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July - September 2023

Melattur Bhagavatha Mela by Lakshmi Narasimhan

Melattur is about 18 kms from Thanjavur and it takes about 30 mins to reach, and it is about 4 kms from Thirukkarugavur, where the famous ‘Garbha Rakshambikai temple’ is situated, the goddess who protects and aids the safe growth of the progeny in the mother’s womb.

So, what is so special about Melattur and what is this Bhagavata Mela all about?

The Bhagavata Melas are the bedrocks of our culture and re-telling of the Puranas that all citizens in the town used to experience and imbibe, in the absence of cinema and the tech advancements that we see today.

There is an interesting background to the Bhagavata Melas in Thanjavur. The 9th Century AD witnessed the development of cultural and literary works of all regional languages along with an adaptation of Sanskrit literature into regional language works. This was possible with the support and patronage of the ruling chiefs in the region such as the Vijayanagaram empire and the Chozha rulers in the southern part of India who patronised the classical fine arts of art, music, dance, drama. Yakshaganas, Sadr, Kuchipudi Bhagavata Mela natakams, Koodiyattam, Ariya Koothu & Kuravanji natakas of Tamil Nadu were performed in the premises of the temple as an obeisance to the Gods. The birth of the Bhakti movement witnessed all strata of society adopting bhakti/devotion as a way of life to attain salvation. These art forms made it an easy format to invoke Bhakti as they weaved in music, dance and drama imbibing the true essence of Bhakti with nama sankeertanams, nritya natakams.

This was a way to keep the cultural as well as spiritual ties intact, especially with invasions from other cultures close at their heels.

Sri Achuthappa Nayak, the ruling chief at Thanjavur gave refuge to 510 scholars and their families who migrated due to invasions from the Vijayanagaram empire in the 16th century. He donated land and property and was instrumental in founding colonies for scholarly families who helped in retaining the art and culture. The Maratha rulers in Thanjavur completely immersed themselves in Telugu literature and with their support the tradition of Bhagavata Melas flourished. The Bhagavata melas have stories from Srimad Bhagavatam as their base and perform many dance dramas from this text.

Every year, during the time of Nrusimha Jayanthi (May), the Bhagavata Melas are conducted with great fervour. It is notable to see that this four-century old tradition finds continuity in Tamil Nadu even today. This has been possible due to the unswerving faith and commitment that certain families have in continuing this tradition and complete surrender to Lord Nrusimha despite their financial conditions. Some of the villages continuing this tradition in Thanjavur as a Bhagavata Mela Utsavam for 7 to 10 days are Melattur and Saliamangalam, while other towns such as Oothukkadu, Thepperumanallur, Soolamangalam hold Prahlada Charitram natakams on the main Nrusimha Jayanthi day.

The core essence of the Melattur Bhagavata Mela is ‘Bhakti’ – complete devotion, surrender to Lord Nrusimha swamy and unswaying faith in the Lord. Re-enactment of Prahlada Charitram, where Lord Narayana assumes the avatar of Nrusimha/Man-Lion and slays the terrible Hiranyakashipu is very popular in the district of Thanjavur. These natakams are written in Telugu with beautiful lyrics by Shri Melattur Venkatrama sastry (1743-1809 A.D.). The dance drama has an all-male cast with a tradition of being trained by senior Bhagavatars in the families.

How does the Melattur Bhagavata Mela utsavam continue till today?

With the establishment of colonies for scholarly families by the erstwhile rajas, these families continued their focus on Bhakti and therefore the tradition of the Bhagavata Melas continued as a hereditary art form along with the support and involvement of enthusiasts of this art.

At Melattur, this art form was revived by Shri V Ganesha Iyer in 1938 and was the founder of Melattur Sri Lakshmi Narasimha Jayanti Melattur Bhagavatamela Natya Nataka Sangam. Given the title of ‘Father of Bhagavata Mela’ by the village people, he is the grandfather of the current convenor of the Melattur Bhagavata Nataka Mela Utsavam –Kalaimamani Shri S Kumar. Shri Ganesha Iyer was an ardent Nrusimha Bhakta. When the earlier convenor Bharatham Sri Natesa Iyer took ill and subsequently passed away in 1932, mere rituals continued for a few years.

