Star Weekend Magazine

Date: April 1 , 2010

Festival Diary
A music fest is transforming Thiruvaiyaru


Where are the sounds of festivity coming from? Where does mangalam (well-being) prevail?” asked noted thumri exponent Vidya Rao (pic) in her prelude to a folk song that celebrated the birth of Rama in the sohar tradition of eastern Uttar Pradesh.

The exquisite setting for her performance was the ruins of the Husoor Palace at Thiruvaiyaru, deep in the verdant Thanjavur delta of the Tamil heartland, an old temple town known better as the venue of the annual Aradhana to Thyagaraja, the saint-composer who draws Carnatic music lovers here by the hundreds every January. But the devoted had departed, returning Thiruvaiyaru-by-the-Cauvery to its nondescript anonymity. Recently, though, several never-befores transpired in Thiruvaiyaru. The delightfully egalitarian Festival of Sacred Music returned in its second edition (Feb 26-28) to where it began a year ago. For sure, never before could this modest palace have looked so breathtaking. Village women welcomed guests with painterly kolams; the crumbling mandapams and corridors were lit incandescently from within; marigold garlands found their way around everything from discarded kallorals (grinding stones) to a stage set up with excellent acoustics under a looming, backlit tree; ahal vilakkus (earthen lamps) twinkled behind each arch of the tall dovecote; and a calming breeze became the perfect accompaniment to the lively, animated performance.

Bringing music to Thiruvaiyaru requires gumption. But the Prakriti Foundation, Intach and the Marabu Foundation had too much on their minds to be intimidated by context. With the intention of cleaning up and restoring Thiruvaiyaru’s notable sights, encouraging tourism and generating employment locally, the Festival of Sacred Music is conceived as a unifying event. “Thiruvaiyaru is already a part of the Tamil sacred musical geography,” says Ranvir Shah, curator and founder of the Prakriti Foundation. Shah likes to work with what he calls ‘found’ spaces. “Sometimes, they work. Sometimes, they don’t. But, in the process, things get cleaned up and seen in a new perspective. In Thiruvaiyaru, so far, we have used six venues that have never been used for a concert before.”

Whether at the Husoor Palace or the Pushya Mahal Ghat, where the second day’s nadaswaram (Pinnainallur K.M. Dakshina-murti and K.M. Uthirapathi)-shehnai (Pandit Krishna Ram Choudhary of Banaras) jugalbandi was performed after a Ganga-like aarti to the Cauvery, or the mandapam at the Panchanadeeshwarar Temple where Aruna Sayeeram rendered a traditional Carnatic vocal kutcheri on the last day, announcers urged visitors and locals alike to participate in Thiruvaiyaru’s revival. Already, a smattering of tourists were among the guests at the all-are-welcome non-ticketed performances. I hope the organisers will eventually start offering the festival experience as a sort of package deal — the days spent exploring the magnificent temples and other sights of the Thanjavur delta, with the evenings given to the festival, so that more people see Thiruvaiyaru in a new light, as one visitor said, literally

 
 
     
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