The dance drama titled Mekala, an abbreviation for Manimekalai, written by the Tamil Buddhist poet Seethalai Chaathanaar presents beautiful episodes from one of the five great epics of Tamil Literature portraying the social, religious, cultural and academic life of people during the early era of Tamil literary growth like the Silapathikaram, Civaka Cintamani, Valayapathi and Kundalakesi.

The story of Manimekalai is a sequel to Silapathikaram written by the illustrious Tamil poet Ilango Adigal of the 2nd century AD. Silapathikaram revolves around virtuous Kannagi, who having lost her husband Kovalan to a miscarriage of justice at the court of the Pandya King, takes revenge on his kingdom. Kannagi worshipped as Pathini Goddess in India is worshiped as Pathini Deiyo in Sri Lanka. The introduction of Pathini cult by King Gajabahu 11 in Sri Lanka cannot be a myth.

On the other hand the epic Manimekalai tells with religious undertones the story of the daughter of Kovalan and Madavi, who though born a courtesan, dared to lead a life of chastity and charity. As a continuation of Silapathikaram this epic describes how Mekala the beautiful daughter of Kovalan and Madavi (the versatile court dancer) converts to Buddhism to become a dedicated Buddhist nun.

Manimekalai is a poem in 30 cantos. The epic gives much information on the history of Tamil Nadu, Buddhism and its place during that period, contemporary arts and culture and the customs of the times. The exposition of the Buddhist doctrine in the poem deals elegantly with the four Noble truths, dependent origination, mind and Buddhist practices like virtue and non-violence.

The story is written around the harbour town, of Kaveri pattinam and Nainatheevu (Naga Deepa) a small sandy Island of the Jaffna peninsula in Sri Lanka. The epic is rich and complex, dense and bursting with life, intellectual and cultural energy.

In today’s performance, the ballet opens with a flashback from Silapathikaram where in Madavi recollects her life with Mekalas father Kovalan. Having set the context, the ballet on Manimekalai’s life story opens in episodes dwelling mostly on aspects of the performing arts.

Madavi has performed eleven variety of dances at her Arangetram which is described in detail by Ilango Adihal in Silapathikaram. In today’s production the producer has chosen a variety of dance styles to portray the exceptional talents of Madavi and give a touch of variety and glamour to the production. Choreography has been done primarily in Bharathanatyam style with flavours from Kathakali, Kathak, Odissey, Mohini, Kuchipudi, Kalari, folk, contemporary and Sri Lankan Kandyan dance forms.

The splendid merging of the music compositions in Carnatic, Hindustani, folk and contemporary styles with the variety of dance styles is unique.

MEKALA - A unique journey through divine music and dance.

Dance Drama SYNOPSIS

The story unfolds

Dance of invocation

1) The dance drama begins with Lord Indra’s Festival with Mekala and her friend Suthamathy making preparations to go for the festival. Mekala however observes her mother Madavi deep in thought reminiscing on her beautiful past with Kovalan. Those events come to her mind in short flashes.

Commencing with her dance debut as a courtesan at the Chola king’s pavilion, where Kovalan sees the beautiful dancer Madavi and purchases her valuable necklace, to begin a memorable life culminating in the birth of their beautiful daughter Mekala (Mani Mekalai) Young Merchant Kovalan though married to Kannagi, runs through all his wealth being besotted to Madavi. Kannagi is devastated by Kovalan’s infidelity and separation from him.

The Annual Indra Vizha celebrated with mirth and merriment saw Kovalan and Madavi enjoying singing love duets to the accompaniment of the traditional instrument Yazh, Kovalan for no known reason misunderstands Madavi’s song and decides to leave her suddenly in anger and disgust.

Kannagi as an epitome of chastity and true love forgives her husband Kovalan to offer him her silambu (Anklet) to be sold to find the resources to start a new life in Madurai. As Kovalan attempts to sell one from the pair of Silambus (anklet) he is accused of robbing the Queen’s anklet by the wicked court Jeweler. King sentences Kovalan to death and innocent Kovalan is sent to the gallows.

Kannagi hearing of this injustice rises in anger and rushes to the Pandya King’s pavilion with the pair of the anklets that was with her, to prove her husband’s innocence. She dashed the anklet on to the floor to prove the fact that it contained diamonds and not pearls as claimed by the royal jeweler. The Pandya king who was well known for his stand for justice dies out of shock for the injustice he had caused. Enraged Kannagi curses the kingdom for this injustice and the city of Madurai was burnt in to ashes. This act, taken as proof of her chastity, elevates her to the position of a deity leading to the development of the pattini cult. Kannagi (Kannagi Amman) is still eulogised as the epitome of chastity. The Pathini cult was brought to Sri Lanka by King Gajabahu 11. Madavi returning from her recollections of the past, advises her daughter Mekala to follow the footsteps of the virtuous Kannagi to become a virtuous woman herself.

2) Manimekalai, (destined by birth for art and pleasure and accomplished like her mother Madavi) is coaxed into dancing by her dear friend Suthamathy, dances in ecstasy Seeing Mekala, after controlling a rampaging elephant, the amorous Chola Prince Uthayakumaran pursues Mekala. Mekala having dedicated herself to a religious celibate life, avoids him by hiding herself along with her friends in the crystal room. Due to Prince Uthayakumaran’s persistence Mekala becomes unconscious. The sea goddess Manimekala Deivam puts her to sleep and takes her to the Island of Mani Pallavam - Naina Theevu (Naga Deepa) in Sri Lanka.

3) Nagar, the people of Naga Deepa welcome Mekala who discovers the Dharma seat placed there by the God Indra. This was the seat used by Lord Buddha to teach and appease the two warring Naga princes. This seat miraculously allowed those who worshipped it, to know their previous life. The guardian Goddess of the Dharma seat Deeva Thilakai explain the significance of the Dharma seat to Mekala, and lets her acquire the magic, never failing begging bowl, (Cornucopia) called Amirtha Surabi (Cow of Abundance) which always provides food to alleviate hunger.

4) Manimekalai returns to Kaaveripattinam, and according to Bhikshu Aravana Adigal’s advise on Bhuddha’s teaching, Mekala becomes a buddhist nun or Bikshuni and practices to rid herself from the bondage of birth and death and attain Nirvana. While enjoying feeding the poor with the magic bowl she came across Kaaya sandigai, who pleads Mekala to feed her husband who has an insatiable appetite. She feeds him to rid him of his predicament. Village folk enjoy the food and dance in happiness.

5) King Uthayakumaran comes with his soldiers and pleads Mekala to marry him. To avoid him she transforms herself as Kaaya Sandigai. Kaaya Sandigai s husband who misunderstood the King pursuing his wife, kills the King. King’s guards mistaking Mekala as the murderer arrest her. People protest and plead to release innocent Mekala.

6) Mekala as a Buddhist nun explained the four noble truths. Dependent origination, mind and Buddhist practices like virtue and Non - violence to the mass. Manimekalai, born a courtesan dared to lead a life of chastity and charity is presented as a daring innovation that utilizes creative power to provide spiritual service to mankind.


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