A strict disciplinarian, he resuscitated the tradition of the Bhagavata Mela, institutionalised training in the art form and formed a group of about 25 artistes to perform the natakams.

(Shri V Ganesha Iyer known as the ‘Father’ of Melattur Bhagavatha Mela Utsavam)



His dedication and Bhakti to Lord Nrusimha was so strong that he & his family went through many financial tribulations to continue the art form, thereby selling many parcels of land as well as a grocery shop to maintain the tradition. At his deathbed, he sought a promise from his family that they would upkeep the tradition, which they do to this day.

Shri Ganesha Iyer was handed over the Nrusimha mask by Nallur Narayanaswamy Iyer. The Nrusimha mask, made from the bark of a fig tree, is very sacred, over 400 years old; this ancient and heritage article, needed puja, safe keeping and complete care. Considering all this, Shri Ganesha Iyer did ‘unchavrithi’ and got Utsavamoorthys installed in the Varadaraja perumal temple, where the mask resides until the commencement of the Bhagavata Mela utsavam.

Continuing the tradition of Melattur Bhagavatha Mela Utsavam

Utsavamoorthy’s – Lord Varadaraja Perumal with Shridevi & Bhoodevi at Melattur Varadaraja Perumal temple

After Shri Ganesha Iyer, his son Kalaimamani Shri G. Swaminathan continued for many years until 1978. The entire family is gifted with the ability to don many roles and perform music, dance and drama of the highest order. In 1954, Kalaimamani Shri G .Swaminathan introduced, In 1977, while Kalaimamani Shri G Swaminathan was in the pink of health, he suddenly decided to introduce his other son Kalaimamani Shri S Kumar into the Bhagavata Mela natakams ( current convenor of Melattur Bhagavata Mela Nataka Utsavam). It was not known at that time that Shri Swaminathan would be unable to perform shortly with the loss of his vocal cords. It is considered that a divine impetus could have led to this situation.

Family of Shri V Ganesha Iyer continuing the tradition of conducting the annual Melattur Bhagavatha Mela Utsavam. L to R : Shri G Swaminathan, son of Shri V Ganesha Iyer, Smt. Kalyani Ammal, wife of Shri G Swaminathan, Shri S Natarajan, son of Shri G Swaminathan & Shri S Kumar, current convenor of Melattur Bhagavatha Mela


The mask

On the day of the Utsavam, the famous Prahlada Charitram is performed and that is the day, the Nrusimha swamy mask is taken out of the Sannidhi and the Lord manifests in a form of a trance to the holder. At this time we understand that there have been many instances of miracles happening at the temple with divine predictions being given by the holder of the mask. From eyewitnesses, we hear, it is a scintillating experience and one has to see it to believe it.

Lord Nrusimha mask – kept in

Lord Varadaraja Perumal temple

and taken out during the Melattur

Bhagavata Mela utsavam and

adorned by the personplaying the role of Lord Nrusimha in ‘Prahlada Charitram


What does Melattur look like today?

A complete colony of agraharams set in the typical South Indian home format with a thinnai (pyol), mittham (inner courtyard) and thatched roof using Mangalore style structures. A few streets up and down, one can see the Agraharam type houses with a smattering of modernity to accommodate for modern household needs.

For the Bhagavata mela utsavam, a large flat thatched canopy and a small stage are put up in the streets in front of the temple and the dramas are dedicated to the deity installed in the front hall of the temple.

The whole town comes together to host the Bhagavata Mela utsavam. So much of warmth and love to those visiting out of town. Almost every day, as per the promise and tradition, Kalaimamani Shri Kumar’s home is filled to the brim with guests and artistes and almost everyone is given a wholesome home-cooked meal. He has even gone to the extent of getting his home renovated to accommodate all the artistes and guests in his home for the Utsavam, with extension of rooms, bathrooms etc.

Many religious leaders have witnessed and blessed the performances. The performance commences at around 10 pm and lasts the whole night, for almost 6 hours and concludes at around 4/4.30am the following morning. The music is live, with musicians from Thanjavur who are familiar with the lyrics that are in the Telugu language.

