Come May, the small and sleepy town of Melattur comes alive with the five-day Bhagavata Mela Natya festival.

Organised by Melattur Bhagavata Mela Natya Vidya Sangam and Natak Trust, the festival started at the Nalli Auditorium at Melattur on Thursday. Prahalada Charitram was the first drama staged by exponents on the inaugural day. It was an excellent and captivating performance by Aravind Subramanian, who acted as Hiranyakashipu, Nagarajan who played Leelavathy (wife of Hiranyakashipu), Master Surya Swaminathan who acted as Prahalad, and P. Ramaswamy who acted as Lord Narasimha.

A unique feature of the festival is that the cast does not include a woman. Nagarajan, who portrayed the character of Leelavathy, simply floored the audience with his facial expressions, particularly eye movements and abhinaya. His ravishing feminine movements, especially dance, was a big hit with the audience.

Aravind Subramanian’s depiction of Hiranyakashipu, the asura king, drew a huge applause. It indeed was a thrilling experience to watch Lord Narasimha slay Hiranyakashipu.

Bharatham R. Mahalingam alias R. Mali directed the dance-drama. Accompanied by mellifluent music, in which the drama is narrated by the vocal artist, Prahalada Charitram turned out to be a treat for the theatre lovers. Narration was by Murali Rangarajan, Kaliyamurthy and Raja Nirmal Harish, Nattuvangam by H. Hariharan, Mridhangam by Sathish Kumar, and flute and violin by Rajendran.

Melattur Venkatarama Sastry (1743-1809 A.D) composed the Bhagavata Mela dramas in Telugu. Nalli Kuppuswamy, Chairman of the sangam inaugurated the festival. He said that treasure troves like Bhagavata Mela Natakams should be protected by nurturing the artistes. S. Balasubramanian, Chairman, City Union Bank Ltd., said that “dharmam” was Indian culture, because of which India stood out in the world. He appreciated the people of Melattur for keeping the tradition of Bhagavata Mela alive. A. Balasubramanian, Chief Executive Officer of Birla Mutual Fund and a native of Melattur, spoke.

An ancient temple art, Bhagavata Mela is a blend of Bhakthi, music and drama. It usually is staged by all-male troupes. These programmes are being staged for over 500 years in villages like Melattur and Saliyamangalam around Thanjavur.