Candles in every little pigeon hole… crimson rays creating the illusion of a Ganesha in the trunk of the tree… The tree looking ancient and weather beaten with huge holes in it . . . just the way this one-time Maratha palace where this tree stands now looks… college girls giggling at the new sounds emanating from the very serious but very handsome Tibetan Buddhist monks whose headgear creates a strange antiquity in the ruins of the old Maratha Palace on the banks of a river…
The Festival of Sacred Music organized by Chennai-based Prakriti Foundation is on and the people of Tiruvaiyaru are soaking it all up. And sprinkled in the crowd are culture connoisseurs from Delhi, Bangalore, Coorg and Chennai.
Thiruvaiyaru is a small panchayat town in Thanjavur district in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu. It is situated on the banks of the river Cauvery, 13 kms from Thanjavur.
It is a small, quiet town. However, its modesty belies its importance as a pilgrim centre. On the highway from Thanjavur, you pass five bridges: the Vadavar, Vettar, Vennar, Kudamurutti and Cauvery, the five rivers from which Thiruvaiyaru gets its name (thiru = sacred; ai = five; aaru = river).
The presiding deity of the Shiva temple here, Panchanatheesvarar (in Tamil, Ayyarappan ' both mean the same thing, `the Lord of the Five Rivers') also gets his name from them. Thiruvaiyaru is considered as holy as Varanasi and bathing in the Cauvery here is as guaranteed to rid devotees of sins as bathing in the Ganga.
Though pilgrims flock to this temple throughout the year, Thiruvaiyaru is more renowned for its association with saint Thyagaraja, who, along with Muthuswami Dikshitar and Shyama Sastri, comprises the Trinity of Carnatic Music.
Near the Shiva temple is the one-roomed house where Thyagaraja composed some of his greatest works. On the banks of the river is the samadhi of the saint composer and it is here that the greatest music festival in the country takes place annually.
The Thyagaraja Aradhana festival is held in January when most of the leading exponents of Carnatic music come to perform and are watched by thousands of ardent fans of classical music.
Recital by Tibetan monks
The town which had heard mostly the Pancharatna Kritis of Thyagaraja once year, got to hear unusual musical sounds with the chanting by the monks of the Drepung Loseling Monatary in the Tibetan settlement in Mundgod, in the North Kanara district of Karnataka state.
They of course did not lose an opportunity to address the issue of Tibetan freedom in China and made a quick request to the audience to write to the Indian Government in Delhi to press for freedom of religion in Tibet.
Then there was Drupad sounds on the Rudra Veena, heard for the first time in Tiruvaiyaru that too by a French man! A man who studied this music for ten years under Ustad Zia Mohuiddin Dagar. Dr. Philippe Bruguière is also the curator of extra-European music at the Musée de la Musique in Paris.
The slow notes of the alap sent up sighs of embarrassed wonderment in the young girls seated on the Jamkhana in the front and very quickly it made them sway to the music.
Bathing ghat on Cauvery is venue
On the second day of the Fest, the venue shifted to the banks of the river Kaveri at the Pushya mantapa bathing ghat in Thiruvaiyaru.
Prakriti Foundation’s Ranvir Shah talked to INTACH's Thanjavur chapter which has Babajirao Bhosle, the senior prince of earstwhile Maratha kings of Tanjavur as the convenor and the locally-based Marabu Foundation to get the ghat which was being used as a toilet to be cleaned up and created a stage with the river as the background and two Maratta mantapas flanking the stage.
It made an ethereal setting. Every one was asked to pour water into the Kaveri in a ritual of Kaveri worship just like the Ganga Arati. Three young men from a gym in Chennai wore dhotis, stood in the water and imitated the movements of the men who do the ritual as part of the Ganga arati.
Asima, the a male choir and percussion ensemble from Trivandrum ( Kerala) got the college girls of Tiruvaiyaru forget their inhibitions and scream in delight at the recital. Asima, directed by Devissaro, takes inspiration from austere, ancient traditions of Vedic chanting and mixes them up with classical traditions of Hindustani and Carnatic music, and folk and ritual music.
Rasikas dance to music
The vitality and charm of Asima had every one up on their feet dancing.
The third day saw the distinguished music style of Sopana music and the Carnatic singing of vocalist Sudha Raghunathan were set up in the Devi shrine of Panchanadeeswara temple.
Dharmasamvardhini as the presiding deity of this temple is called, has inspired many a great compositions in Carnatic music and Vijay Kumar and Sri Kumar from Ambalapuzha sang a soulful Dharmasamvardhini in the Sopana style.
Sudha Raghunathan then took the audience to heights with her superb rendering..
Ranvir Shah, said that the Foundation, established in Chennai in 1997-98, organises this festival to revive and enjoy our own heritage. He said, "This is an attempt to discover Thiruvaiyaru in its original form. The Foundation will
conduct the festival at Thiruvaiyaru every year."
Rama Kausalya of Marabu Foundation said that the festival was aimed at reviving the glory of Thiruvaiyaru which reverberated with music and dance in the old days.
"Pure Thiruvaiyaru handed over to us by our ancestors is now polluted due to our unhealthy practices. Besides restoring its old glory it is also our aim to improve its environment in places like Cauvery banks and old heritage sites," Kausalya said.