The Natya Nataka Stage

The Natakams

The main attraction world over is the natakam – Prahlada Charitram. Over the years, there were many more introductions of mythological stories such as “Valli Thirumanam” – a popular natakam in Tamil composed by eminent scholars of yester-years, and “Kaveri Kalyanam”, a Yakshaganam in Tamil composed by King Shahaji (1684-1711 AD), which were adapted to Bhagavata Mela and staged.

Shri Melattur Venkatarama Sastry totally wrote 12 dramas that include Harishchandra, Prahlada Charitram, Usha pariniyam, Markandeya, Kamsa vadham, Shri Krishna jananam, Harihara Leela vilasam, Sita parinayam, Rukmini kalyanam. The story of Raja Harishchandra is also one of the plays that stresses upon Truth as the ever-present value in our Sanatana dharma. A natakam, Parvati Parinayam, of unknown author and provenance following the format of Bhagavata Mela was also staged.

The artistes of the Melattur Bhagavata Mela Natakams

All those performing in the natakams are usually part of the Bhagavatar/Bhagavatulu tradition and as per the norm, it is an all- male cast. The selection process is purely based on their devotion and dedication to the art form. The main roles are played by the family members of Shri Kumar. Additionally, the performing artistes donning the role of Lord Nrusimha and Hiranyakashipu undergo upasana and upavasam (fast) as a dedication to the Lord before performing.

Father (Shri G Swaminathan) & Son (Shri S Natarajan) combination. Playing the roles of Hiranyakasipu & Leelavathi – 1965

In fact, the person enacting as Lord Nrusimha would be quite hungry and worn out prior to the performance; however, a complete transformation takes place once the mask is placed on him. Both the artiste performing Lord Nrusimha and Shri Kumar, performing the Hiranyakashipu role enter into a trance like state and need control from other supporting artistes lest they harm themselves.

It is believed that Saint Thyagaraja once came to see the Prahlada Charitram penned by Shri Melattur Venkatarama Sastry and that he was so moved and inspired that he composed and wrote the famous ‘Prahlada Bhakta Vijayam’.

The Bhagavata Mela natakams are performed by family members of Shri Kumar as well as renowned artistes. Senior & professional Artists serving Bhagavata Mela with bhakthi, dedication since the last 30 years are Shri Srikanth Natarajan, Shri Vijay Madhavan, Shri Aravind Ramadurai along with other artists. Other artistes include Shri S.Venkata Subramanian, Shri R. Varadarajan, Shri S. Neelakandan, Shri V. Balagurunathan, Shri Anirudh Prasanna, Shri Sai Ajai. Music Team of Melattur Bhagavata Mela is headed by Thiruvaiyyaru Brothers Shri S. Narasimhan & Dr. Shri S. Venkatesan. Supported by Shri L. Prabaharan. Shri Nagai P. Sriram on Mridangam, Shri B. Gokulakrishnan on Flute & Kannan Balakrishnan on Suddha Maddalam.

The contributing artistes do it completely for Lord Nrusimha with full devotion/Bhakti and commitment and do not take any remuneration for their contribution. Shri S. Krishnamoorthy, Shri S. Neelakandan, Capt. Shri T. V. Raghuraman, Shri M.R. Sankaran, Shri S. Sivabaskar, Shri K. Subramanian, Smt. Aswathi Srikanth and others are supporting Shri S. Kumar to conduct the Annual Mahotsav.

Guru & Sutradhar Sri.G.Krishnamoorthy Sarma, Srikanth as Chandramathi, R.Aravind & S.Kumar as Mohini & Lord Siva

Performing artistes of Melattur Bhagavatamela Natya Nataka Sangam: L to R: S.Neelakandan as Viswamitrar, R.Vijay Madhavan as Bhoomi Devi, V. Balagurunathan as Ravanan

What happens in the Utsavam?

It is important to note that this Bhagavata Mela Utsavam at Melattur has been held continuously since the last 83 years. It is nearly a ten-day Utsavam and over the last twenty years, a lot of new additions have taken place. Many senior and world- renowned artistes from all over India and the world over, have come to perform at the feet of Lord Nrusimha. Some notable artistes’ names include Smt. Padma Subramaniam and Smt Sonal Mansingh. It is indeed considered an honour to be invited to be a part of this Bhagavata Mela Utsavam and obtain the blessings of the Lord.

