

Rakesh Vanamali said...

I'm rather surprised as to why the papers haven't been showcasing this as much as they should have! Perhaps Ayodha and the verdict are taking center stage! :(

dr.antony said...

I wonder how one could seriously watch the thousand dancers doing their act.That was too much. And too much of every thing is not good.
I don't argue up on the capabilities of Dr. Padma.But I have also seen some of these experts overdoing things,and making a mess of it.One can make Guinness record of any doesn't matter. Like the biggest burger,largest sandwich. Does it count?
Of note,I saw Vineet dancing at the front of the group.My God,he should have stopped this funny act long time back. Ever since he got the price for dance competition at the school festival,he has not learned a single step.

Dinakar KR said...

Such beautiful and landmark events deserve better media coverage and as Rakesh says, it is the timing perhaps which has set a lower priority for this. Anyway, our Raji has covered it nicely even without being there with the help of her former boss. Well done on another nice piece. I liked the picture of so many dancers doing the same pose and how privileged they are all to be there doing that! Great. Our own Mysore's Dasara is 400 years old but the people in power woke up late and missed the train. They were all very busy with other things all these months, you see! It is really wonderful that Thanjavur got to celebrate in the most beautiful manner.

kallu said...

You have highlighted an event which hardly got the attention it deserved, Raji. To see a well done performance sends shivers down the spine.. it must have been glorious to be part of such a spectacle.But lovely pictures and we can feel your pain too..

YOSEE said...

The Periya Kovil is just awesome and deserves all the adoration showered on it. 1000 is no mean age and its thrilling that it is still a "living temple" , not just a preserved relic.

I saw the marathon dance programme and the wonderful thevaram recitals telecast live on a minor TV channel. Though the intention was noble, it was not really very pleasant to see the chaotic mass dancing. Just my opinion.

But it was good to see the very talented and learned Ms.Padma trim and fit, having shed the excess baggage she had put on in recent times.

Asha said...

Wow, I am thrilled to see this post. I too watched the programme on podhigai and admired the patience of all the dancers who waited till The CM came and yes the compere too did justice. Other than DR. Padma subramanyam, I could spot only vineet and am not sure if another was vani ganapathy.
You said it right, even i was expecting Hindu to carry an article on that.

Thanks for this post.

Maddy said...

it must have been some experience. we can only sit here and imagine after reading your blog..

Alaphia Zoyab said...

My must've been a dazzling affair.

SoulSpace said...

A deserving review.
I wish it had got more coverage than it actually did.

Anonymous said...

very good review of the whole event. Wish media had given more prominence to this one

Kamini said...

Beautifully written, Raji. What a spectacle! The coordination of all those dancers is quite amazing.
I must say,though, a small part of me agrees a bit with Dr. Antony's comment.As a symbolic gesture getting the 1000 dancers was fine, but - the Guinness Book? Getting their names engraved on those old walls? I think that is just too much.


Hi, Thanks for the visit and comment, Yes, Shelley did have a son also called Percy who inhieritied the title Baron, he bought much land around my area including the land my house was built, also a Manor which has just be renovated to a health centre, H and his wife Lady Jane, his mother Mary Shelley who wrote frankenstien and other relations are buried in a church nearby.


Meera's World said...

I've read about it too.I wish i could watch such an event.Thanks Raji:)

Rajesh said...

Beautiful performances.

This is an amazing temple and is a architectural marvel.

Unknown said...

What a stunning commemoration for a kumbahbhishekam. The video took my breath away to watch the dancers going through the paces in their disciplined way.

Anil P said...

I've never been much of a fan of scale, unless maybe it's out of tradition, but still if this was one way to bring to focus the temple and its history, then full marks to it. Maybe if performed in daylight it might've looked more natural than electrically powered lights.

Looks spectacular though, the choreography.

I hope they leave the walls alone, else we could soon see names of the ruling dynasty (DMK) and those of other political parties find their way onto the hallowed walls next.

harimohan said...

i did see the photos in a photographers blog but didnt know much about it
great and tks

P.N. Subramanian said...

Thanks a thousand for this beautiful post. Alas! Raja Raja Chola could not preside over this function.

Anonymous said...

(better-late-than-never comment! It's now March 2011 ;) )

In a way, maybe we should be glad that the media chose to ignore such a momentous event. We don't want such a rich cultural experience to go the way of 'junta-class' hysterionic stupididy, a la our desi, newfound, pseudo love for wine, for e.g.!

binasmiles in Bangalore

I cringe when I read articles about how to drink wine, maybe we should keep the gorgeous Brihedeeshwara koil our lil' secret!