When all roads result in Chidambaram

 

How 40 years in the past, the Natyanjali Competition provided dancer Alarmel Valli an epiphanic, reworking second

I’ve usually spoken of dance as a prayer with my whole being. In my teenagers, I heard the legendary dancer T. Balasaraswati say to her daughter Lakshmi, “Dance is the hyperlink between you and your maker…. unakkum avanukkum ulla thodarbu.” It’s in Chidambaram that I had my most intense and actual expertise of the hyperlink that Balamma spoke of — this prayer with my whole being.

My deep connection to Chidambaram and the Thillai Nataraja temple goes again to my childhood and the annual pilgrimages that my prolonged joint household would make to Chidambaram throughout Margazhi Tiruvaadirai and Shivaratri. These have been excessive factors in my life, for ever since I can bear in mind. Even earlier than I started learning dance on the age of six, the Nataraja temple held a particular fascination and magic for me.

In that quieter and extra mellow period when the nice temples of the South weren’t as filled with pilgrims and vacationers as they’re right now, I’d wander across the huge temple complicated and pillared halls with my mom, entranced by the sculptures, notably the karanas, generally laboriously attempting to twist my physique into these poses and falling over, to be chided by my mom. A profound scholar and high-quality raconteur, captivated with historical past, the humanities and literature, she was the proper temple information.

Tales from the Periya Puranam would come alive in her narration. My creativeness was quickened and enriched by her vivid narratives of the myths and legends surrounding the temple — of sages Patanjali and Vyaghrapada within the forests of Thillai and the Ananda Tandava of Shiva, of the serpent coiled round Lord Shiva’s neck, and the vanquished tiger, elephant and demon. These tales have been etched in my coronary heart and thoughts and, mingled with impressions of sunshine and shade in huge halls, of dance captured in stone and above all, the golden dancing god, they lingered as iridescent pictures that to at the present time encourage and color my understanding of dance and my emotions about Chidambaram. I little dreamt then that some 20 years later I’d myself dance in that hallowed area.

The best boon

Forty years in the past when the Natyanjali Competition was first convened due to enlightened thinkers and organisers, there was exhilaration among the many dance neighborhood. To be permitted to carry out inside the Chidambaram temple precinct after practically half a century was momentous. In actual fact, that first 12 months, the stage was erected towards the backdrop of the Thousand Pillared Corridor. I used to be one of many dancers invited to take part. Even in its infancy, the Natyanjali Competition drew an enormous crowd from the city and surrounding villages. However for me, the best boon was once I was instructed that the following morning I may dance in entrance of the Nataraja sannidhi.

The area allotted for the dance was the Chitrakoota mandapam instantly dealing with the sanctum sanctorum, with Lord Govindaraja Vishnu to the left. The tune I had chosen was Gopalakrishna Bharathi’s ‘Enneramum undhan sannidhiyil’, which I had learnt from my music guru T. Muktha. In Nandanar’s plea to Lord Nataraja, “Lord, let me stay in your sanctum at all times,” is crystallised a world of longing — the existential starvation of the devotee for the divine.

Once I started the tune, the curtains throughout the sanctum have been drawn, because the deity was being adorned for worship. Instantly the tirai was flung open and Lord Nataraja was revealed in his golden effulgence, lit by the glow of the camphor deeparadhanai. The clergymen started their chants; the bells started to ring; arms have been raised in worship. Om Namah Shivaya… the chants reverberated round me. Sooner or later, every part appeared to dissolve — the passion of the devotees, pealing of bells, chanting of mantras, lyrics, notes, dance actions — all merged into an expertise I can not describe. I solely know that for some transient moments I ceased to pay attention to myself and my environment. And once I got here to myself once more, my cheeks have been moist with tears. The bells had fallen silent; the curtains of the shrine have been once more closed. The unusual factor was that I had clearly continued dancing proper by way of this expertise with out lacking a beat. Solely, I hadn’t been conscious of it.

These epiphanic, reworking moments powerfully reaffirmed for me the truth that our dance just isn’t merely a car for self-expression, but in addition undoubtedly an instrument for understanding the self, accessing the divine. The iconography of Nataraja reminds us that the sacred additionally lies in a celebration of the physique and that the Supreme could be accessed by way of pleasure or Ananda.

In our puja alcove there’s a panchaloka Nataraja, initially commissioned by my aunt from a grasp stapati, which graced the stage of the Museum Theatre on the day of my arangetram. Daily, as I stand earlier than him I’m suffused with surprise. What large minds, what incandescent imaginative and prescient may have envisaged such matchless perfection and wonder — a magnificence that mere phrases can not seize, until maybe it’s within the verses of mystics like Appar or Gnyanasambandar. The dance of Lord Shiva as Nrittamurti has impressed artists and astronomers, writers and philosophers, poets and scientists alike. For it’s an beautiful image of the rhythms and music of the universe.

For me, Nataraja embodies the essence of magnificence and fact. And dance, at its most interesting, is a quest for this internal magnificence and fact. For a dancer, all roads, bodily and metaphysical, result in Chidambaram.

The author is a well known Bharatanatyam dancer.

 

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