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1000 years of Music and Dance in Chennai
26 November, 2019

Arkay Convention Centre, now a landmark music hall located at the busy Luz Corner has completed nine years and entering its tenth. Celebrations in the form of evening concerts are being held for nine days at this centre. It was in the fitness of things that Mylapore village, the designated and acknowledged hub of musical activity should host an event “1000 years of Music and Dance in Chennai” at this centre.

The person to take us through this journey was none other than Dr. R.Nagasamy, a known Indian historian, archaeologist and epigraphist who could say a final world on temple inscriptions and art history of Tamil Nadu. He also served as the founder-Director of the Tamil Nadu Archaeology Department.

Arkay’s Sri Ramakrishnan introduced the speaker and the other participants in this event.

Without much ado, Dr. Nagaswamy quickly made room for Aadalum Paadalum (ஆடலும் பாடலும்) which was entrusted to J B Keerthana (paadal -பாடல்) and Aryamba Sriram (aadal -ஆடல்). They began with the evocative “Varugalamo” (வருகலாமோ) of Gopalakrishna Bharathi, the emotional appeal of the lyrics enhanced by the leisurely pace at which it was sung by Keerthana, further embellished by the abhinaya of Aryamba Sriram. Each time the pallavi was sung (repeated perforce many times) Aryamba gave creative expression to depict Nandanar’s plea seeking permission to gain proximity to the sannadhi (வருகலாமோ) . This combination of Keerthana and Aryamba continued further to  delight the audience and they rendered Aarari Andhanarkku (ஆறறி அந்தணர்க்கு) from Kalithogai (கலித்தொகை – கடவுள் வாழ்த்து) followed it with Valaikkai Madanallar (வளைக்கை மடநல்லார் – இரண்டாம் திருமுறை) and then rendered Mattitta Punnaiyangaanal (மட்டிட்ட புன்னையங்கானல் – திருஞான சம்பந்தர்). Nagaswamy, after this song and dance stint that was enacted richly complimented the artistes and remarked that we have travelled back in time by nearly 2000 years by listening to these songs.

Chandrasekar who was the accompanist on the harmonium followed the vocalist closely for the songs and during the dancing sessions that came in between served to maintain the mood associated with the songs by playing in a gentle manner on his instrument. Satyanarayanan on the mridangam understood and appreciated the context which mattered for such combinations (ஆடலும் பாடலும்) and duly filled the gaps with appropriate nudges and quiet arudhis. His technique of using both hands to play on the same side, mainly idathu, did produce the desired effect to heighten the significance related to the songs.

Dr. Nagaswamy then made an erudite presentation particularly focusing on the Tiruvotriyur temple located in the village settlement of the same name that drew attention to “song and dance” that was in existence for 1000 years in Chennai (Madras). He started by mentioning that various dynasties from the Pallavas to the colonial rulers who ruled these and adjoining areas. Among the Pallava kings, Mahendra Pallava was recognized as a great contributor to Bharatas’ Natya Sastra. Mahendra has written two dance dramas, viz. Mattavilasa prahasana and Bhagavadajjukkam and also found a new tala, sankirna jati. We also get to know of Tevaram singers, prabhandham singers and Sekkizhar who enriched this part of the township by their contributions. Then he told us about Manali which has retained its earlier name, playing a crucial part in the development of the present Tiruvotriyur in North Madras.

After Mahendra came Rajasimha, another great patron of art, music and dance. Appar, Sundarar and the Alvars who sang on temples of Chennai lived during the Pallava rule. The Tiruvotriyur temple was the most famous during this period, was built of brick and much smaller in size. After the advent of the Cholas i.e. 900 CE, all emperors visited this temple and made enormous gifts. Many inscriptions are found in Tiruvotriyur during the time of Parantaka Chola. Nagaswamy patiently went through the course of history detailing how in the reign of Kulotunga (circa 1107) a gift was made honouring Mahesvaras and dancers who sang and danced at festivals held in the temple. Gifts often came from a donor from the Chola country and festivals were expected to be conducted annually. In this context he told us that we can find that the terms aadinaar and paadinaar (ஆடினார் பாடினார்) were being used during this time. Nagaswamy was quite ecstatic as he uttered these words viz. ஆடினார் பாடினார்.

Next he told us how during the time of Kulotunga III (circa 1204) an enterprising dancing girl approached the king and made a request for a palanquin (திருஆடு தண்டு) for carrying the Goddess in procession at the Tiruvotriyur temple. That was ordered to be made and consumed 510 sovereigns of Gold. The same girl requested another of the same kind to be made for the God too as the previous one was used for the Goddess. That was acceded to by the King. She danced before this palanquin for a special procession. Then during the rule of Rajendra Chola I a certain Madathipathi heading Rajendra Chola Matham was built by a lady, Arya Amma. This was built at a time when Rajendra Chola rebuilt the temple.

Continuing the history presentation Nagasamy highlighted the role of the third son of Rajendra, Virarajendra, who took special interest in the temple, and ordered the verification of lands, paddy and gold lying unutilized and commanded that the expenditure heads should be approved and properly managed. He ordered that a special festival be conducted for the prosperity of his family, himself and his children. Accordingly many services were done to the Gods. The inscriptions available tell us full details about the necessity of appointing more artistes than the existing strength to meet the needs of the temple festivals. Here he took a dig at those who say Indians have no sense of documentation and those that make a charge that we are superstitious. Here are such vast detailed documents that even mention the signatories to each document.

Moving on Nagasamy said Kulotunga chola (circa 1072) made an enquiry about default in payment of dues to the temple and ordered its collection with fine. The king had ordered the conduct of periodic festivals with their specific names like “thirucchandu adal” in the month of Markazhi, for instance and provisions were made for presenting parisattam for a number of temple attendants like 5 dancing girls, 5 jalli players, 1 idakkai player, 1 player of the vina, 2 singers of mantra geyam and so on. Special festivals were ordered to be conducted on the natal star-day of the king Virarajendra Chola where singers of Tiruppadiyam and Devaradiyar were honoured. That the 63 nayanmars were taken in procession in a festival,  the prasadam from the offering, whom was it distributed to, the king himself was present and listened to the recital of Sri Purana (Periapuranam of Sekkizhar), all dancers were treated as daughters of God himself, the temple of Tiruvotriyur had two classes of dancing girls Ishaba Taliyalar and Devaradiyal, the duties of each (i.e.where they should dance) was deliberated and settled, the order in which they should go in procession, who should follow and who should go in front, which side of the pillar should they occupy, the dance (kunippam) they should perform, at what time they should sing, the period during which they can rest themselves, when the flywhisk changes hands (duties) who should do the dancing and many such fine and exhaustive details were presented with meticulous care, truly like a chronicler by Nagasamy which left the listeners in sheer wonderment and awe.

And on a specific request from rasikas the “Varugalamo” piece was re-enacted with feeling and enthusiasm to end the session.


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