While Kalaimamani Shri Kumar’s family manages the Utsavam, over the years, support in the form of Sponsors has been hugely beneficial and helping cover the costs. Over the last two years, the Utsavam has also added a tech edge with Live streaming for those who are unable to come in person. This helps those who want to view but distance is a deterrent.

Connection with Kanchi Mutt

As ordained by Pujyashri Chandrasekarendra Saraswati Swamigal, the Sage of Kanchi, the Sangam performed in the Vidwat Sadas at Elayattankudi in 1962 organised and presided over by the Sage. Subsequently, the Sangam performed at Kancheepuram as well in later years. As recently as 2019, Pujyashri Sankara Vijayendra Saraswati Swamigal visited Melattur and performed the kumbabhishekam of Siddhi Buddhi Sameta Dakshina murthy vinayakar temple.

Pujyashri Sankara Vijayendra Saraswati Swamigal visiting Melattur in 2019 and along with him Shri S Kumar and many bhaktas

Prahlada Charitram

The experience of watching Prahlada Charitram as shared by Varsha Rajkumar, disciple of Kalaimamani Smt. Anitha Guha’s Bharathanjali

Every now and then, life presents us with extraordinary opportunities that leave an indelible mark on our souls. One such moment came my way when I had the incredible fortune of witnessing the renowned Melattur Bhagavata Mela. Little did I know that this enriching experience would extend beyond mere observation, as the following day, I would be graced with the opportunity to perform on the same sacred stage. Allow me to take you on this captivating journey of spirituality, artistry, and personal growth.

We reached Melattur a day before our performance, eager to witness the grandeur of the Prahalada Charithram (Bhagavata Mela Natakam). As I entered the vibrant village of Melattur, a palpable air of excitement enveloped the entire place. Additionally, our guru had the great honour of being present for the inauguration of the 83rd Kumar Melattur Bhagavata Mela. The stage itself was positioned right in front of the Narasimha temple, with the Utsava moorthy (processional deity) prominently in the centre of our vision from the stage. It was a sight that filled us with a deep sense of reverence and devotion. One particular element that caught our attention was the awe-inspiring Narasimha mask, a powerful and divine artifact that had been worshipped and blessed through elaborate poojas (rituals). This sacred mask was used by the artiste to portray the character of Narasimha, infusing the performance with an unparalleled aura of divinity. The performance was a mesmerizing blend of dance, music, and theatre. The artists effortlessly conveyed intricate emotions through their expressions, gestures, and rhythmic movements. Every scene painted a vivid picture of the rich Hindu mythology, captivating the audience with its beauty and depth.

As the performance began, I was transported into a realm where the boundaries between the spiritual and the earthly seemed to fade away. The enthralling storytelling, accompanied by soul-stirring music and graceful dance movements, held me captivated throughout the night. Each scene unfolded like a vivid painting, drawing me deeper into the mystical world of divine tales and timeless wisdom.

The surreal portrayal of the characters was truly noteworthy. The all-male team of artistes brought to life the iconic characters such as Prahlada, Hiranyakashipu, Narasimha, and Leelavati with astonishing precision and artistry. They seamlessly blended the expressive dance movements with the melodic recitations, creating a mesmerizing fusion of music and dance. Their tireless performance spanned an incredible six hours, captivating the audience throughout the night.

However, it was during the climax of the performance that the true power and divinity of the Melattur Bhagavata Mela came to the forefront. As the story reached its pinnacle, the stage showcased the dramatic entry of Narasimha. Using a meticulously crafted fake pillar, he burst forth, wearing the awe-inspiring Narasimha mask. In that moment, the artiste completely transformed into the character, embodying the supernatural powers and fierce grace of the mighty deity.

