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Jyothi Venkatachalam




Mahashivaratri is a festival celebrated every year on the 13th night or the 14th day of the new moon in the Krishna Paksha of the month of Phalguna in the Hindu calendar. This festival is important to the devotees of Lord Shiva all over the world. Mahashivaratri marks the night when Lord Shiva performed the 'Tandava' and it is also believed that Lord Shiva was married to Parvati. On this day, the devotees observe fast and offer fruits, flowers and Bel leaves to Shiva Linga.

Lord Shiva is believed to be the core of centrifugal force of the universe. He is the dissolving force of life. He is one of the most fascinating Hindu gods. Many interesting stories have been related to the festival explaining the reasons behind its celebration and significance. The most popular one being that according to the Puranas, during the great mythical churning of the ocean called Samudra Manthan, a pot of poison emerged from the ocean. The gods and the demons were terrified as it could destroy the entire world. When they ran to Shiva for help, he in order to protect the world drank the deadly poison but held it in his throat instead of swallowing it. This turned his throat blue, and since then he came to be known as 'Nilkantha,' the blue-throated one. Shivaratri celebrates this event by which Shiva saved the world.

Shiva is usually worshipped in the abstract form of the Shiva Linga. He is generally portrayed as immersed in deep meditation or dancing the Tandava with his foot placed firmly on Maya, the demon of ignorance in his manifestation of Nataraj the Lord of Dance.

Mahashivaratri marks the night when Lord Shiva performed this 'Tandava,' the dance of bliss and it is also believed that Lord Shiva was married to Parvati on this day. The Shiva lingam is worshipped throughout the night by washing it every three hours with milk, water, yogurt, honey, sandalwood paste, etc., amid the chanting of Vedic Shlokas. Devotees fast throughout the day.

The ancient Nataraja temple of Chidambaram pays special tribute to Lord Nataraja – the dancing Shiva. Located about 150 miles from Chennai, it is one of the holiest temples of lord Shiva. Spread over 40 acres, the Nataraja is one of the few temples where both Lord Shiva and Lord Vishnu are worshipped in one place. It is also one of the few temples where the Lord Shiva is worshipped in the Nataraja (dancing) form. It is here that the bejeweled idol of Lord Nataraj, in his celestial dance pose, symbolizing the five divine acts of creation, sustenance, dissolution, concealment and bestowment of grace is worshipped six times a day. The temple has carved pillars depicting Lord Nataraja in 108 poses of Bharathanatyam classical dance in the eastern tower.

The Natyanjali festival dedicated to Lord Shiva is celebrated every year for five days in the temple premises. It begins on the auspicious occasion of Mahashivaratri. During this time, leading dancers from all parts of the world congregate and dance in the temple as an offering to Nataraja. Natyanjali festival is jointly organized and designed to promote a universal message of 'Unity in Diversity' conveyed in the universal language of music and dance.
The magnificent temple dedicated to Lord Shiva, built a 1,000 years ago, provides a beautiful backdrop for the event. The setting is truly divine-Chidambaram's gold-roofed temple, with pillars depicting Lord Nataraja in 108 poses from the Natya Shastra.

One can see how dance and devotion are both intermingled in this festival. Dancing on the stage is a dream come true for every dancer no matter how accomplished or famous he or she is. Each dancer or rather devotee feels the ecstasy as they go into a trance while performing for the Lord. They meditate on this form through dance and behold him in all names and form.





For those hard to describe whimsical moods, there is nothing more soothing than smooth instrumental music. A truly calming and introspective melody like raaga Nat Bhairav does the trick. This poignant melody has been purely executed by versatile violinist Kala Ramnath, a talented, highly emotive violin virtuoso – one of the few that are well-known in the field of Hindustani classical music today. She has an exalted musical pedigree with a family full of violinists, including her grandfather and father who were also  her gurus and role models. She is the niece of famous violinist Dr. N. Rajam. Ramnath’s music has truly blossomed under the two-decade long tutelage of maestro Pandit Jasraj whose vocal nuances Kala astutely mirrors in her superb violin playing. This artist’s instrumental technique is highly vocalized and reflects the melodious style and repertoire of Pandit Jasraj’s ‘Mewati’ gharana or school of thought in North Indian classical music.

Ramnath has several popular commercial recordings. My favorites include the album ‘Passage through Dawn’ with morning raagas Ahir Bhairav and Lalit. In her ‘Gifted Violinist’ series, she has so deftly played the aforementioned raaga Nat Bhairav along with night melody Madhuwanti and a shorter, lighter piece in Khamaj. The second CD in this series contains a mercurial evening raaga Shudh Kalyan, a refreshing Shudh Nat and a haunting bhajan in Bhairavi (Mai Saanware Rang Rachi). There are numerous other classic collections of this young artist. We can hear her lovely violin pieces in raagas Gorakh Kalyan, Poorya Dhanashree, Behag, Hamsadhwani, Jog, Bageshree and so on. Ramnath has collaborated with various Indian and Western instrumentalists to produce varied fusion albums as well. In addition, this musician can be heard accompanying her guru Pandit Jasraj’s vocal recitals on the violin in various live and studio recordings.

The violin is a western instrument that has been so brilliantly naturalized within the Indian classical music genre for more than two centuries now. It is thought to have been introduced into the Indian Diaspora in 1790 by military band players of the East India Company, many of whom were Irish. It was first adopted into South Indian classical music and later embraced by North Indian classical music exponents as well. Compared to other Indian string instruments such as the veena and the sitar that have frets, the violin belongs to a category of instruments that comes close to mimicking the human voice. Other such instruments are the sarangi, the Dilruba, etc. In Kala’s experienced hands, the violin literally sings as is evinced in her elaborate improvisation of slow-paced raaga ‘alaap’ colored with ‘gamaks’ and ‘meends’ (oscillations).

Ramnath’s unique violin playing is characterized by an effusion of melodic elaboration, lilting compositions, expert, speedy ‘taan’ patterns and lightning phrases. She also has taught many students in Tampa Bay under the umbrella of Pandit Jasraj School of Music. She is a consummate artist who is constantly on concert tours all over the world.

Lavanya Dinesh is an accomplished performer and teacher of Hindustani classical vocal music and resides in Tampa. She regularly performs at musical venues both in India and the United States. She has three album releases to her credit. The artist has worked as a music critic and feature writer for “The Times of India” and “Deccan Herald.” She can be reached at lavanya@lavanyadinesh.com






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