The world of man sans art is unimaginable, for art takes up multiple missions in his life - as a healer, a companion and often as an intermediary or a conduit between him and the other, the mysterious, ‘incomprehensible’, occasionally fear invoking. India is home to innumerable art festivals where music and dance are celebrated within temples, organized by trusts run by temple managements. In Kerala as well, several such festivals have been drawing ever increasing audience from not only different corners of the Country but the globe as well – where atheists and believers come together lured by the charisma of what is called Art!
About 20kms away from Thrissur town is the tiny Peringottukara village where a magnificent temple called the Peringottukara Devasthanam dedicated to the powerful Sri Vishnumaya deity is located. For years, people have been flocking to this temple seeking solace for their problems. This temple, modeled on the Thanjavur style of architecture with sculptures on its exterior has been attracting not only devotees but also a great number of tourists from all over the world. Facing the front entrance of the temple is a 52 feet high Sri Vishnumaya Siva Parvati statue in terracotta and this happens to be the biggest of its kind in Kerala. There is also a 32feet high Garuda, the mythical bird from Hindu Puranas. The front wall of the temple bears a multi-coloured muralistic depiction of the ‘Ocean-churning’ or ‘Palazhi-madhanam’. At this temple, religion, caste and creed dissolve into nonexistence, making it possible for just about anybody from any corner of this world to pray at the temple and perhaps this is its greatest magnetism, especially in a world and age torn apart by demarcations of various sorts.
Since 2013, the Peringottukara Devasthanam Temple Trust has been conducting a unique music and dance festival called the Dakshinamoorthy Sangeetha Nrutholsavam where some of the greatest music and dance exponents of this Country, upcoming artists and students perform on the same platform – a manifestation of Dr. Unni Damodaran Swamy’s deepest love, devotion and commitment towards art. As the Devasthanathipathi or Chief Priest of the temple, he is the brain behind the Festival which is considered to be the only Festival in Kerala where artists are invited and welcomed to perform before the deity regardless of which religion they belong to. This Festival formulated by him that upholds secularism as its highest merit, has been one more reason for the increasing number of visitors to the temple especially during the months of December and January for the past eight years.
Coinciding with the Devasthanolsavam which is the birthday celebration of the Sri Vishnumaya deity of this Temple, the eighth edition of this Festival began on 21 December 2019, lasted for 16 days and concluded on 5 January 2020. On each day the sangeetha aradhana or musical offering that commenced at 7am lasted until 6.30pm followed by celebrity performances held at the Garuda Sannidhi outside the Temple, across the road, and this was a change brought about from 2019. This year’s Festival saw concerts and performances by stalwarts like S.P. Balasubramaniam who was awarded the 6th Dakshinamoorthy Nada Puraskaram, Kuchipudi exponent Manju Bhargavi who was awarded the 2nd Natya Mayuri award instituted by the Trust. The other renowned artists who graced the Festival are Sukumari Narendra Menon, Sithara Krishnakumar, Mithun Jayaraj, Dr. Rajasree Warrier, Flautist Rajesh Cherthala, Ashtapadi Vidwan Jyotidas Guruvayur, K.J. Chakrapani, T.S. Radhakrishnaji, Dancers Dr. Draupadi Praveen and Dr. Padmini Krishnan, Dr. K.N. Ranganatha Sharma, Chenkotta Harihara Subramanian, Dancer and Cine actor Vineeth among others.
The Temple PRO, K.G. Haridas explained the beginnings of the Festival, “It was in 2008 that Dr. K.J. Yesudas laid the stone for the Dakshinamurthi Sangeetha Mandapam in a grand function that was attended by playback singers K.S.Chitra, film star Nedumudi Venu, Jnanpeeth Akkitham Namboothiri, among other eminent personalities. Within a span of 5 years, in 2013, we held the first Dakshinamoorthy Sangeetha Nrutholsavam at the Mandapam which was inaugurated by renowned musical maestro Late Daskhinamurthy Swamy himself in whose honour this Festival was formulated and I am happy to say that this is our 8th successful year”. Over a span of 8 years, the Festival has crossed several milestones and in 2013 the Trust instituted the Dakshinamoorthy Nada Puraskaram for distinguished musicians. The meritorious musicians who received this prestigious award in the previous years are playback singer S.Janaki, Carnatic classical maestro Dr. M. Balamurali Krishna, the legendary Lata Mangeshkar, the versatile Hariharan and veteran Arjunan Master.
In 2016, as part of the inauguration of the Dakshinamoorthy Sangeetha Nrutholsavam, 250 veteran classical musicians performed the Pancharatna krithis in unision.
2016 also saw the birth of the idea of a ‘free for all’ music school under the aegis of the Temple for those wishing to master different art forms and this led to the establishment of the Devasthanam Kalapeetom affiliated to the Kerala Sangeetha Nataka Academy in 2017 where nearly 340 students are being coached in the arenas of music, painting, violin, dance and chenda (percussion instrument), in the ancient Gurukula sampradayam, in a specially designed Koothambalam, entirely free of cost. Under the guidance of the scholarly Principal of the Kalapeetom, Poornathrayee Jayaprakash Sharma, a team of qualified teachers have been moulding the students to become the pride of the Country in the years to come.
In 2018, the Trust instituted the Natya Mayuri award for dancers whose names are synonymous with their art form and the first recipient of this award is the legendary Dr. Padma Subramaniam in 2018.
The 8th edition of this Festival has ended and the wait for next year’s celebration has already commenced but the Festival Committee led by Dr. Unni Damodaran Swamy is at work to improve upon the existing Festival. So what is it that makes the Dakshinamoorthy Sangeetha Nrutholsavam at Peringottukara Devasthanam an experience of a life time? The Festival which is free for all is managed in a highly professional fashion and year after year one finds various innovations being introduced in the manner in which it is conducted. “There is a process in place for the selection of amateur artists for the Festival. From this year we have introduced the system of receiving audio sample applications for selection via Whatsapp and the Online app”, says Music teacher of the Devasthanam Kalapeetom, Gaanabhooshanam Jayachandran Valappad.
Needless to say, the unique artist spread at this Festival is a huge lure with the prospects of being able to listen to stalwarts in an environment especially crafted for art lovers. The Dakshinamoorthy Sangeetha Nrutholsavam is a world class event that is highly flamboyant in many ways while still being deeply rooted in tradition. It offers the public the opportunity to enjoy master concerts and performances, soaking in the shimmer of an extraordinarily beautiful temple that becomes the hallowed venue every December for a very special event spread between the consecrated Mandapam and the divine Garuda Sannidhi