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Kaisiki Natakam

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 rulers.

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.

Latest Developments
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 revival 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!

Professor Ramanujam
Professor Ramanujam

Professor Ramanujam made a decision that it could be done only with artistes of Thanjavur since they were already acquainted with some kind of temple drama that was enacted in Thanjavur, Sarabendraboopala Kuravanji.  Doraikannu has danced in that performance long ago, in the '40s or '50s. So he thought Herambanathan's contribution could be big in the reconstruction. Herambanathan put together the classical artistes with their illusions. He was able to grasp the idea.

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 arangham@gmail.com

Arangham presents
21st revival staging of KAISIKA NATAKAM
December 8, 2019 Tirukurungudi

Reconstructing and reviving an ancient temple theatre ritual
- LV speaks to Professor Ramanujam at Thirukurungudi, www.narthaki.com, December 2001 

The story enacted in the Kaisika Natakam



Story from the past with lessons on the present
- Pradeep Chakaravarthy, The Times of India, 24 Nov 2023

Thirukkurungudi Kaisika Ekadasi play: TN temple, theatre, and a tale from a Puranam
- Madhusudhanan Kalaichelvan, thesouthfirst.com, December 4, 2022
The play, performed once a year on Kaisika Ekadasi in the Tamil Nadu town, is based on an episode in the Varaha Puranam. The oldest manuscript of the play available today was authored by Thiru Veerabadhra Nattuvanar, from around the 17th century.

Performance as prayer: the ‘Kaisiki’ journey
-  Veejay Sai, December 9, 2017
A centuries-old ritual theatre performance of Tamil Nadu is an exercise in the narrative skill of devotion.

Reviving an ancient art
- G. Srinivasan, The Hindu, August 22, 2013
Efforts are on to enact Kaisikapuranam at the Thirukkurungudi temple on December 13.

The venue was Sri Veera Narasimha Perumal Temple on the banks of the Vennar in Thanjavur. A group of artists was rehearsing under the supervision of “Nataka” Ramanujan, former professor of Drama, Tamil University, and dancer Anita Ratnam on August 17 and 18. They were practising Kaisikapuranam, a temple dance, which will be staged on December 13, (in Karthigai, Sukla Pakshami, Dwadasi day) at the ThirukKurungudi temple in Tirunelveli district.

For Ramanujan and Anita, reviving this temple art form has been a painstaking process.

Kaisiki Natakam at Thirukurungudi
- Lalitha Venkat, Chennai, www.narthaki.com, December 15, 2011
The main Kaisiki Natakam is staged in the mandapam in the main temple. The place was overflowing, with not an inch of space available, so we had to climb on to the hall (steps were packed with people) that’s on a raised level across the stage. The entry of the Rakshasa in a black mask was dramatic as he was first carried along by 2 men towards the deity across the hall to pay obeisance and back again through the crowd to the stage. The dialogues between the demon and Nambaduvan were easily understandable as it was all in Tamil. Hats off to the actors for remembering the long dialogues and to the orchestra for singing beautifully for more than 4 hours without slacking in energy.  By the time the program came to an end, it was about 3.30am and tired from standing for so long to watch the whole show, we walked back home for the umpteenth time that day, barefoot! It was amazing to see that Prof. Ramanujam was still sprightly as ever, supervising that all was going well!

Images of the festival
- www.narthaki.com, December 6, 2011, Photos: Lalitha Venkat

Accent on children's theatre
- Kausalya Santhanam, The Hindu, January 29, 2010

Stumbling upon History
- Anvar, The New Sunday Express, May 22, 2005
The search for an ancient ship lands photojournalist S Anwar at the Azhaguya Nambi temple in Thirukurungudi.

Kaisiki Natakam: Simple yet grand
- Jothi Raghavan, Boston, December 20, 2008

Divya Desam-Kaisika Ekadesi
November 22, 2007

- Daasan, Oppiliappan Koil Varadachari Satakopan, www.narthaki.com, November 2001

Kaisiki Natakam - A report on a revival project
by Anita Ratnam (courtesy SRUTI, Issue 190, July 2000)

- Oppiliappan Koil Varadachari Sadagopan, Apr 22, 1999

Kaisika Ekadasi- significance
extracts from article by Shri  Maadhava Kannan

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