After Bharatam Natesa Iyer left Melattur for Madras first and then left this world in 1931, the Bhagavata Mela performance in Melattur stopped entirely and the village community was very much distressed. When the efforts of Kinchin Kothandarama Iyer, the disciple of Natesa Iyer, to revive the tradition also started to fail, the community was really depressed. They met and collectively decided that at least Prahlada Churitram. the favourite play of Venkatarama Sastri should be performed on Narasimha Jayanti, the festival he cherished most, in the same street where he lived and in the sannidhi of Varadaraja Perumal, the god to whom Venkatarama Sastri had dedicated his dance-dramas. In 1936. prominent persons like Ramani Iyer. Gopala Iyer, Subramania Iyer and Balu Bhagavatar (see Maestroes of Melattur) got together and started performing Prahlada Charitram with initial help from Kinchin Kothandarama Iyer and Nallur Kichu Bhagavatar. This went on for five or six years and then various difficulties cropped up.

At this stage. V. Ganesa Iyer with his family members took over the responsibility of producing Bhagavata Mela performances. Ganesa Iyer, a grand old man of HH years now. is a strong-willed man. He served the community as village munsif for 43 years and in that capacity could get things done. He has two sons. Swaminathan I now aged 65) and Guruswamy (60). Swaminathan early evinced great interest in Bhagavata Mela plays and wanted to act in them. Ganesa Iyer felt duty-bound to see the dreams of his boy come true. Swaminathan Swaminathan straight away at the age of 15 started with the Raja' parts and thanks to the training given by Ramani Iyer, shaped up as a fine actor. He played the roles of such persons as Hiranyakasipu, Harischandra and Banasura until a few years ago when he had a surgical operation for a throat ailment and his vocal cords were removed. But even after losing his power of speech, he did not get disheartened; in fact, he works for the cause with even greater vigour. He wields the cymbals and plays the role of Harischandra as the slave in the second part of the drama with convincing talent. His lip movements are so natural that the audience do not know about the playback voice speaking the dialogue. Guruswamy also look part in Bhagavata Mela plays but he did minor roles only and after some years, he left the village for Madras. Female roles were played till 1962 by Nagarajan and by Venk-taraman popularly called Thambu. The former used to portray characters like Lilavathi. Chandramati and Usha, the latter portrayed only Chandramati.

When once Nagarajan was unable to turn up for the play. Natarajan. the eldest son of Swaminathan. came forward and saved the situation. Since then he too has been playing the heroine roles. His charming figure and graceful and effective dance-cumacting have considerably enhanced the quality of the show. according to the opinion of an expert like (the late) E Krishna Iyer. Natarajan. born in 1943. has grown up in the tradition. As a boy, he started to play the part of Vinayaka and later of Bhoomi Devi in Prahlada Charitram. He had been observing his elders doing the heroine roles and mentally trained himself. He knew all the texts by heart and, with training under Balu Bhagavatar, Swaminathan and Krishnamurthy Sarma, he could shine in the female roles. An electrical engineer ( by profession) he is now employed in Dubai. When he took the job, he insisted and got an agreement that he would be allowed to take his annual vacation in the months of May' June so that he could visit his home-town and take part in the plays. Natarajan has the interests of Bhagavata Mela in his mind and is training future heroines. He has got a 14-year-old boy named S.T. Siva as an understudy and the lad has played the role of Chandramati in the first half of Harischandra Chariira while Natarajan took to nattuvangam. When Natarajan plays the heroine characters. Siva does other roles. Going back to the days of revival, it is recorded that the group did modestly from 1936 to 1950.

