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Nataraja Rathothsavam 2008

Jeyanthi R. Ghatraju
07/10/2008

The New England Hindu Temple celebrates the festival of Aani Thirumanjanam every year reminiscent of the way it is done at Chidambaram. The event usually begins with the rathothsavam, whence Lord Nataraja  is brought out from the sanctum sanctorum in a Chariot or Ratham and taken in a procession around the temple.  It is believed that Lord Nataraja gives darshan to his devotees in the months of Aani (late June/early July) and Margazhi (mid December – early January). Aani Thirumanjanam, in the month Ani (June-July), is considered the best time for worshipping Lord Shiva.
 
In villages in South India, it is common practice to do a "mandagapadi", meaning that particular day's event / parts of a pooja would be paid for by specific families every year.  The temple committee requested the dance teachers and their families to consider this as "their day" at the temple and participate with their families. This year's event was celebrated on Sunday, June 29th and the dance program coordinated by Jeyanthi Ghatraju and Vyju Prasad, with several dance teachers sponsoring the program.

In the scorching sun around noon, devotees gathered at the front of the temple. With priest Shri Bairava Sundaram assisted by, the temple committee members, devotees -young and young at heart, started on their mission of taking the ratham on its procession. Midway through, four enthusiastic dancers- Bhoomika Kumar, Meghna Iyer, Ria Sheril and Priya Vijay, students of Jeyanthi Ghatraju, performed a lovely pushpanjali, while their guru provided the vocal and nattuvangam. Then, the ratham made its complete round, to the Vedic chanting of the devotees and learned Sanskrit scholars.
 
The devotees took a short lunch break, when annadhanam, with several delicious food items was offered to all, thanks to many generous volunteers. This prepared the audience for the main program of the day, homage by dance teachers to Lord Nataraja a tradition introduced from 2007 as a part of Aanithirumanjnam Natarjan Rathostvam.

Jeyanthi welcomed the audience and in her short introduction said, "Everyone assembled here is at a different level of sadhana. This program is our dance teachers' way of paying homage to their Ultimate Guru, irrespective of their level." The program commenced with Janani Swami presenting an interesting kavuthuvam on several forms of the Lord and a scintillating alarippu, followed by a lilting Natesha kavuthuvam by Marishakthi Muthuswamy. As the dancers warmed up with their numbers, so did the temperature of the atmosphere. At this point, I have to mention the ambience of the surrounding here. The hot tar road was watered frequently to cool off, a metal shed provided the roof, the mild and gentle summer breeze, helped to create the right feeling to enjoy the bliss of the dance.

Jeyanthi added a ragamalika jathiswaram  next, to the repertoire, and Soumya Ramanathan presented an abridged version of the famous Nattakurinji varnam "Saami naan undhan adimai'. As Jeyanthi mentioned, Soumya was quite bold to pick up a heavy varnam for such a hot day, but delighted one and all with her neat nritha and powerful abhinaya.

Then came virutham/Ananda nadamidum Deva in Bhairavi by Janani, one could visualize the joyful dance of Nataraja in her presentation. Sridevi Thirumalai came up on stage with her students presenting several items such as Ananda Nartana Ganapathim, Shivakamasundari and the highlight was Maha Deva Shiva Shambho, which was quite a visual treat to watch. There was so much positive energy in their presentation.

Marishakthi presented a thillana in Ranjani, braving the technical difficulties when the audio system itself was inspired to dance! Jeyanthi then presented a very special composition, "Natya priya namma Shankara. in ragam Abhogi, composed by late Smt. Sharadamma of Bangalore, an ardent devotee with barely third grade level education. Jeyanthi brought out the underlying devotion in the inspiring lyrics quite well. Last, but not the least, young Tejas Putcha, a priest at the temple, presented "Entha mathramuna', a Annamacharya krithi in Kuchipudi style, filling the void for want of another form of dance, other than Bharatanatyam.

The fitting finale of the day was "Sabhapathikku", sung by vidwan Sri. O.S. Thiagarajan and his daughter, Aparna Balaji. who happen to walk in, as the event was coming to an end. Sri Kumar Nochur, President, NEHTI Board of Trustees, thanked the teachers, the coordinators and the audience for being there and supporting the temple's efforts in keeping traditions alive. Sri Bhairava Sundaram was all in praise and blessed the teachers and hopes that this event becomes an important annual event for them and be conducted elaborately every year on the last Sunday in June.

All the dancers shared one common feeling - that it was a wonderful and special blessing to dance in front of Lord Nataraja, in the natural surroundings of the temple, with enthusiastic audience who provided the perfect support that day. It was a great inspiration for everyone present there. Many volunteers deserve thanks for all the efforts that day, certainly the coordination of the temple committee, in bringing out such events for the benefit of the community on the whole.



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