This was a different kind of aradhana at Thiruvaiyaru in Thanjavur in Tamil Nadu. The aradhana that pays homage to saint Thyagaraja at his samadhi on the banks of the Cauvery river.
For it was held in pandemic times though the rate of affliction and deaths due to Covid-19 has greatly fallen.
The aradhana was held on Feb.1 and 2; yes, just for two days allowing its organizers to keep things tight and within the rules of the state.
In normal times, you would be greeted by lots of wall posters outside Thiruvaiyaru town, greeting visitors to the aradhana; these were few and far between now, mostly hailing politician G K Vasan, patron of this event.
Save for a string of thoranams on the street leading to the aradhana venue, there were no illuminations all around.
The venue, a sprawling campus also looked plain on that Monday evening as the chief guest, the local collector spoke at the mike and some 1000 people seated under the make-shift mantapam listened.
The line of bunk stalls on either side of the path leading to the mantap were not there save for booths for the Fire, Police and Health Services.
Volunteers asked you to wash your hands and wear masks. Temperature checks were made - manned by some 10 volunteer students of the local state music college. But this action was not seen the next evening, after the mass singing of the morning.
The raven of shops set up in the lanes that run off from the samadhi memorial which create the busy bazaar at ordinary times was not there. Which made the experience of listening to music in the open a pleasant one. Sheik Mahboob Subhani and wife Kaleeshabi Mahboob and their son, the nagaswaram trio set the tone for music on the first evening. As did the other nagaswaram artistes who followed.
This was the music you best enjoyed by sitting on the Cauvery banks, with the cool evening breeze blowing right into the venue. The water has movement and is relatively clean but it is there because of the check dams built in the river.
Very few known artistes were seen around. Most of the artistes who host the aradhana with two men at the top - Aridwaramangalam A K Palanivel and Srimushnam Raja Rao - were around. So were teams from Doordarshan and All India Radio, broadcasting the concerts right away and much later.
That Monday, very few local residents popped in, knowing well that they would not have the pleasure of the sight and buys of the temporary bazaar - spectacles and bindis and bangles, inflated toys and coffee powder, CDs and foodstuff and all that. And by 8 p.m. the day's tribute concerts came to an end with a flood of insects invading the mantap, going tizzy around the flood lights. So vocalist Sudha Ragunathan sang in semi darkness.
Tuesday morning was sunny and bright. We missed the colorful rangolis featuring Thyagaraja's image that many families design at their doorsteps in the streets around the venue. The procession carrying the image of the saint composer from the memorial closeby reached the shrine by 8.30 a.m.
By then, many artistes had taken their place for the mass singing of the pancharatna kritis. This arrangement was well managed but the known faces were few. And there were some 1500 people all around to watch or join in the tribute. And when it started with the flutists offering the musical tribute after the nadaswaram-tavil artistes had their time, the music was pleasant and floated with the breeze from the river side.
Such a contrast to the normal times, when there would be hundreds of artistes and a few thousand people all around and a bazaar coming alive at dawn.
The tribute was beamed live by a dedicated DD and AIR team. When it was all over, the singing of the pancharatna kritis, the artistes and the rasikas melted quickly and quietly. We missed the canteen that a Thanjavur hotel sets up but many people got a grab of the ven and sakkarai pongal that a local family chose to distribute free.
That evening, of Day Two, the campus got a bit colorful as skeletal displays of street hawkers who set up shop and people began to stream in - taking selfies against the backdrop of a illuminated, welcoming Thyagaraja, praying at the saint's shrine and then shopping a bit.
The duo of Rajhesh Vaidya on the veena and Rajesh on the mandolin jazzed up the tribute concerts with their electronics amplified by the giant speakers all around while S. Mahathi took the stage later in the evening.
A shade after 7.30 p.m. after the abhishekam of the statue of Bangalore Nagaratnammal, which is located at the far opposite end of the Thyagaraja shrine but is shadowed by the stage built for the artistes, the murti of Thyagaraja was mounted on a beautifully decorated palanquin and led by a team of nagaswaram artistes, taken to the gates of campus and set on a decorated float, to be taken around four streets of the area before finding its place in the memorial closeby, raised on the plot where the composer once lived.
It was also a time to invite the magaswaram artistes to perform the final set of tributes. It had been a simple, neat, well-managed aradhana. The 174th edition was held when the pandemic is slowing down in this part of the country.
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