BHAGAVATA MELA NATAKA MAHOTSAV - Upholding a tradition for 75 years
The annual Bhagavata Mela Nataka Mahotsav at Melattur, Tamil Nadu represents a rare saga of dedication to an art form steeped in bhakti. It is a tale of ups and downs – the triumph of a band of dedicated men to carry on the tradition against several odds, infighting and division, consolidation, induction and debut of new talent, and rise of stars whose names have
now become synonymous with the Bhagavata Mela tradition.
The Bhagavata Mela natakams, composed by Melattur Venkatarama Sastry (1743-1809 AD), are the mainstay performed every year during the festival. Rituals, robust acting, sensitive abhinaya, poetic dialogues, splendid Carnatic music, and striking costumes are an integral part of the natakams. Sanctity is maintained in the presentations which attempt to strike a balance between pure devotion and aesthetic display of a traditional art.
B. KRISHNAMOORTHY - A devoted teacher of Carnatic music
Vidwan B. Krishnamoorthy is a multifaceted artist – Carnatic vocalist, musicologist, researcher, and passionate teacher. He was born on 24 August 1932 at Padarakudi near Karaikudi, where he lived with his maternal grandfather for a while. He had three brothers, the eldest being the late Sangita Kalanidhi B. Rajam Iyer. Krishnamoorthy’s biological mother gave him in adoption to her childless elder sister Ananthalakshmi. So it was that little Krishnamoorthy grew up in his ‘Periamma’s’ house at Paganeri. Fond of music, he liked to listen to the songs of S.G. Kittappa, Subbiah Bhagavatar and others. The Sri Rama Navami Utsavam was a grand annual celebration at home. Attracted to the bhajana paddhati, the child started learning the songs when he was five years old from Atmanatha Iyer and Tirukoshtiyur Iyengar. He knew all the songs by heart – from the Todayamangalam to the final Deepa Pradakshinam. He can remember most of it even now.
After a few years, Krishnamoorthy moved to Karaikudi with his grandfather, a purohit knowledgeable in the sastras and astrology. It was in Karaikudi that the foundation for serious music and Sanskrit was laid for him. His school teacher Ramanatha Iyer, father of mridanga vidwan Karaikudi Mani, was fond of music and promoted many young musicians. A student of Mazhavarayanendal Subbarama Bhagavatar and Swaminatha Bhagavatar, he developed a liking for young Krishnamoorthy and encouraged him. In Karaikudi, Krishnamoorthy learnt music from Rama Iyengar (a disciple of Ariyakudi Ramanuja Iyengar), and Sanskrit from Sundara Sastri at Koviloor near Karaikudi.
SUBBARAYA PILLAI (1914 – 2008)- An ode to my guru
My mother Savithri Sabanayagam took me as a four-year old to the illustrious Pandanallur guru Chockalingam Pillai and his son Subbaraya Pillai to learn Bharatanatyam. Their dance school was in a corporation school beneath the Egmore bridge. My first memory is that of holding my nose when I entered, as the school toilets were at the entrance, shutting my ears as the sound of the trains passing by created a racket, but my eyes were wide open as I watched many children dance. Like the lotus that blooms radiant in muddy waters, one of the purest and most beautiful styles of Bharatanatyam was being taught there by very simple, great masters belonging to the illustrious lineage of the Tanjore Quartet.
As soon as the corporation school closed for the day at 3.30 pm, the main classroom benches would be piled to the side, the masters would supervise the sweeping of the room and the class would start at 4 pm. Chockalingam Pillai was known as Peria Master and Subbaraya Pillai as Chinna Master.
WINDOW TO THE WORLD
THE RITE OF SPRING (part 2) - The aftermath
"The pagans on stage made pagans of the audience” – is how one commentator described the premiere of The Rite of Spring staged on 29 May in Paris. Incidentally, the premiere has been one of the most over-documented events in classical music’s history, although each one of the eyewitness accounts of the evening’s happenings contradicts or differs from every other. Here is a brief and, hopefully, the least challenged account of the evening’s proceedings.
As the ballet progressed, arguments between those who wanted the show to go on, and those who wanted it abandoned, eventually turned into ugly brawls. The police, who were called in, arrived during the intermission and did succeed in restoring a semblance of calm. But all hell broke loose after the second half of the ballet commenced, the bedlam culminating in rioting which the police failed to bring under control. Stravinsky who fled the scene would later recall in
his Expositions and Developments: “I have never again been that angry. The music was familiar to me; I loved it, and I could not understand why people who had not yet heard it wanted to protest in advance…”