Thousands of devotees observe a fast, meditate and throng to temples and holy shrines to offer prayers to Lord Shiva on the occasion of Shivratri. However, down South, in the week leading to the festival, classical dancers perform a ritual in Shiva temples to invoke Nataraja, a dancing manifestation of the lord. The practice, first started at Chidambaram’s Thillai Nataraja temple in 1981, came to be known as Natyanjali and was soon held at several prominent Shiva temples in Tamil Nadu and other states.
However, in Mumbai, Natyanjali is held only at the Sri Subramania Samaj Temple in Chembur. This year, the festival, which started on March 2 and concludes today includes Bharatanatyam, Kathak, Odissi, Mohiniattam, Kathakali and Kuchipudi
performances by artistes from Mumbai, its distant suburbs and across the country. Today, gurus will be offering their Natyanjali in the form of special poojas and abhishekams throughout the night at the temple.
Apart from the dance forms, what makes this festival special is the fact that dancers actually perform within the temple premises. Till March 9, four performances, each of 30- minute duration, were held after the evening ritual and went on till 9 pm (when the temple closes its doors). But the concluding day features five performances.
PS Subramanyam, honorary secretary of the temple, says, “We have been organising Natyanjali since eight years. Initially, we invited dance institutes and groups and started off with a four-day function. But enthused by the word-of-mouth publicity, over the years, we got an overwhelming response and extended it to nine days. While it is not imperative that dancers perform a Shiva item, since the occasion is Shivratri, most dancers end up having at least one such piece.”
Sanyukta Wagh, who will perform Kathak along with a group from Beej, says, “It is a divine experience as the place is throbbing with positive energy. Also, we get an opportunity to see diverse performances from a wide range of groups.”