The temple at Thirukurungudi, in the Tirunelveli district in southern Tamilnadu is a sacred center
rich in history and legend. A massive structure in the heart of a cluster of small villages, this Vishnu
temple is home to an array of stunning sculptures and workmanship of the 12th century Nayak
Thirukurungudi is also the only sacred site for the annual ritual called kaisiki natakam. This is an
all-night drama and dance performance laced with the story of a demon who demands the life of a
devotee preparing to offer prayers to the Lord on this special night which falls in the lunar month of
Kaisiki (mid-November/early December). The ensuing debate and the actual ritual, saturated with
eloquent poetry in old Tamil, snatches of humour and dance attracted thousands to this shrine in
the belief that it was a special blessing to remain awake all night in the presence of Lord Vishnu and
witness this tale.
Alongside the revival of classical and folk arts in India during this century some of the obscure
ritual arts had slowly drifted to atrophy. Traditional communities of dancers and musicians had
fallen into disfavour with the elite and with them invaluable repertoire and literature of
ritual-performances like kaisiki natakam.
Arangham has taken the responsibility of reviving this 10th century performance-art, unique to this
temple. We have established an on-going support for the four remaining artistes, helped them to
recollect and remember the text, movements and music of the kaisiki natakam. The responsibility
extends far beyond the actual performance to social and cultural activism. Rekindling confidence in
these artistes who are all between the ages of 65 and 80, renewing respect with the local townsfolk
for this exquisite tradition and developing a new cluster of artistes who can study this ritual-art
and perform it annually at Thirukurungudi at festival time is our multi-prolonged aim.
Considerable progress has been made since April 1998 in re-establishing the text, recording the
music and recapturing some of the original dramatic narrative and movements. Aided by
renowned Tamil theatre directors N. Muthuswamy and Professor Ramanujam, the first phase of the
performance of kaisiki natakam was held in December 1999 after a gap of 43 years. There was an
unprecedented response to the performance with a crowd of over a thousand staying up all night
to partake in the revived moments!
The second performance of kaisikinatakam was held on December 7, 2000 and this time too the
response was overwhelming. The costumes were more elaborately designed, the movement
stucture was re-defined and more characters were included too. The five, ageing, traditional
performers, shared the stage with a younger group of 15 actors, dancers and musicians. The
performance lasted for 41/2 hours, beginning at 10pm and concluding at 2.30am.
The renewed interest in the performance ritual has spurred the artistes to further research and
exhilirating performances in November 2001 and December 2002.
A bereavement that hit the Kaisiki Natakam project was in the demise of N DURAIKANNU, the 89
year old doyen of the dance tradition, in February 2003. On August 9, 2003, the Kaisiki Natakam
artistes met at Vadoor Temple (near Thanjavur) and commemorated her memory by performing
two scenes from the Kaisiki Natakam in the temple premises. Her daughter, son-in-law and other
members of the family, continue the fine tradition.
The research and recording has been made possible due to the continued support and
encouragement from members of the international Bhakti List as well as patronage from the TVS
business group since the Thirukurungudi village is the native home town of the company's founder,
Sri T V Sundaram Iyengar.
If you would like to know more details about RITUAL & REVIVAL or would like to contribute to the
programme, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org
Photos - 2011