Friday, 13 January 2012

Re-enacting mega dance event organised 1000 years back

When, over 1000 dancers, predominantly women, led by Dr. Padma Subramaniam, presented a spectacular Bharatanatyam performance on September 25 at the Big Temple in Thanjavur, watched by Chief Minister Kalaignar M.Karunanidhi, his ministerial colleagues, senior government officials and thousands of people from the town and nearby and far off places, as a tribute to the Chola emperor and the greatness of the temple – it was virtually reenactment of the festivity held in the same corridors of the temple 1000 years back witnessed by the king, his ministers, administrators and thousands of his citizens. The performance was a recreation of various such mega dance events King Raja Raja Cholan organized a millennium back. An incredible feat only Kalaignar could accomplish on the occasion of the Millennium celebration of the temple. In fact as evidenced by the inscriptions found in the walls of this temple, the temple had always been serving as a platform for the dancers who excelled in the traditional dance form of Bharathanatyam. Musicians and dancers were part of a staff of 600 people in the temple during the days of King Raja Raja Cholan who patronized them. The State government had organized the mega Bharathanatyam event, classical dance show under noted danseuse Dr. Padma Subramaniam. It was jointly organized by the Association of Bharathanatyam Artistes of India (ABHAI) and the Brhan Natyanjali Trust, Thanjavur. To mark 1000th year anniversary of the temple, 1000 dancers from New Delhi, Mumbai, Pune, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Kerala, Singapore, Malaysia and the US danced in concert for the recorded 11 verses of Tiruvisaippa (ninth Thirumurai) composed by Karuvur Thevar (the guru of Raja Raja Cholan) paying tribute to Rararajeswaram, the small town turned into a cultural hub for five days from September 22-26 as folk artists and dancers performing all over the town.

In his valedictory address, Kalaignar spoke in detail about the land administration, local governance, elections and people’s welfare administration during the rule of Raja Rajan.

Paying tributes to king Raja Raja Cholan at a seminar, Finance Minister Prof. K.Anbazhagan recalled the king’s contribution to Tamil development. Hailing the King’s administrative skill, Prof. Anbazhagan said Raja Raja Cholan built the Big temple not merely for religious purpose but as a social institution. He remained a secular king treating all religions equally.

Raja Raja Cholan (born Arulmozhi Thevar, also called as Arunmozhi Varman and respectfully as Periya Udayar), popularly known as Raja Rajan the Great, is one of the greatest emperors of the Tamil Chola Empire who ruled between 985 and 1014 CE. He established the Chola Empire by conquering the kingdoms of southern India expanding the Chola Empire as far as Sri Lanka in the south, and Kalinga (Orissa) in the northeast. He fought many battles with the Chalukyas in the north and the Pandyas in the south. By conquering Vengi, Raja Rajan laid the foundations for the Later Chola dynasty. He invaded Sri Lanka and started a century-long Chola occupation of the island.

He streamlined the administrative system with the division of the country into various districts and by standardizing revenue collection through systematic land surveys. He built the magnificent Peruvudaiyar Temple (also known as the Brihadeeswarar Temple) in Thanjavur and through it enabled wealth distribution amongst his subjects. His successes enabled his son Rajendra Cholan to extend the empire even further.

The Peruvudaiyar Kovil or Brihadeeswarar Temple, also known as Rajarajeswaram, at Thanjavur, is the world’s first complete granite temple and a brilliant example of the major heights achieved by Chola kingdom Vishwakarmas in temple architecture. It is a tribute and a reflection of the power of its patron Raja Raja Cholan I. It remains as one of the greatest glories of Indian architecture. The temple is part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site “Great Living Chola Temples”.

This temple is one of India’s most prized architectural sites. The temple stands amidst fortified walls that were probably added in the 16th century. The ‘Vimana’ - or the temple tower - is 216 ft high and is among the tallest of its kind in the world. The Kalash or ‘Chikharam’ (apex or the bulbous structure on the top) of the temple is not carved out of a single stone as widely believed. There is a big statue of Nandi (sacred bull), carved out of a single rock, at the entrance measuring about 16 feet long and 13 feet high. The entire temple structure is made out of hard granite stones, a material sparsely available currently in Thanjavur area where the temple is located.

From the 23rd to the 29th year of Raja Rajan’s rule his dominions enjoyed peace and the king apparently devoted his energies to the task of internal administration. The building of the Rajarajesvara temple in Thanjavur and the various endowments and gifts to it must have occupied a prominent place in the king’s mind during these years.

Raja Rajan carried out a revenue and settlement during the final years of his reign. Inscriptions found in the Thanjavur temple bear testimony to the accuracy of this operation. Land as small in extent as 1/52,428,800,000 of a ‘veli’ (a land measure) was measured and assessed to revenue. The revenue survey enabled for the confiscation of lands of the defaulting landlords.

