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Travel special: Dance for the divine

This February, dance enthusiasts are in for a double treat. Choose to travel to the heart of India for the Khajuraho Dance Festival in Madhya Pradesh, or head south for the Kuttikkol Thampuratty Theyyam in North Kerala. Steeped in history, spirituality and folklore, both festivals will leave you mesmerised, as Suprita Mitter discovered

Khajuraho
Where stones dance
Amidst the temples of Khajuraho, one felt that that the perception of it being a site full of erotic sculptures, had been blown out of proportion. Yes, erotic carvings are everywhere but remain just a part of the larger picture that depicts various aspects of family life. There are intricate carvings of elephants, soldiers, dancers and musicians. Khajuraho’s uniqueness lies in its beautifully preserved, 1,000-year-old temples that have witnessed the rise and fall of dynasties as well as the joys and woes of the common man.

Madhavi Mudgal
Odissi dancer Madhavi Mudgal at Khajuraho. Pic courtesy/Avinash Pasricha

Movements of time
The Khajuraho temples were built about 35 kms from the medieval city of Mahoba, the capital of the Chandela kings, who ruled from AD 9-11 in an area that forms modern-day Bundelkhand. Khajuraho initially extended over 21 sq kms, and contained about 85 temples.

A dancer at the Khajuraho temples.
A dancer at the Khajuraho temples. Pic courtesy/Uakska, Bhopal

There were periods when invaders destroyed temples. Today, only about 20 temples remain and are spread over six kms. Having been saved by their remoteness, the present temple complex is dedicated to Shiva, Vishnu, the Jain Tirthankaras, Ganesha and Surya. It became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1986. It is divided into the eastern, western and southern groups of
temples.

The western group includes the Laxman Temple, Jagdamba Temple, Vishnu Temple and many more. The most spectacular is the Kandariya Mahadeva temple, which is also the largest temple in the complex. The complex glows with the warmth of sandstone. No cement or mortar was used in its construction.

While at the complex, catch the spectacular Sound and Light Show. Time travel takes the visitor to 1,000 years ago by using mythological stories and folklore, as there is not much concrete evidence of the history of Khajuraho.

The music, Amitabh Bachchan’s voiceover, the tales of kings and queens, the chanting of shlokas and Bachchan’s soul-stirring rendition of his father, Harivansh Rai Bachchan’s poetry about Khajuraho’s sculptors, makes for a captivating experience. The eastern and southern groups of temples, including the Vamana and Chaturbhuj temples, are full of beautiful slender sculptures. A visit to the recently excavated mounds also makes for an engaging detour.

The Khajuraho Festival of Dances, which started regularly since 2002, presents the most colourful and brilliant showcase of India’s Classical dance forms in a week-long extravaganza. The dances are performed in an open-air auditorium, usually in front of the Chitragupta and the Vishwanatha temples. This year too, renowned dancers will present a variety of dance forms including Mohiniatam, Kuchipudi, Bharatanatyam, Odissi, Kathak, Mayurbhanj Chau, Manipuri and Devdasi Dance.

Did you know?
It is believed that two date/palm trees flanked each gate of the temple complex. Due to these date trees, Khajuraho was derived from Khajura-vahika. In Hindi, “Khajura” means date and “Vahika” means bearing.

Theyyam Worship and awe

Of the many temples that Kerala has to offer, the Shri Muthappan Parassinikadavu temple is one of its most unique. This temple is located nearly 18 kms north of Kannur, on the banks of the Valapattanam River, and is dedicated to a hunter form of Lord Vishnu, Shri Muthappan. There are many mysterious legends associated with Lord Muthappan. Till today, stories of his earthly connections and choices have a strong impact on the people.

Theyyam Worship and awe

Divine and different
The worship of Muthappan is truly unique, as it does not follow the Brahminical form of worship, like other Hindu temples. The main mode of worship is not through idol worship but by ritual enactment of the Theyyam dance, performed every evening at the temple. The ritual performers of the Muthappan Theyyam belong to the Vannan community of Kerala. People of all castes, religions and nationalities are permitted to enter the temple and participate in the worship.


Pics courtesy/Chandran Kaden, www.theyyamcalendar.com

Watching the Theyyam makes for a memorable experience. A masked dancer enters the temple foyer to the sound of beating drums as a gaudily dressed priest performs the aarti with fervour. The dancer’s face is a painted mask and he is dressed in bright colours and an overbearing headdress. The performance incorporates dance, mime and music, and enshrines the rudiments of ancient tribal cultures, which attached great importance to the worship of heroes and ancestral spirits.

After the performance, devotees queue up to make donations and seek blessings from this performer, believed to be possessed by the spirit of Lord Muthappan. He looks at the devotees and whispers into their ears, giving them a solution to their problems and predicts their future. He whispered a few words in my ear in Malayalam, which, unfortunately, I couldn’t comprehend. And since it was whispered, no one else could translate it. Thus his prediction remained a mystery.

There are many versions of Theyyam, and Muthappan Theyyam is one of them. If you plan to visit North Kerala, which is less touristy and commercial than the South, coincide your dates with the Kuttikkol Thampuratty Theyyam dance festival. This annual festival, held in Kuttikkol in North Kerala, is a grand affair to showcase Theyyam, recognised as one of India’s oldest folk art forms.

Dates: February 23-26
At: Kuttikkol, North Kerala (30 kms from Kasargod)
Log on to: keralatourism.org
Call: 18004254747

Kuttikkol: From Mumbai  980 kms
From Mumbai  980 kms
By rail Kasargod has the nearest railway station. Many trains ply from here to Mumbai. From Kasargod, Kuttikkol is 30 kms away.

By air: There are no direct flights from Mumbai to Kuttikol or Kasargod. Mangalore (50 kms from Kasargod) and Kochi (almost 400 kms from Kasargod) are the closest airports.

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