The Melattur Mela: A Legacy of Venkatarama Sastri
It is usually a sleepy village but it stirs and becomes wide awake a week or ten days before a Narasimha Jayanti which falls on the 14th day of the bright fortnight of the month of Vaisakha, generally between late May and early June of the Roman calendar. It was on this day. some mythical aeons ago, Vishnu assumed his fourth incarnation of man-lion form to save his boy-devotee from his demon-father. If Narasimha Jayanti is an auspicious festival for the Srivaishnavas who apply tirumani and tiruchoornam even to the pillars of their houses since Narasimha appeared from within a stone pillar, the day is doubly auspicious to the denizens of this village. During the night of this particular festival, Prahluda Charitram, a play narrating the dramatic events leading to the appearance of the incarnation has to be staged.
It is the bounden duty of the community to do so. Soon, erstwhile residents of the village start arriving from near and distant parts of the country and some even from abroad. An electrical engineer from Dubai, and a research assistant from the Department of Atomic Energy. Kalpakkam, outside Madras, a bus conductor of the Cholan Transport Corporation, a Professor of Physical Education from the Alagappa University in Karaikudi, a B.Com. student from Tirunelveli. a ten-year old boy from Bangalore, a make-up man from Needamangalam. a costumed man from Erode and a host of others will reach the village. They join those still living there to participate in the cherished play. to don the same roles their forefathers had played and handed down to them as a hereditary privilege. The producer, conductor, singers and instrumentalists also gather and get ready. The electric lights. 18 mikes, loudspeakers and the generator are all arranged in advance. With fervent faith and dutiful devotion, they enact again what has been staged in that village for the last seven or eight generations as homage to one of the most illustrious persons of the land who brought glory to his hometown with his numerous plays in general and this play on the Narasimha avatara in particular.
The village is now called Melattur or Merattur. The playwright was Melattur Venkatarama Sastri, who perfected the Bhagavata Mela tradition. Where is Melattur and what is Bhagavata Mela tradition? Melattur may not be on the tourist map of Tamilnadu. a state with a smile according to the Tamilnadu Tourism Development Corporation's claim, but it is certainly on the dance map of India as a village dedicated, over the centuries, to the performing arts in general and Bhagavata Mela operas in particular. Melattur and its neighbouring village of Irumbu Talai have been famous places for a long, long time, as is evidenced by the stone inscriptions of Vikrama Chola Raja Raja and Rajadilya In Chola times, the empire was divided into several territorial sectors called "nadus". and Melattur was included in "NriitaVinoda-Valanadu'. a cultural county' entirely responsible for dance and its companion arts of geeta vadya and sangita Over the centuries the village acquired the name of Bhupatirajapuram with an accumulated Telugu connection. Tiruvaiyaru. now famous as a pilgrim centre for Carnatic music, has also had a Telugu connection. for a thousand years in fact. After the death of the Eastern Chalukya king Danarnava in 972 A.D., his sons with their families and retinue migrated to the Chola country and. under the protection of the Chola monarch Raja Raja I. settled down in Tiruvaiyaru.
The refugees were made to feel at home and happy in their new surroundings. In fact, some of them took so kindly to the new country that they chose to remain in Tiruvaiyaru permanently, even after the restoration of their native land -- the Vengi kingdom -- to the sons of Danarnava Thus Telugu had become a dialect of the ancient "NrittaVinodaValanadu". With the advent of the Nayak kings as the rulers of Chola country from 1550 A.D.. several families of poets, composers and performing artists migrated to the new paradise and settled down in Tanjavur and nearby places in the old Nritta-Vinoda-Valanadu. During the reign of the second Nayak king Achyutappa I 1580- 1600), many displaced families of Paka Nadu and Velanadu from Andhra sought the protection of the Tanjavur court. Achyutappa settled them in various agraharas or enclaves and Melattur was one of them. According to the oral accounts. there was a strange reason for the settlement of this village. On one occasion. Achyutappa Nayak took tamboolam- betel leaves-- from his adapam ( box) with his left hand and chewed it. Though done inadvertently, it amounted to a sin and to ward off its constraining consequences, Achyutappa gave away the entire village of Melattur to persons arrived from Pisuwati, a village in the then Nellore mandala.
