Divine guidance. That’s what Padma Subrahmanyam feels her mammoth ode to Bharatamuni, the creator of the fifth Veda — Natya Sastra — is. A divine dance memorial, coming up at Pattipulam, a village 36 km from the city on the East Coast Road.
This is how Padma Subrahmanyam traces the origin of the monument, called Bharatamuni Memorial and Bharata Museum of Asian Performing Arts: “Once in Thailand, I was invited to the puja room of the Royal Thai Opera and there I saw masks of four deities being worshipped — Brahma, Vishnu, Mahesh and Bharatamuni. I was so ashamed that in India we had forgotten him while our old cultural links abroad remembered and worshipped him. This memorial to Bharatamuni and Ilango (author of Silappadikaram) is to make up for that. BIFAC (Bharatamuni Ilango Foundation for Asian Culture) was established for that purpose.”
The words of the Kanchi Seer Sri Chandrasekharendra Saraswati sowed the seeds, according to Padma. “Foster close links with Asia. West is about materialism, east is about spiritualism,” he said. “His Uttara Chidambaram feat in Satara, Maharashtra, sowed the seed for this monument,” says Padma. The temple is coming up on five acres of land given on lease by the Government of Tamil Nadu with funds donated by philanthropic individuals and institutions. A highlight is the 108 karana figures of Lord Siva and Parvati sculpted in black granite, based on the fourth chapter of the Natya Sastra and arranged in that order. “One hairline crack, the slab had to be rejected and work would start all over again,” says Padma.
It took three months to finish one karana. The statue Bharatamuni — with four hands and weighing half a tonne —has been made by sthapati Rajashekhar of Karnataka. The image holds the veena in its right hand, the left holds the damaru. Right lower hand has hamsa for wisdom and left lower holds the Natya Sastra, intellect.
The project, which has been progressing slowly depending on the availability of funds, is far from finished. It has an open space for dance performances, arangetrams and gatherings. An Abhinavgupta seminar room and Ilango auditorium complete the picture. The museum includes glimpses of “100 Years of Indian Classical Dance,” a gift of M.K. Saroja. Padma’s dream is to make it an ultimate tribute to Natya, just like the Big Temple is an icon of architecture and a king’s expression of devotion to the Cosmic Dancer. Just as Raja Raja had the images of the 400 dancers of that period etched in stone, she wants to immortalise dancers, who have contributed to the art. Yes, funds are needed, but Padma is optimistic about her dream coming true. Very soon at that.