All of us were awe-struck by the magnificent performance of Kalaimamani Kumar as Hiranyakashipu. His portrayal of the powerful and tyrannical character left us spellbound, as he effortlessly embodied the essence of the role. We were equally enamoured by the adorable portrayal of little Prahlada, whose innocence and devotion touched our hearts. Witnessing the Melattur Bhagavata Mela was not just an entertainment spectacle; it was a profound spiritual experience.

As the 6-hour drama finally came to an end at 5:30 am, we realized that we had only a couple of hours before our own stage rehearsals for the evening performance of one of Smt. Anitha Guha’ s s te l l ar productions – The Praise of Seven hills, a nritya natakam. Despite immersing ourselves in the divine experience all night, an incredible surge of energy kept us going. We gathered for rehearsals in the scorching heat. Under the able guidance and encouragement of our guru, Kalaimamani Smt. Anitha Guha, we pushed through the fatigue and emerged enriched from the experience.

That evening, we took to the stage in that sacred space once again, with the Utsava moorthy from the temple as our witness. It was a sight to behold, and the presence of divinity enveloped us as we performed. The costume changes and the makeshift green

room, where the air barely reached us, seemed inconsequential in the face of the overwhelming energy and devotion that fuelled our every movement. The performance concluded with beautiful appreciation and feedback from the organizers, including Melattur Kumar and the gracious presence of Dr Gariyali and Smt Kausalya Santhanam, who took the time to witness our performance.

But beyond all the external accolades, it was the presence of the Supreme to whom we dedicated our performance that truly mattered. After the program, all the artistes were felicitated and then taken to the temple for darshan (divine sight). As the artistes who portrayed Narasimha and other characters stood in the temple, they experienced something beyond the realm of the human. Overwhelmed by devotion and surrender, tears streamed down their faces as they felt the divine presence of Narasimha.

Personal Note

The joy of my family knew no bounds, the moment we heard that our dear dance teacher, Smt. Anitha Guha is invited to Melattur’s Bhagavata Mela Utsavam. What we had in store was even better; Smt Anitha Guha’s dance school Bharathanjali’s thematic dance production – ‘Praise of Seven Hills’, was going to be showcased at the famous Bhagavata Mela at Melattur in May 2023. Further, when we got to know that my child had got selected to play a role in Praise of seven hills, it was simply divine intervention.

‘Praise of seven hills’, is a string of poems written and composed by Shri Maharanyam Muraleedhara Swamigal portraying the grandeur of Tirupati Balaji, sevas conducted for Tirupati Balaji, Padmavati & Srinivasa Kalyanam, the different vahanams – sesha vahanam, gaja, aja vahanam, garuda vahanam and finer details on how lord Narayana took many avatars to help save the world. The form of the thematic dance presentation was conceptualised and choreographed by Smt. Anitha Guha during Covid with just 15 vaccinated dancers and was premiered online in 2020. Thereafter, post Covid, there has been wide reception to ‘Praise of seven hills’ from all leading sabhas. The excellent choreography, team work and brilliant dancing by the students of Smt. Anitha Guha, indeed takes us to the inner precincts of Tirupati to witness the glory of the lord through the dance presentation.

While leaving from Chennai, we were quite sceptical as to whether the elders in the family would be able to sit through the night long event – Prahlada Charitram. It was such a spectacular, engaging and divine show that each of them was moved and stayed right through the entire program till the wee hours of the morning.

More details about Melattur Bhagavata Mela are available at: Melattur Bhagavata Mela, BHAGAVATA MELA NATYA NATAKA


Temples at Melattur: There are three temples in Melattur

  • Varadaraja perumal temple
  • Shri Siddhi Buddhi Dakshinamurthy Vinayakar temple
  • Unnathapureeshwarar Temple

Varadaraja Perumal temple

It is believed that centuries ago, Varadaraja Perumal was brought from Hasthagiri in Kanchipuram Divya Desam. Later, many Vaishnava families moved from Kanchipuram to this place. They have been instrumental in establishing Shri Varadaraja Swamy temple. Over 400 years old, this temple in Melattur dates back to the 16th Century and the rule of Achuthappa Nayak.

Sri Varadaraja Perumal Temple, Melattur – olden Days

The main deity is Sri Varadaraja Perumal along with SriDevi and BhooDevi. There are also sannidhis for Lord Nrusimha and Lord Hanuman.