This gift was considered the best of the deeds of Achyutappa and the great scholar Dr. U.V. Swaminatha Iyer called Melattur as Uttamadanapuram though the village already had a synonym- Unnatapuri. Anyway. from the time of Achyutappa the Melattur village has been known also as Achyutapuri or Achyutaabdhi. Melattur is situated about 12 miles northeast of Tanjavur and one mile away from the south bank of Vettar. a branch of the Kaveri river. The original endowment of Achyutappa Nayak consisted of 510 shares. Five hundred of them were given to brahmins of various families. Besides one and a half acres of land to each person, a house with a well was provided to every family. Of the remaining 10 shares, six were given to komatis (merchants) and the rest to artisan classes. The brahmins settled down on three long, parallel streets with rows oi houses on each side. Four or five supplementary streets sprang up lor the Supporting communities. On the four sides of the village came to be big ponds, one facing the quite old temple of Siva called I nnathapureeswara. Even though this tank has dried up. the worship of Siva in this temple still continues. At the western end of the northern brahmin street, a modest temple for Varadaraja Perumal was constructed later. All the vaggeyakaras who composed various classes of artistic works to be presented at Melattur each dedicated some of them to this deity (see box item: Maestroes of Melattur). Some time after the construction of this temple for Varadaraja. an idol of Narasimhamurthi was also installed in the same sanctum. This was done probably due to the direct influence and implicit instructions of Narayana Theertha the celebrated author of the Sanskrit opera Krishna Leela Tarangini and a staunch devotee of Narasimha Like the original beneficiaries of Achyutappa Nayaks endowment of Melattur, Narayana Theertha was also a Telugu smartha brahmin who migrated south and settled down at Varahur on the bank of the Kaveri river.
He hailed from a Velanadu village called Kaja It is said that he was afflicted with a severe stomach ailment but was cured when he worshipped Narasimhaswami of Singarayakonda of Kandukur country for forty days la mandala). He undertook a pilgrimage of all Narasimha kshetras and finally reached Bhupatirajapuram which became later known as Varahur. While he was in his native land, Narayana Theertha taught his tarangam-s to people of 60 villages and he did the same to the residents of several villages of the Tanjavur kingdom. Singing of tarangam-s has become an indispensable part of the bhajana tradition since that time. Narayana Theertha had contacts with the people of Melattur and composed a Telugu dance-drama Pari/ataapaharanam for their exclusive use. After some decades, native sons of Melattur started to compose their own operas. Nataka Prabhanda-s or epic plays were very popular from the time of the Nayak kings. Yagna Narayana Dikshitulu. the minister of Raghunatha Nayak 11600-1630) wrote Ragunatha-vilm a-natakam.
The king himself composed three operas: Gajendra Moksham, Rukmini-Kfishnet Vivaham and Janaki Parinayam. Krishnaadhvari, a court poet of Raghunatha. wrote Kalyana Kaumudikandarpa Natakam. Kumara Tatacharya composed another Parijataapaharanam. All these dancedramas. written in Sanskrit, were apparently the passion and fashion of the times. Since Narayana Theertha composed his Krishna Leela Tarangini in Sanskrit also. he may have belonged to the same period. Writing dance-dramas called mahanatakam-s in Telugu started with Vijayaraghava Nayak I [633* 1673). Out oi his 57 works for the performing arts. 12 were operas. These were staged often in both kota i palace) and peta I town). Vijayaraghavas Prahhniu Mahanatakam was a trend-setter and very popular. Th e character of katikam < kattiyankaran in Tanjavur opera), meaning a maceholder. was first introduced in this work. There were two sets of daru-s or songs, one for the elite and the other for the common folk, and instructions were incorporated for their use on suitable occasions. Th e vidushaka (clown) and some other characters were given freedom to ad lib. The persons who had to sing and dance pada-s in the play were at liberty to replace the old compositions with new ones. No wonder 12 other Prahlada nataka-s were written by 12 different authors after Vijayaraghavas own reached the stage.
