Book Review Alaya Vazhipattil “Chinna Melam” by SNA awardee Shri B. Herambanathan (Mridangam Vidwan and Nattuvannar)
In March last year (2018) I received a book from Shri Herambanathan, the eminent Nattuvannar of Thanjavur. I met him first in 1993 when I visited Melattur Narasimha Jayanti for the first time. It was he who invited me on the stage and honoured me. He invited me on behalf of the Sangam to accept the Chair and guide them. During the performances I was totally mesmerised by his singing the jathis in deep musical voice. I had a sudden urge to run up and dance to his voice. The music by L. Venkatesa Iyengar and his disciple Shri Radhakrishnan took the performance to another level. It was difficult to decide whether to watch the excellent dance or close my eyes and listen to the music.
He facilitated a meeting with Revathi Amma (aka Doraikannu) a well-known dancer of the fifties.
Shri Herambanathan was unable to join the troupe on the first visit to Mumbai for the first ever Bhagavata mela Festival I curated in January 1994. But he was the main conductor of all subsequent performances. As the Guru to all the Bhagavat mela artistes for more than fifty decades he has a commanding presence which demands great respect from anyone in his presence.
The book had a letter hand written by him in beautiful handwriting appreciating my book Bhagavata mela My Tryst with Tradition.
His book has a Foreword by Shri Babaji Raje Bhonsle, the current senior member of the royal family. He mentions the great service the Chinna Melam artistes have done for dance and music since the Chola times. The Nayak and the Maratha kings too honoured and supported the dancers, mridangam artistes, instrumentalists and nattuvannars who were collectively known as Chinna Melam.
The first chapters describe the divine origin of dance, the Cosmic Dancer Nataraja and deities associated with dance and music.
In his chapter on Abhinaya, he mentions a Sanskrit text called Rasa Bhandar. The text says that a dancer must be very careful when expressing sentiments like Pathos or Fear. These emotions generate negative expressions which affects society. A person who wants to express Veeram or Valour must meditate on Sri Rama and internalise his qualities to succeed in expressing this emotion. Quoting and excerpt from the book, he reveals the secret advice Siva gives to Nandi- an actor must be responsible and maintain aesthetic limits when portraying a character. Or he will influence the viewer’s mind in a negative manner.
The main crux of the book is the information of the role of Devadasi families and their duties in temples. From service to Siva in the sanctum sanctorum to performing during festivals, and performing the compositions of the royalty like Kuravanjis and Pallaki Seva Prabandhams.
Shri Herambanathan’s book is like a bell which is tolls loud and clear reminding the world of the immense service of those artistes, their superlative talent and their status as repository of our rich Thanjavur Bharata Natyam traditions.
The book has details of important Nattuvannar families and the Devadasi dancers from the time of the Tanjore Quartette. Profusely illustrated with photographs of rare vintage it is an important text for dancers. It is definitely worth a translation into English for those art lovers from other regions.
Published by Thanjavur Heritage Arts & Cultural Academy,2016
Financed by Tamil Iyal Isai Nataka Manram