Shri Siddhi Buddhi Dakshinamurthy Vinayakar temple

As the story goes, during the floods of 1899, the idol of Lord Ganesha came floating and one Shri Venkataraya Swaminatha Iyer (great grandfather of Shri Kumar) found the idol and installed the Lord in a small shrine. As we can see, it is indeed a different name for the Lord Ganesha. Since the idol is placed facing South (Dakshina), this Lord is named as Dakshinamurthy Vinayakar. While Siddhi and Buddhi are found along with the utsava Moorthy, they are not part of the main moolavar. The Moolavar is a ‘Narthana ganapathy’/ Dancing Ganesha form adorning rudrakshas and a trishulam and is said to be Swayambhu or not man made, with the absence of chisel marks. Similar to Shiva temples, one finds a Sannidhi for Chandikeshwarar, Bhairavar. Shri Swaminatha Iyer’s family built a temple and continues to maintain the temple. The Lord is also known as Mithantheeswarar, one who floated. Due to the presence of two wives, this lord is Known to resolve any issues related to marriage; he is also referred to as Vivaha Varamula Vinayakar and many have got married after a visit to the Lord here.

The most important festival in this temple is the Ganesa Chaturthi Brahmotsavam in the Tamil month of Aavani (Aug-Sep). Out of the 10 days, 5th, 7th and 9th days are special. On the fifth day the Lord does the rare Atma Pooja- performing Pooja for Himself. On the 7th day, His marriage with Siddhi and Buddhi is celebrated and on the ninth day, He comes around the village seven times in a ratham and each time, a different activity is performed by the devotees- music, Vedic chants, group chants etc in each round.

Garga Maharishi had listed 108 important Vinayaka shrines and this is the 81st shrine.

Sree Dakshinamoorthi Vinayakar Sree Siddhi B u d d h i S a m e t h a D a k s h i n a m o o r t h i Vinayakar Temple, Melattur


Main website of the temple:

Unnathapureeshwarar Temple

There is a temple of Shri Unnathapureeswarar, the place was known as Unnathapuram. This temple is known for Shiva Shakthi Pooja and considered an important Shiva Shakthi peetam. It is believed that apart from the Universal Mother Parasakthi, Saptha Mathas and the two gate keepers of the Parasakthi Peetam offer worship to this Lord. In fact, as per belief, the Mothers go around nine temples in this area in rotation and offer poojas to the Shiva forms of those temples during Navarathri.

One of the legends connects with Shri Vishnu and this temple. Once a demon by name Somaka stole the four Vedas and disappeared in the sea. Vishnu took the Matsyavataram (fish), went after the demon, killed him and in the process of recovering the Vedas, also drank the demon’s blood. He was intoxicated and totally uncontrollable. When Brahma and the other Devas pleaded with the Lord of Kailash, He came as a fisherman along with Parvathi in a boat. Vishnu, the fish, attacked the boat with His fin. Shiva caught hold of the fish and squeezed it so that Vishnu could vomit all the blood of the demon and regain His original form.

As per another legend, once Vishnu entered Kailash along with Garuda without informing Nandi. When Nandi protested, Vishnu felled Him with His weapons and entered. When Shiva came to know about this, He cursed Vishnu to be born a human being and Garuda as an ordinary bird. When the pair requested Shiva for a solution, He informed them about Vishnu’s Rama Avataram where He would take the role of a human. Since that would happen after a long time, in the interim, He suggested to them to go to Unnathapuram and perform penance there for six months. When They completed the tasks, They got back Their normal forms. Such is the greatness of this kshetram!

In the latter days, there was a Chozha king by name Kalmashapada, who was childless. As advised by his Kulaguru and Sage Agasthya, he performed penance here and got a progeny. Similarly, King Dharmaveera, who was an ardent devotee of this Lord, once desired that he should take bath in Ramasethu during an auspicious day. Since he was unable to go there, he prayed to the Lord who brought the essence of all the Seven Seas here and created a tirtham and asked the king to take bath in that tirtham to get the benefit equivalent to that of taking bath in Seven Seas. There are several such legends about this temple and the Swamy.