T h e Bhosala kings of Maharashtra origin who came to power later also wrote many natya natakam-s with gusto and staged them. Shahaji (1683-1712) composed no less than 22 yakshagana-like works. Out of these 16 are natakam-s and six prabhandha-s. For instance, tfre PallakiSeva Prabhadham. His works consist of eight Saiva stories, five Vaishnava Bhagavata stories, three Ramayana tales, two puranic themes and three independent plots. Shahaji introduced in all his natakam-S the entry of Vinayaka as a character immediately after the singing of thodaya mangalam. The katikam was also turned into a clown. Initiated into opera by Narayana Theertha, the people of Melattur inherited and incorporated the dance-drama traditions set by Vijayaraghava Nayak and Shahaji. T h e format of Melattur plays conformed to the pattern of Tanjavur court plays but their authors added their own innovations, for instance the initial entry of konangi and his comic dance. Konangi in Telugu means a buffoon or a soft fool in a farce. According to a traditional legend Vinayaka once swallowed the chakra of Vishnu and, to get back his essential missile. Vishnu transformed himself into a konangi and performed a very funny dance before the elephantfaced god. As the story goes, the latter laughed and laughed till the chakra came out of his mouth. In the old days the konangi of Melattur plays was a dwarf since the pravesa daruvu. the entry song of that person, describes him as such.
He danced holding, with both his hands, a rope or a long scarf. His conical hat resembled exactly that of a circus buffoon. It is not known when this figure of konangi was introduced in Melattur plays. But it is well-known that Gopalakrishna Sastri, the father of Venkatarama Sastri. wrote. conducted and acted in some dance-dramas like Dhmva Gowri Ruk/nini Kalyanam and Sita Kalyanam. He might have been a very young disciple of 20 Narayana Theertha and received initiation into the Narasimha cult from the saint himself. The installation of the idol of Narasimha at the Varadaraja Perumal temple might have taken place during Gopalakrishna Sastrfs time. As a reverential remembrance of Narayana Theertha. the brahmins of Melattur. even now, sing his tarangam-s daily during the thirty days of the month of Aipasi I Aswayuja masa). They perform a ritual called Tula Kaveri Snanam during the month. They go round the village doing bhajan and then proceed to the river, which is called Vriddha Kaveri at this place, and take a ritual bath. They perform divyanama sankeertana on each and every day of the month and sing quite a number of tarangam-s.
So the Narayana Theertha sampradaya is still alive in Melattur. Venkatarama Sastri inherited many traditions. As a boy, he was probably around when the great Veerabhadrayya was composing musical masterpieces and Bharatam Narana and Bharatam Kasinadhayya were creating their dance numbers. As a junior contemporary he had rubbed shoulders with Patchimiriam Adiyapa and collaborated with him on some matu compositions. He might have seen Ramaswami Dikshitar at close quarters learning lessons from Veerabhadrayya. Thus,-he mastered the arts of music, dance and drama by observing the great vidwans of his time. Also, he received a rich repertoire of puranic tales from his father. His guru Lakshmanayya made him an expert in kavya nataka and alankara-s. Venkatarama Sastri excelled in composing pada-s (songs) padya-s (verses) and gadya-s (alliterated prose pieces). He might have put on boards his father's compositions for katha kalakshepam and brought a new era of dance-dramas to Melattur. Even now, in the bhajana sampradaya of South India the "entire exercise* has been classified into two or three items. As told by one living exponent, when a group goes for divyanama sankeertana. there is singing, there is natana and there is nritya. For abhinaya involved items, one of them usually dons the roles and acts out the abhinaya On occasions like Vinayaka Chaturti, Sri Rama Navami and Purattasi festival, his bhajana sabha group "acts out' sequences like Ganapati Natanam. Thataka Vadham. Yasoda Natyam, Kuravan-Kuratti Natakam, Maheswara Urdhava Tandavam and so on, with some members doing the singing.
