Sri Rama Natakam by Arunachalakavi!

Arunachalakavi was born in a small village in Tanjore district of Tamilnadu. He was very intelligent, bright and sattvic by nature. He was sent to the Dharmapuram Mutt for education. He very easily mastered the religious texts both in Sanskrit and Tamil languages. He was greatly influenced by Thiruvalluvar’s Thirukural and Kamban’s Ramayana. He was so proficient and scholarly that the head of the Dharmapuram Mutt wished to initiate him into the monastic order so that he could take over the reins of the Mutt. However he politely declined the offer, got married and settled down as a grihastha.

He set up a jewelry shop for his livelihood. Once he went to Pondicherry on a business trip. On the way he reached Sirkazhi and met once of his classmates Chidambaram Pillai who was the head of the Dharmapuram Mutt at Sirkazhi. At his friend’s request Arunachalakavi composed few verses which were greatly appreciated by all. Knowing Arunachalakavi’s proficiency and talent his friend requested him to permanently stay in Sirkazhi and made all the arrangements to get his friend’s family also there. He became well known as “Sirkazhi Arunachalakavi”. In time Arunachalakavi met two renowned musicians Venkataramayyar and Kodandaramayyar who came to study the Kamba Ramayana from him. They asked Arunachalakavi to compose keerthans on Lord Rama based on Ramayana written by the great poet Kamban. They helped him with the raga and tala. These compositions were sung by his disciples on the music platforms in Chennai and were greatly appreciated by one and all.

Encouraged by the response, the musicians asked Arunachalakavi to compose a full length integrated musical opera and thus the famous “Sri Rama Natakam” which includes all the important incidents that are there in Ramayana came into being. After composing the great work, Arunachalakavi wanted the arrangetram or the first stage performance of his great musical drama in the auspicious presence of Sri Ranganathaswamy in Srirangam just like Kamban had presented his Ramayana first time in the same temple. The priests did not agreed to this. They wanted divine sanction for it. Arunachalakavi then sang his famous keerthan in mohana raga: “En pallikondeeraiyaa….” on Lord Ranganatha, wherein he describes the exploits of Sri Rama and Sri Krishna and at the end seeks the Lord’s grace and blessings upon himself. This keerthan is even to this day an all time favourite amongst Bharatnatyam dancers. The Lord was very pleased and appeared in the dream of the priest and gave his consent for the “Sri Rama Natakam” rendering.

Subsequently, “Sri Rama Natakam” was presented in front of Maharaja Tulaja, the King of Thanjavur and other great patrons of art. He was honoured for his great works. Arunachalakavi’s musical opera was highly appreciated and accepted by everyone for its sheer beauty. The musical drama is in simple Tamil language, the incidents are arresting, the bhava or mood captivating and the music enchanting! The compositions endear themselves to one and all – to the performer (music or dance) and to the onlooker.

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