CONTRIBUTIONS OF "MELATTUR" V GANESA IYER & HIS FAMILY

S Natarajan, President and Chairman of the Sri Lakshmi Narasimha Jayanti Bhagavata Mela Natya Nataka Sangam, Melattur, belongs to a family of great men who owed their life to the preservation and promotion of the rare theatrical art-form, the Bhagavata Mela, a Telugu Heritage in Tamil country. The ancestors of his family migrated to Melattur about four centuries ago from the village, "Komandoor" in Nellore district of Andhra Pradesh and thus every member of his family has the cognomen, "Komandoor".

Late Ganesa Iyer, Natarajan's grandfather, was responsible for the resurrection of the Bhagavata Mela tradition in 1938 after it fell into disuse at the death of "Bharatam" Natesa Iyer. In order to keep the tradition alive, Ganesa Iyer not only went through fire and water but also sold and parted generously away with 40 acres of his land, and strove to conduct the annual Bhagavata Mela Utsav.

For the sacrifices he made and his yeomen services for the cause of Bhagavata Mela, the villagers extolled him with a gratulatory title of "Father of Bhagavata Mela". (For more information, please read chapter titled "Resurgence of Bhagavata Mela at Melattur)"

G Swaminathan, Natarajan's father and eldest son of V Ganesa Iyer, was as duty bound as his father and worked diligently to continue the deeds of his father, both as a great dancer and an able administrator. Inimitably excelled in the challenging and lead hero roles like "Hiranyakasipu, Harichandran, Dharmadevan and Bhanasuran" in the Bhagavata Mela natakams, G Swaminathan never gave up his promise in spite of the cruel destiny that robbed his vocal-chord off. He sacrificed his income and grocery shop to meet with the expenses of Bhagavata Mela that stood on the road to progress. In fact, he sold his soul for Bhagavata Mela

G Swaminathan was very rightly honoured by Sangeet Natak Akademi, Tamil Nadu Eyal Isai Nataka Mandram, the Association of Bhagavata Mela and a few cultural organisations for his proficiency and yeomen service. He has left a number of disciples, notably his sons, "Kalaimamani" S Natarajan and "Kalaimamani" S. Kumar.

His perseverance and industrious efforts enabled him to be a guiding light, until his death in 1995, to the members of the Bhagavata Mela troupe, in general and to his eldest son, Natarajan, in particular.

Born on 30th November 1943, S Natarajan undoubtedly received the rich legacies of his predecessors who devoted their life for a divine cause.

Groomed and nurtured in the company of great maestros of Melattur like Sangeet Natak Akademi awardee - Balu Bhagavatar, "Kalaimamani" K Ramani Iyer, "Kalaimamani", "Bharatam" G Swaminathan and "Bharatam" G Krishnamurthy Sarma from his age of 4, Natarajan grew up to be a boy of extraordinary skill.

It was E Krishna Iyer who found abundant treasure of "Gnana, Bhakti and talent" in young Natarajan that he persuaded him to move ahead in his dancing career. This prompted Natarajan to undergo a brief training in the aspect of "nritta" under the great Gurus - Thanjavur Kittappa Pillai and Pandanallur Shanmugasundaram Pillai.

From the age of 14, Natarajan took up to performing leading heroine roles. He was also able to grasp the texts and nuances of Bhagavata Mela with ease.

As a young lad, with his innate potential, Natarajan vowed himself that he would spread Bhagavata Mela tradition, which is also a legacy of his family. Right from the beginning of his career as a performer, Natarajan was different from the others of his ilk. He did not blindly follow what he was taught but understood it with a spirit of inquiry. He took sincere efforts to understand the text of dance, the Natya Sastra, analyze and meaningfully interpret what and how he should perform. He was adept enough in picking up the interpretations for different abinaya. With his shrewd observation and grasp of the intricacies of various great dancers and gurus of various classical dance forms, Natarajan could bring in a new lease of life to the art form.

With his mastery over "abhinaya" and "nritta", his portrayal of lady characters is charming and his acting a total flow of "poetry". This fetched him vast applauding crowds and the coveted title of "Kalaimamani" from the Tamil Nadu Eyal Isai Nataka Mandram, "Bharatam" from the Association of Bhagavata Mela, "Sampradaya Natya Sikhamani", "Viswa Kala Bharati" from Bharat Kalachar / Chennai, "Bhagavata Lasya Nipuna" from Nrithyodaya / Chennai, "Prathiba Puraskaram" from PS Telugu University/Hyderabad, "Natya Kala Nidhi" from ABHAI (Association of Bharata Natyam Artistes of India), Chennai and the prestigious Sangeet Natak Akademi Puraskar.

Natarajan has carved a niche for himself in every leading heroine roles he portrayed. Be it Leelavati from Prahlada Charitamu, Chandramati from Harichandra Natakamu or Usha from Usha Parinayamu, Marudvati from Markandeya or Mohini from Rukmangadha or Rukmini from Rukmini Kalyanam or Devadevi from Vipranarayan (a composition by Saliamangalam Panchanatha Bhagavatar) he was at his best form bringing life and vigour to the characters. So rich and apt were his portrayals that any deviation from the style of presentation would theatrically devitalize the charm of the character in its totality. His bewitching performance, yet true to the tradition, and predominantly in Natyadharmi, had urged the practitioners of the great Bhagavata Mela tradition in the region to switch to Natarajan's style.

Today, his style of dancing, interpretations of verses, "sancharis" and stage presentation are widely followed by other Bhagavata Mela troupes in and around Melattur.

