In 1323, when Ghias-ud-din Tughlak’s army decided to plunder the Srirangam Temple, a group of devotees sprang into action to protect their beloved lord Sri Ranganatha. Taking him to a secret place, they changed his location again and again for 48 years before they brought the lord back to his abode in 1371. Narrating the lord’s journey that traversed Madurai, Calicut, Melkottai and Tirupati, Darshanam Art Creations’ Aranganin Pathaiyil, a dance production, is an effort by researcher Asha Krishnakumar, speaker on Indian religious texts Dushyanth Sridhar and historian Chithra Madhavan. The production will feature senior dancers Roja Kannan, Priya Murle, N Srikanth and Aswathy Srikanth — apart from the dancers’ disciples and artistes from Kalakshetra. With music by Rajkumar Bharathi recorded at Sai Shravanam’s Resound India, the dancers have choreographed the performance.
Asha, who came up with concept, says that the topic matches three objectives of the venture: to present an interesting topic, present it in the traditional bharathanatyam format and to offer the audience an experience. “This is an idea that took shape in my head right after our earlier production on 108 Divya Desams. We have been looking at ideas that meet some important prerequisites. Aranganin Pathaiyil is about the love and devotion of the people and the sacrifices they made to protect the deity. It is a riveting story for many people who had laid down their lives to protect the lord in those 48 years. We put together a story on what can be taken to the stage,” she says.
With extensive documentation like Kovil Ozhugu, which is a documentation on the temple’s history, a thesis on Kovil Ozhugu by V N Hari Rao, and work by historians like Nilakanta Sastri and Krishnaswami Aiyengar available, the team set out on a task to corroborate dates and the timeline of events.
“The most exciting part is putting a historical event on stage. While the temple maintains records, it may not be chronologically accurate. Their records have to be corroborated with inscriptional and epigraphical evidence. Madhura Vijayam, a work by Gangadevi, a princess of the Vijayanagara Empire, has been used as a reference, though her work doesn’t feature in the production. We haven’t deviated from the sources and every sequence has been checked for historical accuracy,” she says.
Apart from keeping history and factuality as the fulcrum of the production, Aranaganin Pathaiyil will have an LED backdrop to recreate the atmosphere of the deity moving through caves, forests as well across the kingdoms in the South. A replica of the Ranganatha Utsavar image and palanquin, which housed the image, will form an integral part of the lord’s journey.
Dushyanth says that interspersing history and literature by selecting compositions that fit the narration has been more of an interesting exercise, than a challenge.
He says, “Sri Vaishnavism is blessed with rich literature from various periods. There are works by those like Nathamuni in the 9th Century, to the 13th Century, when poet and philosopher Vedanta Desika wrote more than 120 works in Tamil, Sanskrit, Manipravala and Prakrit. The 12 Azhwars have contributed the huge volume of 4,000 Divyaprabandham. The pasurams have strong emotions about Ranganathar.”
The compositions include those by Arunachala Kavi in Rama Natakam in Tamil, Sanskrit works by Vedanta Desika, Ramanujacharya, Parasara Bhattar and Kuresa. Apart from folklore, to depict the Madurai terrain, there is a Telugu composition by Annamacharya and another in Kannada.
Dushyanth adds that there is a native element present to depict the geographical terrain. He adds that while choosing the composition, it was ensured that the compositions were high on similes and emotions. “Dance requires similes and emotions. There is a composition by Kuresa, which talks about a hill, where peacocks and snakes live in harmony. We thought it would be best the fit for the production,” he adds.
Aranganin Pathaiyil will be staged on May 31 at the Narada Gana Sabha at 6.30 pm. Tickets will be available from next week at Sri Krishna Sweets (Adyar, RK Salai, T Nagar (next to TTD), and Anna Nagar (2nd Avenue) and on www.eventjini.com from this weekend.
The Lord’s Journey
The Vijayanagara Empire’s first kings defeated the Bahmini Sultans and brought lord Ranganatha back to Srirangam on the 17th day of the Vaikasi month, which falls on May 31 this year.