Song of Surrender

Wednesday, 18 June 2014

Art festivals at the Kapali Temple

Music and dance festivals have become a regular feature at the Kapaleeswarar Temple in Mylapore. Soon after the  Arupathumoovar festival, the temple authorities organised the Panguni Kalai Vizha which featured famous classical musicians and dancers. Encouraged by the  public response, the temple authorities, spearheaded by the Thakkar P. Vijaykumar Reddy, have decided to conduct art festivals regularly at the ornate Navaratri Mandapam in the precincts of the temple. The Chithirai Kalai Vizha (18-25 April) opened with the dance-drama Venkatadri Vaibhavam choreographed by natyacharya Krishnakumari Narendran, and showcased  “gen-next” musicians every evening. The Aani Isai Vizha is now on at the temple from 15 to 21 June, and features established young musicians. 

Bharatanatyam exponent and yoga teacher Jyotsna Narayanan shares her experience of attending concerts at the temple during the Panguni arts festival.

It is a fine line between atavism and recreating the magic of a time gone by. The organisers of the festival of dance and music at the Kapali temple in Mylapore, Vijaykumar Reddy and Preetha Reddy have walked this line with aesthetic care. Attending some of the concerts and taking in the ambience, I got the feeling it was the right thing happening in the right place – a feeling of good vaastu! It evoked within me the simple grace of an unpretentious culture – where temples are organic centres of art, where art is inspired by divine quest, where the artist is a seeker, the common man a rasika, and the patron is a true connoisseur.

Every evening, as I removed my footwear outside the entrance to the temple, bought some jasmine for my hair (the fragrance of jasmine is somehow more irresistible outside a temple!) and walked onto the smooth, cool, stone courtyard, I could feel the classical strains of music fill the night, fill the large courtyard, fill my ears. And as I walked around the sanctum in the traditional clockwise direction (there was no rush to grab a vacant seat, we were, after all, in a temple!) the music filled my heart. It wasn’t so much who was singing but what was being sung.

And day after day there were so many people, a packed audience. There were people sitting everywhere – on the floor in small groups, leaning against the beautifully engraved pillars, on the many steps that line the various precincts of the temple, on the odd bench. Younger people (those with less grey hair) gave up their sitting place to the elderly who moved closer together on their step to fit in another. Mothers brought their toddlers who happily played under the night sky and a father brought his disabled son everyday in a wheelchair. There were friends and neighbours in simple cotton sarees and veshtis with perhaps the odd salwar kameez and pant. Everyday people in everyday clothes. It wasn’t the Kancheepuram silk parade of the sabhas!

Everyone was soaking it in. Devotees perambulating the sanctum muttering some mantras under their breath were unconsciously keeping talam with their fingers. The priests who were done with their duties of the day stood by, leisurely taking in the graceful dancing; even the rickshaw puller on the road tells you as you enter the temple: “Today Bombay Jayashri is singing …. Full crowd.” On another day, my flower seller told me “You can pay me later. They are playing the tani avartanam already, you are late. Go in soon.” Even the sudden clanging of the temple bells to mark the evening rituals did not seem to disturb the rhythm. The musicians (sometimes at the high point of his or her niraval)  often paused gracefully (even as many in the audience subconsciously joined their palms in namaskaram) only to begin exactly where they had left off as soon as the bells ceased.

In this temple festival the music, the musician, the audience and the ritual were all linked, it seems, by religiosity rather than religion. There was space (literally and otherwise) for old acquaintances to catch up quietly, there was space to enter in the middle of the main piece, listen for a while and leave in the middle of the tani. There was space for the connoisseur to sit in a far corner and feel like a common man. But more importantly, there was the space for the common man to feel like a connoisseur. Isn’t that then the spirit of all art?

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