The project was aimed at researching, documenting and developing music and dance performed by the hereditary community of Melakkarar in and outside Hindu temples of Tamil Nadu.
By Dr. Saskia Kersenboom / Paramparai Foundation / University of Amsterdam
Sponsored by Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts, IGNCA-New Delhi, and Theatre-Embassy, Amsterdam, The netherlands.
Worship in Hindu temples has been framed by ritual music and dance since time immemorial. This project intends to research, document and support the historical presence of music and dance performed by melakkarar. Family repertories, their manuscripts and oral histories, as well as contemporary praxis, form its point of departure.
General appreciation of ritual music and dance has differed through the ages. In the case of ritual dance, it reached its lowest point in 1947 when dance in temples was forbidden by law (Devadasi Act). This event affected the entire community of both cinna melam (‘small band') and periya melam (‘big band'). Today, dance music can still be heard in the offering of mangalavadya ‘auspicious instruments', especially of the nagasvaram, but is no longer to be seen in worship.
The proposed project aims to preserve the heritage of living musical practices by melakkarar for posterity through several media: firstly, by recording and editing their repertoire to enhance public awareness of the central importance of nagasvaram music performance in Hindu rituals. Secondly, by a broad sharing of findings through lectures or other media output, and thirdly, by experimental, creative adaptations of melakkarar music for dance to a contemporary stage format. As a result, new relevance and thereby a sustained interest in the well-being of this professional community should emerge.
Planning: The project ‘MURAI – the Right to Perform' envisages four phases. The first three deal with its textual layers that are still embedded in living cultural practices, while the fourth phase addresses their continued performance in today's broader public spheres:
– Phase I. ‘OLAI‘ – manuscripts – intends to transcribe and translate primary data found in two melakkarar family manuscripts and record their contemporary musical praxis.
– Phase II. ‘ILAKKIYAM' – text and context – seeks to recover (con) textual data through secondary sources. The reconstruction dance texts that have been rendered only partially in two family manuscripts, anticipates the artistic labor in Phase IV.
– Phase III. ‘MURAI‘ – the Right to Perform: monograph and DVD
Together Phase I and Phase II result in a monograph on the repertory of Cinna Melam and Periya Melam with an audio/visual DVD included, to be published in India.
On the basis of these textual and musical data the fourth phase can be started:
– Phase IV. ‘PRAYOGAM‘ – Application – hopes to interest contemporary performing artists in experimental adaptation of dance compositions, still played by melakkarar, to the modern stage. An intensive period of training in situ, should result in new choreographies and performances on urban stages. This phase addresses a broad public and seeks financial support from several sides, both Indian and non-Indian cultural organizations, p.e. UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage.
Partner organisation: Paramparai foundation
Dr. Saskia Kersenboom, Associate Professor of Theatre Studies
Executors TE: 1
Theme: rehabilitation Devadasi temple dance.
Local artists: 3
Target group: Decendants of Devadasi dancers & Nagasvaram musicians.
Participating Organizations: Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts, the Nagasvaram, the Taval and the Tala.
Finances: Theatre Embassy and Paramparai Foundation