IS THE FUTURE OF BHAGAVATA MELA IN A GORDIAN KNOT? ?
The great temple/theatre art of Bhagavata Mela, flourished under the patronage of Nayak and Bhosala kings during the 16th and 17th Centuries is at its pinnacle of glory and fame this day and age, thanks to Melattur V. Ganesa Iyer and his family. Yet the conduct of the annual nataka festival itself is a Gordian knot due to lack of adequate financial support.
In the process of reviving the tradition against pernicious odds, Melattur V Ganesa Iyer not only went through fire and water since 1938 but also had to sell away, a bit by bit, his properties to the tune of 40 acres. For the sacrifices made and his yeomen service for the cause of Bhagavata Mela, he had the honour of an agnomen, "Father of Bhagavata Mela" by the villagers.
When Ganesa Iyer had no further means, his eldest son, G. Swaminathan, the great dancer-actor, diverted the income from his grocery shop to support the cause, which resulted in putting up the shutters of the shop in 1970. This had forced his family to straitened circumstances.
At this crucial moment of time, Natarajan, the eldest son of Swaminathan and an Engineer by profession, took over the financial burden also on his shoulders. With his administrative skill, ably supported by a dedicated band of members of the Sangam, Natarajan is striving hard to keep the flag flying. It is not an exaggeration to mark in records that Natarajan, ploughing a lonely furrow, opened an epoch for Bhagavata Mela.
Annuity from the Sangeet Natak Akademi, skimpy sponsorship offered by a few Banks, Commercial Institutions and the contributions from art-lovers and devotees are barely sufficient. Even today, major part of the expenses is met with the salaried earnings of Natarajan out of an "ex voto".
While the list of clientele and thereby the receipt of financial assistance dwindle on one hand, the expenses of the annual festival is steadily increasing on the other hand. The accursed financial status and its alarming burden on Natarajan superannuating from his professional service in the year 2004, is bemoaned over. A charitable institution established in the name of Bhagavata Mela Foundation to promote the art is perfunctory for want of funds.
Besides, the schema contrived to perpetuate the divine-art could not be pursued. To name a few -
1. The dilapidated costume-jewellery, costume-pieces and stagecraft could not be furbished up.
2. The school, Bhagavata Mela Vidyala, established in the year 1990 to offer regular and systematic training to younger generation could not be made functional.
3. The corps de ballet composed of pro-am could not be remunerated its worth. Nor the services of worth the artists are recognised and encouraged by the Government through honours and awards.
4. Efforts to own a required diesel generator set, sound and lighting equipment so as to avoid the heavy and recurring hire charges on them are yet to bear fruit.
5. Proposals to provide livelihood to the needy artists have not taken any shape yet.
6. Although a vacant land available, construction of a building for safe storage of stagecraft, costume, conduct of rehearsals, archive, and also accommodating the artists and guests during the festival still remains a cloud-castle.
As such the national importance of the Bhagavata Mela tradition is to be adequately recognised and realised by the Government and art circles in India. It needs hardly be said that it should be given the needy encouragement and help from all source. Failing which it is afraid that the supreme art form is sure to fall in oblivion soon.
The Bhagavata Mela Foundation is set about to build a corpus of funds. Donations to the BMF are allowed deduction under 80 G of IT Act.
The Sri Lakshmi Narasimha Jayanti Bhagavata Mela Natya Nataka Sangam, therefore, earnestly appeals to the Dept. of Culture/Govt. of India, Sangeet Natak Akademi, Tamil Nadu Eyal Isai Nataka Mandram, Govt. and private cultural bodies, private Endowments, leading Businessmen, Banks, ardent devotees and the public to encourage and help the Sangam by grant of liberal financial assistance to preserve, protect and promote one of the greatest art-forms handed over to it for the sake of posterity and thus be a recipient of bountiful blessings of Lord Sri Narasimha.