Two streams head to Chidambaram at Sivaratri time.
The big one is of people who head to the famed temple in Tamil Nadu to be with Lord Shiva, in the heart that is his home in many ways.
The other stream are dancers and musicians; here to offer their creative tribute to the lord.
The Natyanjali, a celebration by dancers and musicians has grown big since the time it was a simple anjali by a few well-known artistes. Here in Chidambaram. In the home of the lord of dance.
Today, these dance fests are held in lots of temples. Big, small, heritage and in small towns.
Chidambaram, Thanjavur, Kumbakonam, Pondy, Nagapattinam, Thiruvaiyaru . .
In Bangalore and Mangalore, in Mumbai and Kochi.
Most are one or two-day festivals. On makeshift stages or elevated spaces in temples celebrating Shiva.
Featuring young and well-known dancers. Some events are simple; more of dance as prayer. Some are glitzy and big and run for five days.
The Natyanjali circuit has grown big and branched afar. So much so that dancers or dance groups hop from one temple to another, the travel crammed into one night. Chidambaram at 8.30 p.m. Thanjavur at 10 p.m. and a night's rest in Kumbakonam!
The dancers are willing to perform; the hosts find scheduling easy.
This is examination time for school student-dancers; this doesn't dampen their spirits.
Dance at Chdambaram at 10 p.m. and check into school at 8.30 a.m.
Chidambaram is home to the Natyanjali. Nothing can beat the atmosphere here - the immenseness of the temple, the religiosity in the inner sanctum of the lord and the stage for dancers inside; on stage, the artistes can look up at the eastern gopuram that rises to the skies and let the music merge with the chants from inside the temple.
Sadly, a private Trust which started and curated the Natyanjali for five days for three decades in the eastern yard, featuring artistes from across the country and of this town had to give up this space and now hold a parallel fest in a private ground on the south side of the temple zone.
The effort is genuine and runs deep. But it just does not and cannot recreate that special feel it had when held inside the temple.
A set of Dikshitars, hereditary priests of the temple now run the festival inside the temple; and the effort has been lame and discouraging. The aesthetics, the curation and the atmosphere is poor. Devotees who are here for the Sivaratri ceremonies, stop by to soak in.
For us, who have attended the Natyanjali for over a decade, Chidambaram does not invigorate. That special is gone.
A better alternate today are the smaller tests like the one in Thiruvaiyaru. Or the big one at the Big Temple, the Sri Brihadeeswarar Tempe in Thanjavur whose magnificent heritage setting cannot be matched elsewhere.
<< Read here Natyanjali 2016 report >>
<< Read here Natyanjali 2015 report >>