This living bhajana; sampradaya acting might have started during Narayana Theertha* s time and flourished in Gopalakrishna Sastri's days. Venkatarama Sastri probably brought out the indoor stage to the village street. This must have been a great revolution for the brahmin agraharam with its orthodox customs and manners. Venkatarama Sastri recruited his players from each brahmin family and enacted the plays in the Varadaraja Perumal Sannadhi Street before the decorated utsava igrahas or processional deities. He formed a natya melam to which only men were admitted. The female roles were portrayed by men. as they are even now. With his strict adherence to the principles of Bharatas Natya Sastra, he must have warded off the objections of the older generation, while attracting the youth with his bold innovations.
Venkatarama Sastri composed many new operas and there are atleast twelve nataka-s to his credit. Since his natya melam was enacting the themes mostly from Srimad Bhagavata Puranam, the name of Bhagavata Mela was given to the troupe. Sastri* s plays became so popular that their texts were collected and kept in the Saraswati Mahal Library of Tanjavur by the pundits of the Maratha Court. Sastri was known as Rama Panditulu during his life time and the manuscript called Ramapanditula Natakalu reveals his repertoire which included some of his own works. Another manuscript. Naanaavidha Natakalu. also contains some of his works. The success of Venkatarama Sastrfs Bhagavata Mela natakam-s, especially Prahlada Charitram. attracted the people of other brahmin enclaves of the Kaveri delta. Youths from villages like Soolamangalam. Saliyamangalam. Nallur.
Oothukadu and Teperumanallur thronged Melattur to see. enjoy with admiration and imitate the example of the devotion-based entertainment. They set up their own Bhagavata Mela natya melam-s in their villages and started enacting Prahlada Charitram on Narasimha Jayanti. There was a sort of rivalry among the villages, each one claiming that its act was superior to that of the others. In Saliamangalam, Panchanada Bhagavatar started composing his own dance-dramas on the Melattur model. Venkatarama Sastri exactly followed the format of the Yakshagana natya-nataka prabhandha-s of the Tanjavur Court but found suitable situations in his plays to incorporate all the latest musical modes of his day, like sabdam, varnam, tillana and chindu. Other composers of his day admired his musical talents. His Kasiki Reeti, a most graceful style of poetic composition, captivated the learned and the laymen alike. Tyagaraja (1767- 1847) himself, though a junior in age to Sastri, complemented him on his mastery of melodious songs. Tyagaraja was so inspired by the Melattur maestro* s Prahlada Charitram that he composed his' own opera on the theme, namely Prahlada Bhakti Vijuyam.
Subbarama Dikshitar listed Venkatarama Sastri as a vaggeyakara in his Sangita Sampradaya Pradarsini and mentioned that he was (he lyric writer of the famous Husseini swarajati E man day ana ra dedicated to Pratapa Simha This Pratapa Simha was not the nobleman who ruled Tanjavur between 1739*1764 A.D., but another person with the same name who belonged to the Bhosala family. He was the son of the deposed Amara Simha (1788- 1798) and was called Madhyarjunam Pratapa Simha He died a few years before Sivaji (1832-1835), the last Maratha ruler of Tanjavur. This Pratapa Simha was also listed as a vaggeyakara by Subbarama Dikshitar. Venkatarama Sastri seemed to have been a man of the world. Besides dedicating the Husseini swarajati to Madhyarjunam Pratapa Simha he taught the same to the famous danseuse Tiruvarur Kamalam, disciple of Muthuswamy Dikshitar (1775- 1833). He composed a chindu with a lilting pallavi Taluku hehiku kuluku gala mitari ra! and dedicated it to Mallarji. a powerful high official of the Tanjavur court. The same chindu was performed last year by the person portraying Matangakanyaka in Venkatarama Sastrfs Harischandra Nataka. It can be determined now from all evidence available that Venkatarama Sastri lived during the life times of Mallarji and Madhyarjunam Pratapa Simha (1599-1850) and that he was probably born in the early years of the last quarter of the 18th century. His Bhagavata Mela tradition would have started when he was in his teens.
