How 40 years in the past, the Natyanjali Festival supplied dancer Alarmel Valli an epiphanic, reworking second
I’ve usually spoken of dance as a prayer with my total being. In my teenagers, I heard the legendary dancer T. Balasaraswati say to her daughter Lakshmi, “Dance is the hyperlink between you and your maker…. unakkum avanukkum ulla thodarbu.” It is in Chidambaram that I had my most intense and actual expertise of the hyperlink that Balamma spoke of — this prayer with my total being.
My deep connection to Chidambaram and the Thillai Nataraja temple goes again to my childhood and the annual pilgrimages that my prolonged joint household would make to Chidambaram throughout Margazhi Tiruvaadirai and Shivaratri. These had been excessive factors in my life, for ever since I can bear in mind. Even earlier than I started finding out dance on the age of six, the Nataraja temple held a particular fascination and magic for me.
In that quieter and extra mellow period when the nice temples of the South weren’t as full of pilgrims and vacationers as they’re at the moment, I might wander across the huge temple advanced and pillared halls with my mom, entranced by the sculptures, notably the karanas, generally laboriously making an attempt to twist my physique into these poses and falling over, to be chided by my mom. A profound scholar and nice raconteur, enthusiastic about historical past, the humanities and literature, she was the right temple information.
Stories from the Periya Puranam would come alive in her narration. My creativeness was quickened and enriched by her vivid narratives of the myths and legends surrounding the temple — of sages Patanjali and Vyaghrapada within the forests of Thillai and the Ananda Tandava of Shiva, of the serpent coiled round Lord Shiva’s neck, and the vanquished tiger, elephant and demon. These tales had been etched in my coronary heart and thoughts and, mingled with impressions of sunshine and shade in huge halls, of dance captured in stone and above all, the golden dancing god, they lingered as iridescent pictures that to at the present time encourage and color my understanding of dance and my emotions about Chidambaram. I little dreamt then that some 20 years later I might myself dance in that hallowed house.
The biggest boon
Forty years in the past when the Natyanjali Festival was first convened thanks to enlightened thinkers and organisers, there was exhilaration among the many dance group. To be permitted to carry out inside the Chidambaram temple precinct after practically half a century was momentous. In truth, that first yr, the stage was erected in opposition to the backdrop of the Thousand Pillared Hall. I used to be one of many dancers invited to take part. Even in its infancy, the Natyanjali Festival drew an enormous crowd from the city and surrounding villages. But for me, the best boon was once I was informed that the subsequent morning I might dance in entrance of the Nataraja sannidhi.
The house allotted for the dance was the Chitrakoota mandapam straight going through the sanctum sanctorum, with Lord Govindaraja Vishnu to the left. The track I had chosen was Gopalakrishna Bharathi’s ‘Enneramum undhan sannidhiyil’, which I had learnt from my music guru T. Muktha. In Nandanar’s plea to Lord Nataraja, “Lord, let me stay in your sanctum all the time,” is crystallised a world of longing — the existential starvation of the devotee for the divine.
When I started the track, the curtains throughout the sanctum had been drawn, because the deity was being adorned for worship. Suddenly the tirai was flung open and Lord Nataraja was revealed in his golden effulgence, lit by the glow of the camphor deeparadhanai. The clergymen started their chants; the bells started to ring; fingers had been raised in worship. Om Namah Shivaya… the chants reverberated round me. At some level, every thing appeared to dissolve — the passion of the devotees, pealing of bells, chanting of mantras, lyrics, notes, dance actions — all merged into an expertise I can’t describe. I solely know that for some transient moments I ceased to pay attention to myself and my environment. And once I got here to myself once more, my cheeks had been moist with tears. The bells had fallen silent; the curtains of the shrine had been once more closed. The unusual factor was that I had clearly continued dancing proper by means of this expertise with out lacking a beat. Only, I hadn’t been conscious of it.
Those epiphanic, reworking moments powerfully reaffirmed for me the truth that our dance will not be merely a car for self-expression, but additionally undoubtedly an instrument for understanding the self, accessing the divine. The iconography of Nataraja reminds us that the sacred additionally lies in a celebration of the physique and that the Supreme could be accessed when it comes to pleasure or Ananda.
In our puja alcove there’s a panchaloka Nataraja, initially commissioned by my aunt from a grasp stapati, which graced the stage of the Museum Theatre on the day of my arangetram. Every day, as I stand earlier than him I’m suffused with surprise. What large minds, what incandescent imaginative and prescient might have envisaged such matchless perfection and sweetness — a magnificence that mere phrases can’t seize, except maybe it’s within the verses of mystics like Appar or Gnyanasambandar. The dance of Lord Shiva as Nrittamurti has impressed artists and astronomers, writers and philosophers, poets and scientists alike. For it’s an beautiful image of the rhythms and music of the universe.
For me, Nataraja embodies the essence of magnificence and reality. And dance, at its best, is a quest for this inside magnificence and reality. For a dancer, all roads, bodily and metaphysical, lead to Chidambaram.
The author is a well known Bharatanatyam dancer.