The story enacted in
the Kaisika Natakam
Photos - Lalitha Venkat
a heart warming and intensely human tale, has gripped the imagination of
commoners and kings down the centuries.
In the Varaha
Puranam, Lord Vishnu tells the story to Mahalakshmi about how he adores
being worshipped through dance and music. Kaisiki Natakam, which
is traced back to the 13th Century, tells the story of a lowborn “Chandala”
called Nambaduvan who devotes one night every year, on Kaisiki Ekadesi,
to singing the praises of Nambi Perumal. On that day one year, he was traveling
to the temple when a Rakshasa (demon) stops him and demands his flesh.
After great persuasion, Nambaduvan tells the Rakshasa that he would return
to be eaten by him after completing his annual offering of music to Nambi
Perumal. Convinced of the Chandala`s sincerity, the Rakshasa allows
him to proceed to the temple. After singing all night
in front of the Lord, Nambaduvan is on his way to the Rakshasa to fulfill
his promise. At that time, Lord Vishnu himself, in the guise of an
old man, stops him and asks him to take another route, warning him of a
dangerous Rakshasa who eats all in his path. Nambaduvan refuses to
break his promise and proceeds to meet his death. When the Rakshasa
meets him again, his mood has changed. He now demands that Nambaduvan
give over to him not his physical body but the Punyam (fruits of good deeds)
he has acquired from his musical offerings to Nambi Perumal. Nambaduvan
refuses and then is told that the Rakshasa is really a Brahmin who has
attracted a curse because of his arrogance and who would be redeemed from
the curse by a chandala.
The story has
an unusual element in that it points to the special place music and dance
has in religious worship in temple societies of ancient times. The
divisions of caste and class were blurred when it came to the purity of
a devotee's intent. Similar to the practice connected with Vaikunta Ekadesi,
devotees would fast and stay awake during the night of the Kaiska Ekadesi
and listen to music and dance in praise of Nambi Perumal (the name given
to Lord Vishnu in Thirukurungudi in Tirunelveli district of Tamilnadu).
This was an act of great piety.
was performed in Thirukurungudi with great fanfare until 1955. Due
to scholars, as well as patrons like the late T.V. Sundaram Iyengar, thousands
of devotees used to throng the massive temple in Thirukurungudi on the
night of Kaisika Ekadesi every year. After the demise of Sundaram
Iyengar in 1955, the play, which used to extend for five hours past midnight,
seemed to have lost its appeal, content and audience till it was reconstructed
and revived recently.
AND REVIVING AN ANCIENT TEMPLE THEATRE RITUAL
LV speaks to Professor Ramanujam at Thirukurungudi