Thursday, March 10, 2011

Total recall : Natyanjali 2011 :)


So the last time I attended the NAtyAnjali festivals, I had made up my mind that I would document the whole experience in vivid detail. That of course, did not quite happen. This time, I’ve decided against deciding anything. I will simply write. And hopefully the product will make sense. So here goes.

The reasons that caused me to first apply for the Natyanjalis in 2008 are admittedly rather vague at the moment. I suppose I was looking for opportunities to dance ... to prove something to myself. I also wanted to visit the temples of Tamil Nadu … temples which have withstood the winds of change and have stood, silent spectators through the sands of time. And what better way to do both than through dance? And so I had set about applying to the Chidambaram, Kumbakonam and Thanjavur '08 Natyanjalis. Fortunately I got through the last two.

Performing at those two kshetras bolstered my confidence,(and my resume) to no less extent :). But lets move on to the Natyanjalis 2011 - Chidambaram, Kumbakonam and Thanjavur; 4th, 5th and 6th of March, respectively.

So we left Hyderabad on the 3rd of March, the day after MahaSivarAtri. The onward journey was pretty uneventful. We reached Chidambaram at around 1:30 PM on the 4th, and after having a sumptuous lunch, we retired to our rooms and conked out for a while dutifully. :) Soon it was show time. My dance slot was at 6:45 PM in the evening, though we actually got onto the stage at 7:15 PM.

Chidambaram …was wonderful, the majestic gopuram looming in the audience, being the audience… perfect. My performance I thought was far from it though. I’ve a lousy habit you see … if I’m not personally satisfied with my own efforts, no matter what anyone says, I will still think rather mean of me. The reverse also holds though, if I think I’ve done my best, and I’ve reached that personal bar that I’ve set for myself, no matter what anyone else says, I will like myself and will give myself credit at the time.

And so, though my orchestra rather dutifully praised me, I knew that that was not my best. A chance at redemption came on the morning of the 5th, when I danced in front of the sanctum sanctorum of Lord Nataraja. And I had found what I was looking for the previous evening. Salutations O Nataraja… One who dances to keep the Universe intact… and dances also for its dissolution.

Next stop. Kumbakonam. Train at 12:55 PM from Chidambaram. Train late. 75 minutes. That pretty much sums up any adventure we had on our way to the kshetra of Adi Kumbeswara. :) The AC bogies pretty much saved our lives I’d say. We reached at 4ish I think. Imagine my surprise when I’m told my slot’s in the night at 11:30 PM. After some kind, but futile attempts to get it bumped up to 9:50 PM by Mr. Subhash (manager – Aathithya hotel, where we were put up), we finally got onto the stage at 12:15. AM. :)

There is a lovely little idiom/phrase in telugu ‘ArdharAtri ankamma sivaalu ee nAtyAlenti?’ (Why are you dancing in the middle of the night, as if one possessed by Siva and Sakti?): It was exactly in that situation that I found myself that night. And I danced like one crazed. Not caring that it was way past twelve, begging the organizers for those last five minutes so I can complete what I intended to … aah … good times!

Yes sir, Kumbakonam was most satisfying. :)

Then … Thanjavur. Something about that place is just magical. I cannot quite explain it. I’m most certainly humbled and awed by the aakaaras at Chidambaram and Kumbakonam, but Thanjavur … it is something else altogether. What grandeur! What enormity! The sheer size of the gopurams, the vastness of the lawns, the temple grounds, they all seem to smilingly engulf you. And you are only too glad to be prey.

You enter the sanctum sanctorum already feeling really really overwhelmed, and then you behold Brihadeeswara.

:) In dance, there is the Adhbhuta rasa, the emotion of barefaced, blatant and brazen wonder. Glancing at Brihadeeswara brings forth that particular emotion in spades. :) The gracious Lord, stands encompassing the earth, it would seem. But wait till you see the Mother … the Goddess Brihannayaki … a gracious six (or is that seven?)-footer who looks at you with the utmost love, beckoning you to dance like only She’s watching. She’s a clever one, I tell you!

I danced on the Nandi mantapam. And I think They enjoyed it too. :)

My Natyanjalis thus came to a satisfactory end. But my trip was far from over. We left for Rameswaram the following day. A racking 8-hr bus journey. Not something I’d recommend. Next time I’m taking a train.

Bus journey, fever, cold and cough (yes, I’d developed all these en route) aside, Rameswaram was special too. To walk through the streets and think ‘Could Lord Rama have stood on this very spot where I am right now?’ was stimulating, to put it mildly.

We also visited the various teerthas in the town before boarding the train to Chennai on the 8th evening. A word of advice : If you are planning to take the Chennai Express, from Rameswaram to Chennai Egmore, departing at 5:00 PM, I suggest you pack a sumptuous dinner for yourself. Because there is nothing, I repeat Nothing that you can find along the way. Our group of four (the orchestra had left by then) slept empty-stomached that night. :'(

In Chennai, we rested at a family friend’s house. Both uncle and aunty have great respect for my parents and went to great lengths to see that we were well taken care of. A most sumptuous lunch (I think I should specifically mention this … it had been ages since I ate the way I ate at their place :P) was provided … quintessentially telugu in all aspects … there was the banana leaf which served as the plate, the tomato and gongura pachchallu, the gongura pappu, appadalu, boorelu, annam, vankaya koora, capsicum-potato fry, teeya pulusu, kammati perugu … the works! I even did that which I haven’t dared to do since I-don’t-know-how-many-years … I filled my boorelu with neyyi and gulped down four of them :D!!! Guess all the weight that I think I’ve lost over the Natyanjalis will come bounding and galloping back home like a faithful pet :D.

Sigh! Anyway … this morning … I/we reached Hyderabad well, happy and satisfied.:) There are many I need to thank for the successful conclusion of this trip.

* I bow to Rama first and foremost – Thyagaraja’s ishta daivam, and mine too. :)

* Sri Narendra Kapreji – our family's guru, Rigveda GhanApAti, scholar and human-being extraordinaire, for agreeing to accompany us, for a particular request of mine.

* Smt. Vijayavalli Priya Yeleswarapu - My dance teacher. I bow to her, for she has taught me much more than just dance.

* My family and friends – my pillars of support.

* My orchestra team - Smt. Srivalli Sarma (vocals), Sri Sarma (nattuvangam), Sri SridharAcharya (mridangam), and Sri Anil Kumar (violin).

Here's to dance and the joy that is inherent to it. Namaskaaram!