Venkatarama Sastri died without any sons, but the younger people of the entire community considered themselves as his descendents and continued his tradition. Venkataramanayya and Venkatarama Josyar were his torch-bearers in the relay and passed the living flame to the succeeding generations who kept alive the tradition of observing Narasimha Jayanti and staging Prahlada Charitram on that night. In the old days, the Bhagavata Mela artists were living in the villages and supported themselves with the product obtained from their fields but. due to the changed circumstances, some of them seek their livelihood elsewhere now. But. wherever they may be living, all of them make a pious pilgrimage to their native place a few days before Narasimha Jayanti and offer their homage to the memory of Venkatarama Sastri. When the show is over and those who arrive for taking part in it finally leave, the village of Melattur once again goes to sleep. But embedded in that sleep are dreams for the next year's celebrations.
MAESTROES OF MELATTUR
Melattur is not only the birthplace of the Bhagavata Mela dance-drama tradition but also the native place of great composers of music and dance works. It was here the early varna-s, swarajati-s. alarippu-s, tillana-s and sabdam-s were composed. A serious study of Melattur" s contribution to Carnatic music and classical solo dances forChadur' (Sadir) is long overdue. While systematic research is yet to begin, some information is available already on the maestroes of Melattur. Melattur Veerabhadrayya This composer par excellence was both versatile and prolific. He was a pioneer of many musical and dance forms and contributed immensely to the growth of Carnatic music and Chaduru dance. He was a contemporary of the Bhosala king Pratapa Simha (1739-1764) who patronised him and showed great respect to his principles. Veerabhadrayya did not sing on mortals but dedicated his works to Achyuta-Varada Unnatapureeswara and Prataparama the last one being the family deity of the patron. Historians of South Indian music credit to Veerabhadrayya the first swarajati. the initial ragamalika the earliest varnam and the tillana He was proficient in Telugu. Sanskrit, Marathi and Tamil and composed pada-s and keertana-s in them. His output in Telugu and Sanskrit was naturally more.
Veerabhadrayya was the preceptor of Ramaswami Dikshitar (1735-1817), the father of Muthuswami Dikshitar of the Tiruvarur Trinity. Like his guru. Ra-maswami Dikshitar also composed varna-s and ragamalika-s. Subbarama Dikshitar, in his Sangiia Sampradaya Pradarsini. declared that it was because Veerabhadrayya cleared and paved the way that Carnatic music could later shine gloriously. In the same book, he stated that Veerabhadrayya composed some daru-s and pada-s on the Bhosala king. If this was a fact, the works are yet to surface from the depths of the time. Due to the efforts of Dr V. 22 Raghavan, the buried treasure of Veerabhadrayyas swarajati in Husseini Adi. the first of its kind, saw the light of day at least in print. The Journal of the Music Academy. Madras. 1946). It is a very very lengthy piece, with a pallavi. anupallavi. a jati passage, 12 longish charana-s, charana swara-s and a concluding jati appendage. It would take five or six hours for any dancer to do justice to this composition in which its author has revealed the viswaroopa of his favourite raga. Dancers of his times had the whole night at their disposal and apparently the needed stamina too, to perform it in its entirety. After one or two generations, the length and the strain were both felt perhaps and shorter versions in praise of Mallarji and Madhyarjunam Pratapa Simha were cast by others from Veerabhadrayyas mould. These shorter pieces are still in vogue but even experienced dancers are quickening the tempo, forgetting that Veerabhadrayya composed all his pieces in vilamba kala only.
