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The Natyanjali circuit
- P Praveen Kumar

March 6, 2015

Come Shivaratri, it's a celebration time for many dancers. As dance and devotion are intermingled with each other, so it is with dancers and Shivaratri. Artists from all over the world head to different temple venues to share their dance experience in front of their favorite dancing deity Nataraja. Yes, when I mean artists from all over, I see, read and hear of people from across the country fly down to be a part of this dance festival, no matter where it is.

Natyanjali festival, which is very popular now, takes place at many temples all over Tamilnadu. This festival attended by well known artists and rasikas have brought in a new set of audiences in and around these temple towns.

This year, I was invited to perform at Nagapattinam and Thirunallar. The festival in these two places is meticulously organized by Kannan Balakrishnan from Chennai with the help of local organizers, with very well planned schedules for each and every artist. Initially, when I saw the schedule, I wondered how with shuttling between places, each artist would adhere to the strict timings given to perform (25minutes). Every artist travels on same evening/night to three or four venues... quite a task.

Thirunallar is like a village aspiring to become a big town attraction since Saturn temple is situated here with hundreds of people visiting throughout the year. On my arrival in Thirunallar, I was instructed to go to the VVIP guest house where the local organizer Mahadevan welcomed me and made arrangements for my stay. The guest house had a beautiful huge garden and latest luxuries one would generally see in 3 star hotels back in cities! Every artist was allotted a separate room. Since the dance performances were scheduled overnight (I got to perform on Shivaratri night), I got a chance to visit the temple and admire at leisure the beautiful architecture and spend time watching the rituals and special offerings as it was a special day.

My schedules were 10.30pm at Nagapattinam and 12.30am at Thirunallar. As I headed towards my first destination Nagapattinam for my performance, I kept wondering how long I would have to wait for my turn. To my surprise, the event was on schedule and I did really start my performance at 10.30pm. As I was gearing up to go on stage, the artists who performed before me and those after me were busy planning for their next schedules and venues, so it was not "what is the next dance composition" we have to perform, but it was "what is the next destination." One could see artists literally running from one place to another in dance attire, sweating profusely (in fact, more sweat in shuttling between places than performing!).

As I headed towards my other destination Thirunallar for performance, on the way I saw a couple of vans and cars with dancers zooming at full speed to different venues. At times I wondered if it's a frenzy, a crazy circuit, (but dancers are supposed to have these 'qualities'!). I suppose the locals are used to the fanatical movements of dancers, so each time our cars slowed down at the traffic light or speed breakers, one could see people peeping through windows of vehicles and giving an expression like, "Oh, it's them!!" It was a moving crowd at the venues, people stopping for some time to watch the dance and then moving on. At any given time, there were at least 200 people in the audience.

After both performances, when I headed back to my room, I wondered what brings this excitement in artists to perform on Shivaratri. Is it really the divine feeling of dancing in temples or an excitement to be a part of this "band" or to splash one's pictures on facebook saying, "With divine blessings I danced at so and so temple..."

For me, it was an experience to look around, to observe how to celebrate with dance has become a 'cultural identity' among people. I say this because at times we (artistes) need to be reminded of it and have the feeling of belonging to a particular community and for us it is DANCE.

Kudos to the organizers of Natyanjali (Kannan Balakrishnan and his team of local organizers) for organizing a well planned schedule with so many artistes stretched across 5 days. Not a hitch in schedule timings, fantastic audio facilities, hospitality and also not to forget the yummy delicacies which I got after I danced in Nagapattinam.

My Anjali hasta to Natyanjali... tharikitathom, tharikitathom, tharikitathom!

P. Praveen Kumar is the Artistic Director of Chithkala School of Dance, Bangalore.

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