Friday Review

Reviving the forgotten legacy

Vilasini Natyam being perfromed at Sri Rangbagh temple, Hyderabad.  



In the past centuries, rituals of worship were considered incomplete without a dance performance. The agama sastras relating to both Vaishnava and Saiva temples mentioned dance by Devadasis within the temple precincts as part of nitya seva (daily worship) and naimitta seva (restricted to special occasions). In the Telugu land, such sacred dances were customarily performed by Devadasis known as Kalavanthulu. But such performances gradually declined with the banning of Gudi-Sevas, when the Anti-Devadasi dedication Act (1947) was implemented.

The archaic temple dances were revived in 1990s by the internationally renowned Kuchipudi dancer Swapna Sundari, after painstaking research and learning under some of the last living Kalavanthulu of Andhra. In the year 1996, she renamed this ritualistic dance as ‘Vilasini Natyam’ and presented it at Sri Ranganatha Swamy temple, Nanakramguda, Hyderabad, and it has ever since become an established feature during the temple’s annual Brahmotsavam (January/ February). It is the first and the only active temple of the present day that has re-aligned rituals of worship with traditional dance offerings.

This ancient temple (more than 350 years old) is a picture of rustic charm and tranquillity, with acres of open land around, that shuts out the unpleasant concrete world outside.

Strictly adhering to the tenets of Pancharathra Agamam, the age-old rituals are performed during the Brahmotsavam, which have been directly recovered from temple-dancers and priests.

Balabhogam - the first food offering of the day, when the temple dancer invokes the deity with a hymn called ‘Choornika’ is followed by a ‘Pallavi,’ which is an item of Nritta or pure dance. Kalavanthulu used to perform several types of Pallavis, usually set to a single tala. These have now been adapted to varying talas in Vilasini Natyam.

Bali-Harana, morsels of cooked rice, are offered with worshipful dances and chants, to the Ashta Dikbaalakas (the guardian deities of the eight directions), along with Brahma, Garuda and Pasupathi. Each deity is invoked in their respective ragas and talas, seeking protection to the temple.

When the palanquin moves out of the temple during Pallaki Seva, one verse of a devotional hymn is danced at each halt, so that by the time the procession ends, an entire song would have been completed.

As the palanquin re-enters the temple, the dancer will perform the Kumbha Harathi, to the accompaniment of a Mallari ( a staccato musical composition played on the nadaswaram), to nullify any evil-effects ( dhrishti) on the deities. After this ritual, Heccharika is presented to further ward off inauspicious elements. The dancers request the deities to re-enter the temple with caution as ‘undesirable elements’ may have entered the premises in their absence and at the same time warn the negative elements to leave the temple premises.

Apart from these daily rituals, during Bheri puja, devatha aahvanam, abishekam, kalyanotsavam, etc, specific dances are performed. For the past 19 years, the temple trust, run by the Pittis, has been strictly following the ritualistic worship to Lord Ranganatha, when Swapna Sundari and her disciples dance with devotion.

The graceful and divine ‘Temple Dance,’ a legacy of the forgotten Devadasis, is revived, realigned and respected in this shrine, perhaps the only one in the entire world.


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Printable version | Oct 14, 2021 9:51:20 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/friday-review/reviving-the-forgotten-legacy/article7205422.ece

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