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Matavi’s 11 types of Classical Dance

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Hindu Themes in Ancient Tamil Dance


Picture shows famous dancer Jyotsna Jaganathan

Silappathikaram is considered the best among the five Tamil epics. Kovalan and Kannaki were the hero and heroine and Madhavi was Kovalan’s mistress. She was a famous dancer. She was the daughter of Chitrapathy. Madhavi learnt dance from the age of five and mastered the art of classical Bharatanatyam at the age of twelve. When she performed at the annual Indra festival in the ancient Chola port city Kaveri Pumpattinam, the king gave her the royal medal and 1008 gold coins. Kovalan, who was a great lover of fine arts fell for her.

The Tamil epic Silappathikaram is an encyclopaedia of Tamil culture. It gives graphic description of all Tamil arts such as Bharatanatyam and Tamil Music. The commentators added wealth of information in their commentaries. The epic describes the Tamil country of second century C.E.
It is very interesting to know that all these dances are about Hindu mythology.

Madhavi performed eleven different types of dances according to the epic. They are:

1.Alliam: This is a dance about Lord Krishna’s victory over the mad elephant.
2.Kodukotti : This is the dance Lord Shiva performed after burning the triple cities of Asuras/demons
3.Kudai: This is about Lord Skanda’s victory over the demons
4.Kudam: Kannan performed this after winning the release of his grandson Anirudh from the prison of Banasura.
5.Pandarangam: Brahma was entertained by Shiva with this dance after Shiva’s win over the Triple Cities of demons.
6.Mal: This describes the wrestling contest between Bana and Lord Krishna

7.Thudi: This is Skanda’s dance after defeating the demon Suran
8.Kadayam: This is the dance performed by Indrani at the north gate of palace of Banasura.
9.Pedu: Manmathan’s dance dressed as a eunuch to secure the release of his son Anirudh.
10.Marakkal: When demons sent poisonous creatures like snakes and scorpions against Goddess Durga she danced with stints (Stick dance). This is known as Marakkal literally “wooden legs”.
11.Pavai: Goddess Lakshmi’s dance against the warring demons.

First six of the eleven dances are done in standing position and the other five are performed in lying position. There is an interesting thread that runs through all these mythological episodes. This is about a fight between the good and bad and the ultimate victory of good over evil.

Ilango, author of Silappathikaram, did not stop with Matavi’s debut performance. In three other places in the epic he narrated the hunters dance during worship of Durga, cowherds dance praising Lord Krishna and tribal dance.

Ancient Tamils were so familiar with all the Hindu mythological stories. They liked to watch such stories. This is confirmed by a lot of references to Hindu Gods and Goddesses in Sangam Tamil literature. Tamils are not only ardent Hindu devotees, but also lovers of all fine arts. Chidambaram temple stands as a monumental proof for this with all the 108 dance gestures (abhinaya) sculpted in stones.

Like Bharata, the author of Sanskrit treatise on Bharata Natyam, Silappadhikaram also gives a description of dance stage and location for the stage.

The Tamil atheist’s propaganda is exploded by all the descriptions found in ancient Tamil literature. The dancing figure found at Mohanjadaro points to the antiquity of the classical Bharatanatyam. The metal statue of a woman shows her one arm on her hips and another arm with lot of bangles. Her legs are slightly bent. This tradition is continued by the Tamil dancers even today.

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