From the year 1990, he has started performing male roles too. Like father, Natarajan excels himself in the roles like "Bhasmasuran", "Dasaratha", "Raavana", "Bheeshma" and so on.

From his age of 24, he started choreographing and directing the Bhagavata Mela natakams. He has enriched the natakas by meticulous improvisation of the techniques and presentation. Besides, he obliterated the vitiating and non-textual monodramas performed, and also the use of untraditional curtain, at every entr'acte of Bhagavata Mela natakams. He also brought about changes to the stage to comply with Natya Sastra, enforced stage discipline and enriched the natakams with judicious blend of natyadharmi and lokadharmi.

It is Natarajan who revived the unique "Poorvaranga" that became extinct from the Bhagavata Mela tradition a century ago.

By moving heavens and earth, he was able to trace and collect the missing scripts of six Bhagavata Mela natakams of Melattur Venkatarama Sastry. Of the 12 natakas authored by Venkatarama Sastry, he has already staged eleven of them and is in quest for the book of words of the twelfth one.

"To bring to stage all the 12 natakams of Venkatarama Sastry is the right way of paying homage to the illustrious composer and that is my prime responsibility and dream" says Natarajan.

Bolstered up by Guruswami and Sivaraman (cousins of Swaminathan), "Äppillai" Subrahmanyan, M.R.Krishnamoorthi, Varadarajan, Venkatasubrahmanyan (son of R.Sundaram) and G.Mahadevan, and with noble and active support from the veteran dancer-scholars, (Padmasri) Dr. Padma Subrahmanyam and (Padmasri) Smt. Chitra Visweswaran, he has introduced "Yuva Kala Bharathi" Srikanth, Aravind, "Yuva Kala Bharathi" Vijayamadhavan, Sairam, Venkat and has been training a number of crop young artists in Master Prasanna and Talin @ Seshadri to carry on the torch.

On the music front, he has recruited young talents in "Thiruvaiyaru Brothers" Sri Narasimhan and Venkatesan besides his own cousin, "Melattur" Prabhakaran to join the experienced and able musician, "Thirukkarugavoor" Sri Srinivasaraghavan. In votary of Lord Sri Nrusimha and Bhagavata Mela, B Kannan, nephew of the legendary Dr. Padmasubrahmanyam, visits Melattur regularly and provides an excellent and vibrant support with "suddhamadalam", an ancient percussion instrument. This has led to a brilliant combination of a dedicated and talented team of Bhagavatas and dancers that performs beyond all hopes and praise amalgamated with true "Bhakti", the essence of Bhagavata Mela.

Natarajan has devised a number of innovative projects to keep the Sangam and the unique tradition secured for the future. The period, indeed, is acclaimed as the "Golden Era" of Bhagavata Mela, thanks to the indefatigable efforts put in by Natarajan.

In the year 2009, which marked his 62 years of his humble service for the cause the divine art form, Natarajan conceived and recreated a few scenes from the paly, Prahlada, as they were enacted a century ago in the ambience of oil lamps in street floor, void of sound amplification and electric lights. It was a great effort and took the audience back to early 20th Century.

Much to the foresight of E Krishna Iyer and to the aspirations of his predecessors, Natarajan is today leaving no stone unturned for the sake of preservation and propagation of the rare and unique art form, Bhagavata Mela.

An engineer by profession and employed in Dubai, he makes it a point to visit Melattur regularly to look after the tradition. He also spends most part of his salaried earnings, and works untiringly round the year for the cause of the Bhagavata Mela.

He has established himself as the dancer, guru, artistic-director and patron of Bhagavata Mela art.

By the year 2010, he will be stepping in with zeal to his 63rd year of yeomen service for the cause of a rare theatre/temple art of national importance.

Family members of Natarajan
Natarajan is very ably supported on and off the stage by his younger brothers, S Krishnamoorthy, S Kumar, S Venkataraman (who is to unfortunately retire from active participation owing to loss of his leg), S Neelakantan and Natarajan's eldest daughter, Smt. Priyamvadha Murali – a talented Bharata Natyam dancer and a senior disciple of Smt. Chitra Visweswaran, Chennai. Apart from admimistrative support, his brothers perform on stage taking leading roles, while his daughter, with knowledge acquired vastly from her father and paternal uncles, is engaged in training younger generation.

Notably among his brothers, Kumar born in 1958, groomed and nurtured in the company of great maestros of Melattur like "Sangeet Natak Akademi awardee - Balu Bhagavatar, "Kalaimamani" K Ramani, "Kalaimamani", "Bharatam" G Swaminathan, "Bharatam" G Krishnamurthy Sarma and "Kalaimamani" Natarajan, grew up to be a boy of extraordinary skill from his age of 4.

Kumar has carved a niche for himself in every leading roles he portrayed. He is blessed to dance at sight. Be it Hiranyakasipu from Prahlada Charitam, Harichandran from Harichandra Natakam, Kamsan from Kamsa Vadham or Dharmadevan from Markandeya or Sati Savitri Natakams, he is at his best form bringing life and vigour to the characters. So rich and apt are his portrayals that any deviation from the style of presentation would theatrically devitalize the charm of the character in its totality. He has proved to be his father's son, and surely one cut above his father. To make a special mention, his acting and dancing as Hiranyakasipu in Prahlada and Kamsan in Kamsa Vadham are unbelievable and make the audience spell bound.

In recognition of his unparalleled and enviable talents and contributions to Bhagavata Mela, the Government of Tamil Nadu had conferred on him the coveted title of "Kalaimamani" in the year 2004. Like his eldest brother, Natarajan, Kumar richly deserves much more honours and recognition which are sure to encourage him pursuing and taking this art to new heights.




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