A reader of this blog recently attended a dance program by Zakir Hussain titled “Narayanam”, that showcased his reasearch work in Vaishnavism.Zakir received training in dance under Chitra Visweswaran and learnt theory from Krishnaveni Lakshmanan of Kalakshetra. She told me that his work was based on Vaishnavism during 5th and 6th century and that he had learnt the Aagama mudras from the chief priest of Sri Parthsarathy Swamy Temple, Chennai. I recall that Ms. Anita Ratnam did a similar research with the Aryar Sevai and their revival. She incorporated her research into her production titled “Neelam”.
At this point, my memories take me back to the small Thengalai Iyengar ” Kothanda Ramaswamy” Kovil in the colony that I grew up in. The mudras that the temple priest used in his everyday rituals were indeed mesmerising and narrative.
Here is an excerpt form the Aryar Sevai
” Arayar Sevai means : ” the service of offering of royal priests”.
They sang and danced before the Lord and intrepreted the individual paasurams of AzhwArs as a part of the temple ritual known as Arayar SEvai . This tradition continued at Temples such as Srirangam, SrivilliputthUr, AlwAr Thirunagari. The Arayars had a distinct place of honor in the worship of the Lord at the above temples. Great AchAryAs like RaamAnujA , EmbAr, ParAsara Bhattar enjoyed these bhakthi-laden SamarpaNams of the ARayars before the Lord during major festivals like Pagal Patthu and Raa Patthu . Special programs were carried out during this important festival.
The Arayars always performed inside the temple and in front of the Lord alone. They developed a repertoire of paasurams of the AzhwArs in general and those of Swamy NammAzhwAr in particular dealing with the dasAvathArams of the Lord and those pasurams , where KuruhUr SatakOpan looses Himself in the role of ParAnkusa Naayaki seeking the aasrayaNam of the Sacred feet of the Lord and the unparalleled joy of union with her Naayakan , the Sarva Swami , Sriman NaarAyaNan.
The Arayars were trained by their own forefathers to follow the Arayar Sevai in the strictest sampradhAyic manner going back to Swamy Naatha Muni. The Arayars wear the DhOti in panchakaccham style, adorn a silk upper garment and have a conical cap(VishNu’s cap) during their service(sEvai) to the Lord . They wear the garlands used by the PerumAL and hold the brass cymbals in their hands to beat time to the vocal music and perform SaathvIkAbhinayam to the passages of the AzhwAr Paasurams.Unlike the dance that emphasizes Nruttham techniques requiring the wearing of ankle bells , the Arayars engage in the performance of Nruttham-free Naatyam , where facial and body movements (abhinayams) are most important. The basic Thatta-Adavu of Nruttham is occcasionally used. Whenever the Paasurams dealt with SringAram , even the Thatta- adavu is eschewed. The Arayars of Each temple have their own particular rasAnubhavams during the performance of the Arayar sEvai. For instance , at SrivilliputthUr and AzhwAr Thirunagari , the Arayars walk back and forward in a delectably sweet way that is a treasure to behold.
So for those of you who want to look into more information on these lines, please check the links below.
http://www.ramanuja.org/sv/bhakti/archives/sep2001/0012.html (Info on Satvika Abhinaya of Aryars fro Andal Pasurams)
http://www.ramanuja.org/sv/bhakti/archives/apr99/0069.html ( Anitha’s Aryar Sevai and Kaisiki Natakam)
http://www.narthaki.com/info/rev07/rev433.html (Review on Neelam)
http://www.thehindu.com/fr/2008/11/21/stories/2008112151220300.htm ( Review of Zakir Hussain’s Narayanam)
Unfortunately Arangham’s link on the research no longer is active.!
Srimathi KaLLapirAN RanganAyaki AmmAL , a devout Bhakthai of VaanamAmalai Matam has written extensively about Arayar Sevai at Srirangam temple in her book: “Acharya PrabhAvam”..
Bharata Natyam artist , Srimathi Lakshmi VisvanAthan has a small chapter on Arayar sevai in her book , Bharatha Naatyam: The Tamil Heritage .
Will keep this post updated when I find more details.