At 5 p.m. on September 25, the open space around the epic sculpture of the Nandi (the Bull) in the Rajarajesvaram temple at Thanjavur — popularly called the Brihadisvara or the Big Temple — will witness a grand dance spectacle. One thousand dancers from different parts of India and abroad will come together to perform Bharatanatyam to celebrate the 1,000th year of the building of the temple by Raja Raja Chola.
The “Brhan-Natya Yagna” ((brhan in Sanskrit means big) is being jointly organised by the Association of Bharatanatyam Artistes of India (ABHAI) and the Brhan Natyanjali Trust, Thanjavur.
Padma Subrahmanyam, eminent dancer and ABHAI president, will choreograph the performance and compose the music for it. She has chosen 11 verses in Tamil composed by Karuvur Thevar, the guru of Raja Raja Chola, which will be set to music. The 1,000 dancers will dance in unison when these recorded verses, called Tiruvisaippa, will be broadcast.
It was on the 275th day of his 25th regnal year (1010) that Raja Raja Chola (who ruled from 985-1014 Common Era) handed over a gold-plated kalasam (copper pot or finial) to crown the vimana (the 59.82 metre tall tower above the sanctum) of the temple. Karuvur Thevar reportedly composed these verses for the occasion.
Dr. Subrahmanyam said: “This is an occasion to swell with pride. We cannot build a temple like the Rajarajesvaram temple. At least, we should come together to celebrate the 1,000th anniversary of the building of this great temple by Raja Raja Chola. It is a symbol of the Tamil culture. This is one temple where religion, dance, music, sculptures, inscriptions, frescoes, bronzes, aesthetics and so on came together. Raja Raja Chola patronised the artistes' community in an unparalleled manner. We want to express the gratitude of the dance community to the emperor who created this cultural capital.”
The temple had on its roll 400 accomplished dancers called talippendir to perform dances during daily rituals and in festival processions. It also employed 240 musicians.
A wealth of Tamil inscriptions in the temple provided information on the endowments that Raja Raja Chola created to patronise the dancers, the villages they came from, and the streets around the temple where they lived.
“So this temple has been a centre of music and dance,” said Dr. Subrahmanyam, who earned a Ph.D. on the karana (which forms the basic dance units of the Bharatanatyam) sculptures in the Rajarajesvaram temple, the Nataraja temple at Chidambaram and the Sarangapani temple at Kumbakonam.
The Rajarajesvaram temple has beautiful sculptures of 81 karanas (108 karanas form the alphabet of the Bharatanatyam) on the walls of the floor above the sanctum. Space had been earmarked for the remaining 27 karanas, but they were not sculpted. The bas reliefs portray Siva as performing the karanas.
A DVD will be prepared on the Bharatanatyam dances to be performed during the event and will be sent to the dance gurus whose students will take part. The participants will watch the DVD and practise the dances.
“So a thousand dancers will perform in unison. The idea is to make use of technology. This is the only way it can be done,” Dr. Subrahmanyam said. She, along with top dancers, will take part in the dance event, which will last more than 30 minutes.
Dancers from New Delhi, Mumbai, Pune, the southern States, and from Singapore, Malaysia and the U.S. will take part.