Then E Krishna Iyer, the pioneer in resurrecting solo Sadir dance got interested in Bhagavata Mela natakam-s and associated himself with the people of Melattur and wrote about them in Margi March 1966). He said: "It was at this juncture, in 1951, that the present writer had to look into the tradition at Melattur. where it was in fairly good form. With the willing cooperation of the artists there, he brought in a few necessary improvements relating to the stage, costumes, orchestra and general showmanship, consistent with the classical requirements of the art. As a result, the dance-dramas from the next year onwards improved considerably and regained much of their past attractiveness. Four dramas in five shows, namely Prahlada, Markandeya. Harischandra in two parts and Us ha came to be enacted. The present writer gave wide publicity to them year after year through numerous articles in the papers. Besides people from nearby villages and districts, those from far away places in India, and a few from foreign countries also have visited Melattur and witnessed those shows. Most dance artists and dance masters also have seen them. Thus, the Melattur Bhagavata Mela dance-drama art and its significance and importance came steadily to the notice of wider art circles in India." Till 1963 the dramas were staged in Varadaraja Perumal Sannidhi street. A thatched pandal about 1(X) foot in length and a width of 20 feet, with a small stage at the eastern end of the street used to be put up.

The plays used to be enacted on a restricted stage. Then, in the early 60s V.D. Swami, a Melatturian, successful as a businessman in Madras took interest in the Bhagavata Mela natakam-s and wanted to make them sophisticated. E Krishna Iyer reported the event in his Marg article: "With the advent of Mr V.D. Swamy, who has been taking a keen interest in the art for the last two or three years, a new phase has come in the development of the art and some of the improvements which the present writer had been advocating for many years are being affected. By Mr Swamy's efforts, a Bhagavata Mela Natya VidyaSangam has been formed and registered to do systematic and coordinated work. Steps are also being taken to start a school for the systematic training of young men in the art and to recruit more dancer-actors. The quality of the nritta (pure dance) of the present artists is being improved with the help of dance masters of authentic classical traditions in Bharatanatya. The more important problem of providing adequate livelihood to some of the prominent artists near their own village is also being tackled. "Above all, by Swamy's munificence, a piece of vacant land about two acres in extent, at the north-western end of the village has been acquired. A spacious stage with thatched roofing and an open-air auditorium were put up and the 1964 shows were given there.

The decorated deity was taken from the temple in procession through the streets and installed in an improvised mantap about 120 feet away in front of the stage. In between, a vast crowd of about 3000 people witnessed the shows day after day in cool comfort in the expansive and breezy open-air auditorium. Thus the many inconveniences and discomforts experienced in the past years in conducting the festivals in the narrow street and on a small stage in front of the temple were avoided. It need hardly be said, that, in the new spacious stage, the actors and orchestra had ample space and the shows had a new shine about them. It is hoped that the present enthusiasm and developments will be sustained and bring for the Melattur classical dance-drama art, a glorious future." Swamy had nothing but good intentions but the change of venue was resented by a strong section of the people who were traditionalists.

They felt that Scene from Rukmini Kalvanam deviation from established conventions amounted to sacrilege, even though they considered it was all right to make minor changes, such as a switch from heavy make-up and gaudy jewellery to modern, simple modes and separation, by a safe distance, of the persons portraying Hiranya and Narasimha since in one incident real life enmity between them had led to a dreadful mishap on the stage. Resenting V.D. Swamy's attempts to impart sophistication to a ritual act of fervent faith, V. Ganesa Iyer and his family and friends organised a separate body called the Melattur Sri Lakshmi Narasimha Jayanti Bhagavata Mela Natya Nataka Sangam and started to enact the plays of Venkatarama Sastri in the vicinity of the Pillayar Koil at the west end of his own street. His father had built this temple a generation earlier. Fortunately, Balu Bhagavatar trained three separate troupes and the two groups could produce plays independently.

