21st revival staging of
December 8, 2019 Tirukurungudi
November 10, 2019
The temple at Thirukurungudi, in the Tirunelveli district in southern Tamilnadu is a sacred center rich in history and legend. A massive structure in the heart of a cluster of small villages, this Vishnu temple is home to an array of stunning sculptures and workmanship of the 12th century Nayak rulers.
Thirukurungudi is the only sacred site for the annual ritual called KAISIKA NATAKAM. This is an all-night drama and dance performance laced with the story of a demon who demands the life of a devotee preparing to offer prayers to the Lord on this special night which falls in the lunar month of Kaisiki (mid-November/early December). The ensuing debate and the actual ritual, saturated with eloquent poetry in old Tamil, snatches of humour and dance attracted thousands to this shrine in the belief that it was a special blessing to remain awake all night in the presence of Lord Vishnu and witness this tale.
Alongside the revival of classical and folk arts in India during this century some of the obscure ritual arts had slowly drifted to atrophy. Traditional communities of dancers and musicians had fallen into disfavour with the elite and with them invaluable repertoire and literature of ritual-performances like Kaisika Natakam. Arangham has taken the responsibility of reviving this 10th century performance-art, unique to this temple. The responsibility extends far beyond the actual performance to social and cultural activism, to developing a new cluster of artistes who can study this ritual-art and perform it annually at Thirukurungudi at festival time.
Photos: Chella Video
6.30pm: BALA KAISIKAM, a shortened version of the KAISIKA NATAKAM ritual performed by the children of Tirukurungudi village
MOHINIATTAM by Nirmala Panicker and Ensemble
Main event: 21st revival staging of ritual dance theatre KAISIKA NATAKAM
Date: December 8, 2019
Time: 9pm to 3am
Venue: Azhagiya Nambi Temple, Tirukurungudi (near Tirunelveli), Tamilnadu
All are invited.
In the Varaha Puranam, Lord Vishnu tells the story to Mahalakshmi about how he adores being worshipped through dance and music. Kaisiki Natakam, which is traced back to the 13th century, tells the story of a lowborn "Chandala" called Nambaduvan who devotes one night every year, on Kaisiki Ekadesi, to singing the praises of Nambi Perumal. On that day one year, he was traveling to the temple when a Rakshasa (demon) stops him and demands his flesh. After great persuasion, Nambaduvan tells the Rakshasa that he would return to be eaten by him after completing his annual offering of music to Nambi Perumal. Convinced of the Chandala`s sincerity, the Rakshasa allows him to proceed to the temple. After singing all night in front of the Lord, Nambaduvan is on his way to the Rakshasa to fulfill his promise. At that time, Lord Vishnu himself, in the guise of an old man, stops him and asks him to take another route, warning him of a dangerous Rakshasa who eats all in his path. Nambaduvan refuses to break his promise and proceeds to meet his death. When the Rakshasa meets him again, his mood has changed. He now demands that Nambaduvan give over to him not his physical body but the Punyam (fruits of good deeds) he has acquired from his musical offerings to Nambi Perumal. Nambaduvan refuses and then is told that the Rakshasa is really a Brahmin who has attracted a curse because of his arrogance and who would be redeemed from the curse by a chandala.
The story has an unusual element in that it points to the special place music and dance has in religious worship in temple societies of ancient times. The divisions of caste and class were blurred when it came to the purity of a devotee's intent. Similar to the practice connected with Vaikunta Ekadesi, devotees would fast and stay awake during the night of the Kaiska Ekadesi and listen to music and dance in praise of Nambi Perumal (the name given to Lord Vishnu in Thirukurungudi). This was an act of great piety.
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