Raja Rajan also perfected the administrative organization by creating a strong and centralised machinery and by appointing local government authorities. He installed a system of audit and control by which the village assemblies and other public bodies were held to account while not curtailing their autonomy.

Raja Rajan created a powerful standing army and a considerable navy which achieved even greater success under his son Rajendra. The prominence given to the army from the conquest of the Pandyas down to the last year of the king’s reign is significant, and shows the spirit with which he treated his soldiers. A number of regiments are mentioned in the Tanjore inscriptions and it is evident that Raja Rajan gave his army its due share in the glory derived from his extensive conquests.

The historical side of Raja Rajan’s intellectual nature is further manifested in the order, which he issued to have all the grants made to the Thanjavur temple engraved on stone. Raja Rajan not only was particular about recording his achievements, but also was equally diligent in preserving the records of his predecessors. For instance, an inscription of his reign found at Tirumalavadi near Tiruchi records an order of the king to the effect that the central shrine of the Vaidyanatha temple at the place should be rebuilt and that, before pulling down the walls, the inscriptions engraved on them should be copied in a book. The records were subsequently re-engraved on the walls from the book after the rebuilding was finished.

An ardent follower of Saivism, Raja Rajan was nevertheless tolerant towards other faiths and creeds. He also had several temples for Vishnu constructed. He also encouraged the construction of the Buddhist Chudamani Vihara at the request of the Srivijaya king Sri Maravijayotungavarman. Raja Rajan dedicated the proceeds of the revenue from the village of Aanaimangalam towards the upkeep of this Vihara.

The Brihadeeswarar Temple was built to be the royal temple to display the emperor’s vision of his power and his relationship to the universal order. The temple was the site of the major royal ceremonies such as anointing the emperor and linking him with its deity, Shiva, and the daily rituals of the deities were mirrored by those of the king. The temple maintained a staff of 600 people in various capacities. Besides the priests, these included record-keepers, musicians, scholars, dancers and craftsmen of every type as well as housekeeping staff. In those days the temple remained a hub of business activities for the flower merchants, milk vendors, oil merchants, ghee merchants, all of whom made a regular supply of their respective goods for the temple for its pujas and during festival seasons.

Rajarajan patronized dancers and musicians. For the ‘Thalicheri’ formed in Rajarajeswaram during Rajaraja period, the names of 400 dancers brought from various parts of Cholamandalam have been inscribed in the stone inscriptions in Thalicheri. The word ‘Thevaradiyar’ referred to both men and women who worked in the temple. The Big temple inscriptions explained the working conditions of these dancers. They performed during festivals in the temple and also participated in festivals of other temples. These dancers, their Nattuvars and singers led a highly disciplined life and had high sense of duty. They were paid salaries enough to fulfil their requirements, houses for residing, service security, good working conditions and working conditions that will ensure peaceful living of their offsprings. The lives of these artists were safe.

The fact recorded in No.147 of Appendix 13 in a stone inscription shows that a Deveradiyal or temple girl was the wife (agamudaiyal) of a certain person, makes it appear that, the class of women were also married and lived like other family women.

As these dancers were in the service of the temple they lived around the temple. The Big Temple stone inscriptions contain two edicts of the king, the first listing 50 names of musicians and singers and the measure of paddy they could draw for their livelihood. The second edict contains the names of 509 persons including the names of 400 women dancers and the house allotted to each of them which were situated north and south of the temple classified as Northwing (Vadasiragam) and Southwing (Thensiragam). In every wing the first and last houses were identified as Thalaiveedu and Kadaiveedu. There was another colony in the western side of the temple. They were living places and training centres of dancer women. The list also contains the extent of land (share) assigned to each of them.

There were differences in salaries paid to dancers and musicians depending upon the nature of work they performed. During Rajarajan period one veli of land was yielding 100 kalams of paddy per annum. The Nattuvars (dance masters) were assigned two veils of land, dancing woman one veli each and musicians like veena player different extents. When a woman dancer died or went to another country, some other woman from her family well versed in Bharathanatyam were appointed.

The artists were highly respected in the society and given due recognition. These women who dedicated their lives in the development of the art of dancing in the temple also had charitable mind. Stone inscription shows that they were benevolent not only in the temple they served but also to the temples they visited.

Another significant feature of Chola period was public health service. The hospitals were called ‘Aadhular Salais’ some of them had beds for patients. There were physicians, surgeons and nurses who were paid wages in paddy and money. There were workers to procure herbal plants. There were medical schools and the students were provided with food and hostel facilities.

The temple is also an architectural exemplar showcasing the pure form of the Dravidian type of temple architecture and representative of the Chola Empire ideology and the Tamil civilisation in Southern India. The temples “testify to the brilliant achievements of the Cholas in architecture, sculpture, painting and bronze casting”.

The five-day celebrations of the millennium of the Big Temple, organized by the Tamil Nadu government was a fitting tribute to the monument and its architect and great visionary king Raja Raja Cholan! 


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