Bhagavata Mela



  • An Indian form of drama honouring the god Vishnu. It is performedannually in late April or early May in the village of Melattur inthe Tamil-speaking region of Tanjore, although a few nearby villagesgive short versions during festivals. It first appeared in about 1502in Andhra Pradesh, being derived from the Kuchipudi dancedrama; subsequently Venkatarama Sastri (1759 - 1847) wrote abouta dozen works in the style in order to spread Hinduism. The BhagavataPuranas are epic stories about the incarnations of Vishnu whilea mela is a troupe of singers or dancers. The plays combinedialogue, song, and dance.

    The performance in Melattur before the Varadraja PerumalaTemple honours Vishnu's violent man-lion incarnation. A stage is raisedin the street and the temple deity is carried in a grand processionthrough the village. The performance begins in the morning, with theentrances of the konangi, or clown, the musicians, and a boywearing the mask of Ganapatri, the elephant-headed god of good fortune.The actors, all men, then make elaborate ritual entrances and performclassical dances before the main action begins.

    The actor portraying Vishnu as man-lion fasts and prays beforedonning his magical mask. On stage, he enters into a trance and mustbe restrained by attendants to protect other actors. After the performanceends in the early hours, another temple is visited, where the actorremoves his mask and falls into another trance until revived by water.