A few years later, only Ganesa Iyer's Sangam remained active year after year. The friends of Ganesa Iyer include some descendants of the original beneficiaries of Achyutappa Nayak*s endowment of the village. Their family name is 'Arakkonda', signifying that they are the receivers of Arakku', the royal seal of the grant. Pisuwati Subramanya Iyer's sons and grandsons are now known as Arakkonda people. Now Arakkonda Sundaram plays the roles of kattiyankaran, natchatresan and Narasimhaswamy. The same roles were played by his father before and since last year his son is playing the role of Narasimhaswamy. Swaminathan has five sons and all are involved in Bhagavata Mela natakam-s. Natarajan plays not only the roles of leading ladies "on the stage but a leading role in organising the entire show. Kumar (26) the third son of Swaminathan is a born actor with a striking personality like his father's and he dons the'Raja' parts. Neelakantan. the last son. plays the snakecharmer in Prahlada There are old faithfuls like R. Ganesh, a research assistant in the Department of Atomic Energy in Kalpakkam who took to acting when he was very young.

Since 1954 he has played the role of Prahlada for five years and has also played female roles like Chitralekha in Usha Parinayam. Ganesh is adept at portraying adult male roles too. He plays Krishna's part in Rukmini Kalyanam. S. Harihar Sarma(56), Professor of Physical Education at Annamalai University, Karaikudi. plays the brahmin messenger's role in Rukmini Kalyanam. He started acting in Bhagavata Mela plays when he was a 13-year-old lad. He participated in a Divya Nama Sankeertana group. He belongs to the Harihara Bhajana Bhaktha Samajam which undertakes devotional group singing. Even though visitors from outside are most welcome to Melattur to admire the tradition. Ganesa Iyer, as well as his family and friends, do not want to turn Narasimha Jayanti and Bhagavata Mela plays into tourist attractions since they are first and foremost strictly religious rituals. In the forenoon of Narasimha Jayanti day, all the available members of the family and friends go to the temple of Varadaraja Perumal. Amidst vedic chants, a member of Ganesa Iyer's family i usually Natarajan) takes out the mask of Narasimha from the hanging wooden box which is fixed on the wall above the sacred idols. He reverentially removes the dried-up sandal paste of the previous year, layer by layer.

As the ceremony is in progress. somebody gets possessed by god' and falls down and rolls around the circumambulatory path while pots of water are poured on him. Another member is visited by swami' when the mask is washed and made ready for the evening performance. The purohits continue the Vedic chants and. after the ceremony is over, everyone is given dakshina In the early hours of each Scene from Harischandra morning when the previous night's play is over, all the players proceed to Ganesa Iyer's house where 'sampati' is done. Once when they were doing this. Swaminatha Swami commanded them to build a temple for him. Ganesa Iyer sold some land and with the proceeds constructed the Swaminatha Swami temple next to his house. The Swami also ordered them to stage a play about his wedding with Valli. Since they could not get it in Telugu. they started enacting it in Tamil. The Bhagavata Mela in Melattur has gone bi-lingual and Valli Tinimanam is staged on the last day. After the play is over, the performers go to Swaminatha Swami temple and dance a frenzied chindu' and then Natarajan usually gets possessed.

He sits with an other-worldly look and the villagers come to him to narrate their woes and wishes. Natarajan gives them vibuti or holy ashes and consoles and counsels them and predicts the coming events of their lives. When the last villager leaves. Natarajan becomes normal and the festival of Bhagavata Mela comes to an end for the year in Melattur. Thanks to the devotion and dedication of the present group of performers and organisers, Narasimha Jayanti and Bhagavata Mela performances in Melattur are ardent, fiery and passionate acts of "aradhana" first and then only art. Natarajan and his brothers have plans to improve the art part of the festival and towards this end start a training centre for the boys. Time only can tell how they succeed in their efforts. As far as Ganesa Iver is concerned, he is fully confident that his grandsons will keep the tradition going in Melattur for many many decades. Ganesa Iyer and his family trace their origins from an Andhra brahmin called Lakshminarayan Bhattu from Komandur, a Telugu village which existed some four or five centuries ago but now they are confirmed Tamilians. In spite of their not speaking Telugu at home, they put on Telugu plays on boards year after year. This is real linguistic integration. At present, the Melattur group puts on board four plays every year; Prah/ada Charitram on Narasimha Jayanti day and Harischandra | in two parts). Rukmini Kalyanam and Valli Tinimanam in the following days.