Reviving an ancient art

At the Kaisikapuranam rehearsal organised by Anita Ratinam and Prof. Ramanujam,at Veera Narasimha Perumal temple in Thanjavur. Photo:B. Velankanni Raj,   | Photo Credit: B_VELANKANNI RAJ

The venue was Sri Veera Narasimha Perumal Temple on the banks of the Vennar in Thanjavur. A group of artists was rehearsing under the supervision of “Nataka” Ramanujan, former professor of Drama, Tamil University, and dancer Anita Ratnam on August 17 and 18. They were practising Kaisikapuranam, a temple dance, which will be staged on December 13, (in Karthigai, Sukla Pakshami, Dwadasi day) at the ThirukKurungudi temple in Tirunelveli district.

For Ramanujan and Anita, reviving this temple art form has been a painstaking process.

Ramanujan explained what Kaisikapuranam is about. Thirukurungudi, located in Nanguneri taluk, Tirunelveli district, is one of the 108 divya desams of Vaishnavites. Nestling at the foot hills of Western Ghats, 45 km from Tirunelveli and 15 km from Nanguneri, it has a beautiful Perumal temple. Thiruvadivazhagiya Nambi or Sundara Paripuranan is the main deity. His consort is Thirukurungudivalli Nachiyar. The place has a1000-year history and the mangalasasanam for the temple has been performed by four Azhwars: Thirumazhisai Alwar, Nammazhwar, Periyazhwar and Thirumangaiyazhwar. (It is also the birth place of T.V. Sundaram Iyengar, Founder of TVS groups.)

The tale

The incident, which is enacted as a temple art, has been described in the 48th chapter of Varaha Puranam and is called Kaisika Puranam. Kaisika is a “Pan” i.e. ragam and it is stated that the Carnatic equivalent is Bairavi. Nampaduvan, a devotee of this Perumal, lived at ThirukKurungudi. He used to sing in praise of the deity. As he belonged to a low class, he visited the temple only at night.

One night in Karthigai, Sukla patcham, Dwadasi day, he was going to the temple through the forest, when a demon appeared before him. The demon, a Brahma Rakshasa, was terribly hungry and wanted to eat Nampaduvan. The adamant demon refused to let him go till Nampaduvan promised that after singing to the Lord, he would return. At the temple, Nampaduvan sang in Kaisika ragam. Perumal, to test Nampaduvan, took the form of an old man and warned him against going back and instead, escape. But Nampaduvan was firm about his promise. He went back and offered himself to the demon, who then said he wanted the ‘punya’ (divine blessings) Nampaduvan earned by singing to the Perumal. The demon explainedthat his name was Soma Sharma, a brahmin by birth. Once, he made mistakes while chanting some mantras while performing a yagna, which earned him the curse to be born as a Brahma Rakshasa. He was told if he gets the ‘punya’ from Nampaduvan, he would get back his original form. Though hesitant initially, Nampaduvan gives part of his ‘punyam’ and the demon is restored to its original self. After paying his respects to Nampaduvan, Soma Sharma leaves.

This temple art form was performed by Devadasis in Thirukkurungudi. After the abolition of the Devadasi system, the art slowly lost its shine.

Anita Ratnam got to know about Kaisikapuranam from Ramanujan, which kindled her interest in reviving the art. A native of Tirukkurungudi, she had played a major role in the renovation of the temple. During her stay there, she had participated in folk dances such as ‘Kummi’ and ‘Kolattam’ that were performed by the village girls and learnt about Kaisikapuranam. “It is an art form performed only by women (Devadasis), who also donned the male roles. I think this will be the only temple drama in which women perform all the roles. When we documented the art form on video, our interview with elders at Thirukkurungudi revealed that their memory was fading. erasing the memory. So we wanted to revive it and started the reconstruction in 1999,” said Anita Ratnam.

The task was not easy as there were no artists who performed in the Tirunelveli area along the Tamiraparani. “So we had to select artists from Thanjavur and perform it, thanks to Ramanujan,” she said. “While doing so we wanted to maintain its originality and retain the divine spirit. . So we were rehearsing only at Perumal temples such as Veera Narasimha Perumal temple and the Vaduvur Kothandaramar temple. It will not be and cannot be performed in theatres or sabhas, but only in temples. This year we have planned to stage Kaisikapuranam in the Vaduvur temple from September onwards before performing at Thirukurungudi on December 13,” pointed out Anita. She added, “Nampaduvan may be a female, Nampaduval. Only research can reveal it.”

Artists who were rehearsing for the drama said that they were happy to take part in the revival process. “It is challenging and brings out our talent,” they said. Herambanathan, a Bharatanatyam guru, has prepared the script. Rajamanickam, an actor and former staff of Tamil University is assisting the troupe.

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Printable version | Jan 16, 2021 11:22:39 AM |

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