Nataraja temple in Chidambaram continues to preserve tradition
Musical traditions in temples are constantly battling to keep their relevance alive in a fast moving world. The famous Nataraja temple in Chidambaram is one of the few temples that continues to preserve its music tradition against all odds.
The Chidambaram temple has an established musical tradition and there are special ragas to be played on a particular day during its annual festival.
Musicologist B.M. Sundaram has now produced a documentary Naathamum Naathanum showcasing the nagaswaram-thavil music performed during the temple’s 11-day festival.
Achalpuram S. Chinnathambia Pillai, a nagaswaram player and one of the exponents of the Chidambaram tradition, has played the nagaswaram. The 88-year-old nagaswaram player is a student of Chidambaram Radhakrishna Pillai and played with him for many years.
“Not many temples maintain their tradition today with the exception of the Tiruvarar Thiyagaraja Swamy temple. I want to preserve the tradition of Chidambaram for posterity,” says Mr. Sundaram.
The lengthy five-hour documentary became a reality thanks to funding by R. Nandakumar, a music lover, who happened to listen to Mr Sundaram’s lecture and came forward to make a film, which is to be released on October 11 at Chidambaram.
After a detailed introduction by Mr. Sundaram on the history of nagaswaram, thavil and the Chidambaram tradition, the film begins with a priest performing pooja for thavil at rudrabhoomi or graveyard, much to the surprise of music lovers, the as nagaswaram-thavil combination is generally associated with auspicious music.
“Thavil is called ‘Yamaperi’ and a day before the festival’s beginning, the instrument will be taken to the graveyard and a pooja is performed,” explained Mr. Sundaram.
Though the film depicts the Chidambaram tradition, shooting could not be done on the premises of the Nataraja temple due to practical difficulties. Instead, it was shot in the Sri Sundareswarar Temple at Neivasal near Chidambaram.
“We re-created everything, as it is impossible to film the traditional performance during the festival. It is purely an individual effort,” said Lalitha Ram, a documentary film-maker, who facilitated the making of the documentary.
Mallari, set to gambira nattai and played to different taalas, normally performed when the presiding deity is taken out on procession, has been featured in a detailed manner in the film.
Mr. Pillai has played theertha mallari , performed when water for performing abishekam is brought, thaligai mallari played when food from the temple kitchen is taken to the deity and ther mallari, which is played during the car festival. “Odakuru, a corruption of Udar Kooru (Human Anatomy) is played on the eighth day when the Pitchadanar is taken out on procession. Unique to nagaswaram music, this piece of music explains the meaninglessness of the human body,” said Mr Sundaram.
Besides mallari, every day one particular raga is played elaborately. It will be followed by a ragam-thanam-pallavi. The festival on the 11th day will feature huseini.