That was the reason he was called "Chaukam' Veerabhadrayya. Veerabhadrayya is still remembered amd respected in Melattur. G. Krishnamurthi Sarma the Bhagavatar who is the chief conductor of Bhagavata Mela programmes in that village, told me: "I would say that only because the villagers here have by and large followed the sampradaya of Veerabhadrayya thesangita the kriti-s. the varnamettu-s. the tala-s and the bha a-s of Bhagavata Mela have stood the test of time." It is worthwhile to revive some of Veerabhadrayyas compositions that are gathering dust I figuratively speaking) at the Saraswati Mahal Library in Tanjavur. Melattur Kasinadhayya If Veerabhadrayya was the pioneer of swarajati-s, varna-s and ragamalika-s, Kasinadhayya was renowned as the originator of alarippu-s, sabdam-s and salaam jati-s. He was known as Bharatam Kasinadhayya since he was a great natyacharya and dance composer. He dedicated his works to his patrons Shahaji 11684-1711), Serfojil 1711-1728), Tulaja(1728- 1735) and Pratapa Simha (1739- 1764). Because he sang the praises of three generations of kings, Kasinadhayya" s time may be inferred as 1690-1764.
This composer-cum-dance master wrote some works on different deities also. Kasinadhayya composed nine alarippu-s in various tala-s that had names like Dwirajasekhara Sasanka and Madanakunjara and also in At a Triput a Jampa and Adi tala-s. He dedicated his alarippu-s to Varadaraja Gopalakrishna Narasimha and Kasturiranga A Triputa tala alarippu composed in Tamil was on Vinayaka All his works in this form were in three tempos and included teermanam-s. Kasinadhayya was famous for his sabdam-s.
They still retain their freshness and are used in Kuchipudi dances. He dedicated his Gajeiidramoksha Sabdam more popularly known as Monduka Sabdam in Sri raga and Ata tala to Sri Rama; and his Dasavatara Sabdam to Kasturiranga. (Could the famous padam Indendu vachitivira which has the Kasturiranga mudr a also be Kasinadhayya's composition?) This natyacharya composed sabdam-s on the themes of Parijatha-apaharanam and Rukmini Kalyanam probably as introductory pieces for the natakam-s of those names to be sung after the thodaya-mangalam. Strangely, Kasinadhayya dedicated a bhakti marga sabdam to Pratapa Simha This suggests that both the composer and the king were far advanced in their age at the time of its writing. It can be surmised that Kasinadhayya composed his solo dance pieces for the court dancers of Tanjavur and the devadasis of Melattur. The Unnatapureeswara temple in Melattur had devadasis offering divine services. Even after the Devadasi Act came into force some forty years ago, there used to be a dancer called Kamalam attached to the temple. Offering khumba-arati was her daily duty in return for which the temple sent the mandatory plate of prasada to her house every day. The tradition was that, when the deity w ent in procession, the dancer should stand in the north-east corner and do nritya-aradhana In Kasinadhayya's time there would have been the requisite number of temple servants, including devadasis. Kasinadhayya had many disciples.
The Ramanathapuram brothers, Bharatam Panchanadayya and Bharatam Vaidyanadhayya were competent dance composers. Melatur Bharatam Narana In my researches I came across a manuscript in the Tanjavur Saraswati Mahal Library (Serial No.906 of the Telugu catalogue) which contains, along with Kasinadhayya's works, manycompositions for dance authored by one Bharatam Narana. The latter's compositions are larger in number than the former's. The relationship of these two natyacharyas is not known. I am told by the Library authorities that this manuscript is being published. When it comes out of the press and further researches are made. an estimate of Melattur Narana's contribution to the dance literature can be attempted. Melattur Gopalakrishna Sastri E. Krishna Iyer, the early reviver of solo Sadir dance, writing in Mars, (March 19661 stated that the father of Venkatarama Sastri authored four natakam-s and gave their names as Druva. Gowri. Sita Kalyanam and Rukmini Kalyanam Dr. S. Seetha, in her book Tanjore As A Seat Of Music, also credits four works to Gopalakrishna Sastri. but she omits Sita Kalyanam and replaces it with Kuchela Charitram. She declares that these were mostly used for Harikatha performances. A Telugu manuscript in the Saraswati Mahal Library I Serial No.799) cites Sita Kalyanam and Druva Charitram as Rama Pandithula natakalu' indicating that they are the works of Venkatarama Sastri. Further research can determine the mode and authorship of the works. Patchimiriyam Adiyappa Patchimiriyam Adiyappa the composer of the unequalled Bhairavi Ata tala varnam Viriboni, may not have been a resident of Melattur but he was certainly a constant visitor to the village. He followed in Veerabhadrayya's footsteps. He collaborated with Venkatarama Sastri in composing the shorter Husseini swarajati E mandayanara on Madhyarjunam Pratapa Simha Unlike Veerabhadrayya who emphasised the slow tempo, Adiyappa popularised madhyamakala singing.
