The annual Natyanjali dance festivals which are popular across Tamil Nadu are growing and becoming bigger and popular.
Today, dancers from Imphal and Mumbai, Sri Lanka and Singapore rub shoulders with dancers from Thanjavur and Tiruchi at temple yards in this south Indian state at Mahasivaratri time and take home great memories of their recitals.
And it wasn't much different this Mahasivaratri season as dance festivals were hosted in Puducherry and Chennai, Thanjavur and Tiruchi, in Nagapattinam and Vaitheeswaran Koil and perhaps in many other smaller temples dedicated to lord Shiva.
The circuit is such a packed one that some dance troupes perform at two venues over the night. But nobody is complaining as dancers get a unique opportunity and have a rare experience.
Take the Kuchipudi damcers of guru Anupama Mohan of Kerala. They performed at about 7.30 p.m.
in the village of Thillasthnam near Thiruvaiyaru, a small town which is famous for Thyagaraja's samadhi and home and then, these dancers travelled some 14 kms to perform at Sri Brihadeeswarar Tempe in Thanjavur.
Since large crowds gather at Sivan temples on Mahasivaratri night, the long drawn string of dance recitals attract a big audience; for people who stay on to watch the concerts after a puja or before it.
At the Big Temple, Thanjavur there were some 10,000 and more people in the campus at about 9 p.m. and some 3000 of them sat around the base of the grand, gigantic Nandi image and watched the string of recitals which went on till about dawn the next morning.
But in the Sri Neiadiappar Temple along the banks of the Cauvery river arm in Thillasthanam, Prof Rama Kausalya, scholar of music and dance whose native village this is hosted two dance recitals that lasted for about 45 minutes. Held in the yard of a temple which dates to the 7th cent. local people who had come by to pray, sat down for a few minutes to watch the recitals that Mahasivaratri night.
The Natyanjalis are becoming grand too. The best example is the one in Mayiladuthurai where at the grand Sri Mayuranathar Temple, a private body builds a huge stage, fixes a spread of lighting and webcasts the recitals.
This team manages to tap local businesses and rope in well wishers to fund the fest and the whole town is plastered with flex banners and posters of the Natyanjali, to publicise the fest.
In Chidambaram, where the Natyanjali idea was sown some four decades ago, two fests run parallelly. The Trust which used to run the fest inside the lord Nataraja Temple have been for some years, holding it in a private ground after it was pushed out by some Dikshitar priests, who now run their own dance fest which is not as impressive and well-run as the one run by the Trust.
On a weekday evening, some 400 people sat at the private campus in Chidambaram to watch Chennai-based guru Madurai Muralidharan's dancers and then the dancers form Imphal present Pung and Dhol Cholam.
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