By S. Janaki
You know the Season has truly begun as soon as you open the newspapers on the morning of 1st December and see pages and pages of season schedules staring at you. My opening menu for Season 2013-14 was a book release function followed by a talk on the Melattur Bhagavata Mela Natyam by Dr. Pappu Venugopala Rao at the TAG Centre in Alwarpet on 1st December. Dr. Rao and Dr. Yashoda Thakore have translated into English the ‘Nrtta Ratnavali’ of Jayasenapati, a military general of the Kakatiyas. There was a colourful crowd of over 50 dancers – special invitees – who had been assured of a complimentary copy of the book. After tucking in a traditional breakfast (hosted by the ever-generous R.T. Chari) of kesari, idlis, pongal, vadai and coffee, the invitees assembled in the small, cosy hi-tech hall.
The book was released by Dr. Padma Subrahmanyam who presented the first two copies to Sudharani Raghupathy and Chitra Visweswaran. A few more copies were handed over to eminent dancers/teachers like Vasanthalakshmi-Narasimhachari, Malavika Sarukkai, Savithri Jagannatha Rao and Kala Ramesh Rao. The book priced at Rs. 1,200 was on sale that day at a special rate of Rs. 600. It was a short and sweet function with crisp speeches as Venugopala Rao conducted the proceedings with an eye on the clock because R.T. Chari is a stickler for time.
In the Southern Heritage TAG lecture that followed, Venugopala Rao presented an overview of the male-dominated Melattur Bhagavata Mela natakam tradition. The participation of Bhagavata Mela artists, made the presentation all the more enjoyable. The orchestra was led by the Tiruvaiyaru Brothers (vocal) who sang excerpts from traditional compositions in ragas like Ghanta, Chenchuritti, Kambhoji and Poorvikalyani with depth and feeling to depict some pravesa darus and characters like Leelavati, Hiranyakasipu, Kamsa, and Harischandra.
Bhagavata Mela artist Kalaimamani S. Kumar is the younger brother of Bhagavata Mela artist S. Natarajan who has carved a niche for himself for his portrayal of female roles. Kumar is well known for donning the roles of macho kings like Hiranyakasipu, Kamsa, Dharmadeva and Harischandra. His demo that morning of the demon king Hiranyakasipu was amazing. One moment he was the pleasant tech savvy gentleman sitting beside you, but as soon as he stepped on to the stage he metamorphosed into the egoistic arrogant demon king Hiranyakasipu with his superb dialogue delivery, robust gait, quaint neck movements, hand gestures and facial expressions. He won deserving applause from the audience.
It was also heartening to see talented next generation Bharatanatyam dancers like Vijay Madhavan and Prasanna take to the Bhagavata Mela Natakam to keep it alive in the decades to come. It would augur well for younger artists to maintain the special quality of Bhagavata Mela movements and not give it the sophisticated sheen of Bharatanatyam.