Theatre

Bhagavata Mela loses its star

Melattur S. Natarajan   | Photo Credit: R_M_RAJARATHINAM

The passing away of Melattur S. Natarajan, who put the small town of Melattur, near Thanjavur, on the global cultural map, has created a void that is hard to be filled.

He was a torchbearer of the Bhagavata Mela sampradaya, a ritualistic theatre form performed only by male members of the Bhagavata families.

The natakams are staged in the precincts of the Sri Narasimha temple in Melattur and its four adjoining villages during Sri Narasimha Jayanti in the month of Vaisakha.

Natarajan, who headed the Sri Lakshmi Narasimha Bhagavata Mela Natya Nataka Sangam, imbibed the art from his father Swaminatha Iyer and other senior artistes.

Natarajan was five when he began acting in the plays and he soon became one of the most refined exponents of the art form. I have visited Melattur to witness the annual Bhagavata Mela festival for a decade. During these visits, Natarajan and I revived our decades-old family connection.

A scene from ‘Harischandra’

A scene from ‘Harischandra’   | Photo Credit: R_M_RAJARATHINAM

Refreshing portrayals

An engineer by profession, he strived hard not only to prove himself a worthy inheritor of his family legacy but also enriched the art form by staging 10 of Melattur Venkatarama Sastry’s 12 natakams.

During his 70-year career, Natarajan lent a refreshing touch to certain aspects of the Bhagavata Mela technique. In his early days, Natarajan also worked with the celebrated natyacharya, K.P. Kittappa Pillai. In a conversation with this writer, Kittappa Pillai once said that the ‘Melattur jatis’ that he had composed for Bhagavata Mela natakams were learnt by Natarajan “with great involvement”.

An accomplished actor, he was known for his enactment of female roles such as Leelavati in ‘Prahlada Charitam’ and Chandramati in ‘Harishchandra’. His exquisite abhinaya conveyed the nuances of these characters. In his portrayal, one could see the exploration of Natyadharmi and the four-fold aspects of natya.

A recipient of the Sangeet Natak Akademi award and the Tamil Nadu government’s Kalaimamani award, Natarajan not only popularised this ancient art form but also groomed enthusiastic youngsters.

Though Bhagavata Mela has lost one of its best artistes, the play must go on.

A scene from ‘Prahlada Charitam’

A scene from ‘Prahlada Charitam’   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

The writer is a veteran

dancer and scholar.

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Printable version | Dec 3, 2020 8:55:40 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/theatre/bhagavata-mela-loses-its-star/article32916864.ece

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