Tachur Singaracharyulu in his Gayaka Siddhanjanam has said that Adiyappa was the court musician of Pudukottai Samasthanam. Veena Krishnayya and Veena Subbukutti, the son and grandson of Adiyappa. were master lutanists. Krishnayya composed many prabhandha-s on the rulers of Mysore, Vizianagaram and Kotthakota. Subbukutti's time can be roughly estimated by the indications given by Subbarama Dikshitar as 1800- 1870. If Adiyappa had a grandson by 1800 A.D., his own life time can be guessed as spanning 1750- 1820. Since Adiyappa was mentioned as a senior contemporary of Venkatarama Sastri, the latter's time can also be inferred from this. Melattur Natesa Iyer After Venkataramanayya and Venkatarama Josyar, it was Natesa Iyer who kept the tradition of Bhagavata Mela alive in Melattur. He maintained the high standards of the form. He was well up in the theory and practice of Bharata's Natya Sastra. At first he used to portray the leading female characters. His dance and abhinaya used to be admired by the devadasis of his time. When he took to nattuvangam. he was considered a master conductor of not only the dance-dramas but solo Sadir dances also. His nattuvangam used to be the envy of conductors of contemporary nattuva melams or chinna melams. It was Natesa Iyer, in the 1920s, that initiated E Krishna Iyer into solo Sadir dancing and encouraged him to revive the art when it was suffering seriously from social stigma.
Natesa Iyer served the cause of Bhagav ata Mela during the major part of his life and trained many artists, conductors and singers. During the last phase of his eventful life, he had to leave Melattur and live in Madras where he died in 1931. When he was conducting, many memorized the texts of entire natakam-s merely by listening. Though the women of Melattur community were barred to go on the stage, many of them could sing the daruvu-s. pada-s and other pieces of the dancedramas. When the Music Academy of Madras published the Prahlada Charitra Kirtanas of Venkatarama Sastri in 1965, it was Kalyani Animal, daughter of Natesa Iyer, who helped to prepare the edition with swara notations. With Natesa Iyer's death, there was a short disruption of Bhagavata Mela performances at Melattur.
The discontinuance distressed many a villager. Balu Bhagavatar and Others Kinchin Kothandarama Iyer, the disciple of Natesa Iyer took up the broken threads and tried to tie up the dance-drama tradition after his guru's departure. He could do this for three or four years but finally gave up. From 1936 onwards, a new group of artists, singers and conductors, under the direction of Balu Bhagavatar (1897-1985) continued the tradition. Prominent among them were Gopala Iyer, Musiri Iyer, Muthuswami Iyer and P.K. Subba Iyer. Gopala Iyer died in 1964 and his son Krishnamurthi Sarma has filled the gap. His uncle Subramania Iyer, also known as Ramani Iyer, a disciple of Natesa Iyer, was doing the nattuvangam. In Melattur everybody seems to be somebody's blood relation and that is why the show is going on there every year on Narasimha Jayanti. despite the personality clashes and petty politics of succeeding generations.