The nearly seven-hour drive from Chennai to Melattur (near Thanjavur) to see the Bhagavata Mela could be exciting for a first-time traveler. Lush rice fields, small streams flowing over the rocks, children playing in the sun…the images provide a slice of village life.
The three-tiered gopuram of the Sri Varadaraja Perumal temple decorated with LED lights on the opening day of the 83rd Bhagavata Mela mahotsavam. | Photo credit: TR Sudha
A view of the Sri Varadaraja Perumal temple in Melattur before the start of the Bhagavata Mela mahotsavam on May 19, 2023. | Photo credit: TR Sudha
Despite the sweltering heat, Melattur is set to host the 83rd Bhagavata Mela utsavam (May 18-26). Arriving at the place, a striking arch says: ‘Varuga varuga’ (welcome).
The arch at the entrance to the
agraharam street and the makeshift stage set up in the center in front of the Sri Varadaraja perumal temple for the 83rd Bhagavata Mela mahotsavam. It is here that the night theater is held every year. | Photo credit: TR Sudha
The agraharam leading to the makeshift stage, in front of the Varadaraja Perumal temple, is adorned with kolams.
The improvised stage installed in the middle of the agraharam Opposite the Sri Varadaraja Perumal Temple is where the week-long festival takes place. A view of the arrangements being made before the start of this year’s Bhagavata Mela mahotsavam on the opening day (May 19). | Photo credit: TR Sudha
Every year Melattur becomes a stage for performances where locals and people from nearby towns flock to watch the spectacularly colorful folk theatre.
A part of the audience waiting to see the opening play. Prahlada Charitam. . | Photo credit: TR Sudha
The opening evening culminated in the all-night performance of the popular play Prahlada Charitam, presented by Melattur Bhagavata Mela Natya Nataka Sangam as part of Narasimha Jayanti Vasantotsav.
A special puja is performed on Narasimha and his consorts and the mask, an important accessory used in Prahlada Charitam. After the preliminary rituals on the opening day of the 83rd Bhagavata Mela mahotsavam, the deity is brought back to the temple with the accompaniment of thavil performance. | Photo credit: TR Sudha
This art form owes much of its popularity to Melattur Ganesa Iyer, who worked hard to revive it. He started this annual utsavam as a way to promote the Bhagavata Mela. The legacy was carried on by his son G. Swaminathan and his grandson S. Natarajan, who established the Melattur Bhagavata Mela Natya Nataka Sangam. The Sangam is now headed by Natarajan’s brother, S. Kumar.
A dedicated team of actors, musicians, and backstage technicians have upheld the tradition. plays like harischandra, Sita Parinayamand Prahlada Charitam from the Melattur Bhagavata mela repertoire are presented every year.
A scene from the opening play. Prahlada Charitam, at the 83rd Bhagavata Mela mahotsavam, on May 19. The all-night play The all-night play, which began at 10:30 p.m., continued until 5:00 a.m. the next day. | Photo credit: Bhagavata Mela Natya Nataka Sangam
As the night darkens, Hiranyakasipu (played by Kumar) appears on stage to thunderous applause.
Master Sudarson as Prahlada in the play Prahlada Charitam staged on the opening day of the 83rd Bhagavata Mela mahotsavam. | Photo credit: Bhagavata Mela Natya Nataka Sangam
Prahlada, played beautifully by Maestro Sudarson, touches the hearts of the audience with his emotionally charged performance. The singers, who also act as sutradhars, are led by the Tiruvaiyaru brothers: S. Narasimhan and S. Venkatesan.
The engaging performance of the singers accompanied by a percussion team enhanced the allure of the all-night play. | Photo Credit: Photo Courtesy: Melattur Bhagavata Mela Natya Nataka Sangam
The music team with Nagai P. Sriram on the mridangam, B. Gokul on the flute and Kannan Balakrishnan on the suddha maddalam set the mood with their perfect sound support. It is 5 in the morning and the public is still sitting glued to their seats.
When the play finally comes to an end, you realize that the Bhagavata Mela is not simply an art form, it is an experience.