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Muthu Kuri in Margazhi Month – Dramatization of Mystic Experience of Alwars –Arayar Sevai

Muthu Kuri, also known as Arayar Sevai, is performed in Margazhi month (December 16 to January 14) in one of three temples in Srivilliputtur in Tamil Nadu. It is also enacted on certain other special occasions. The name ‘Muthu Kuri’ means ‘divine pearls’ kuri (divine) with muthu (pearls).
The Arayar Sevai traces its ancestry to the first Srivaishnava Acharya Nathamuni (9th Century) who codified the Divya Prabhandham, taught his nephews Melaiyahathazhvan and Keelaihathazhvan how to sing the verse to the accompaniment of cymbals and instituted the expression-based singing of the prabhandham in temples dedicated Vishnu. Though the institution has almost vanished because of economic factors, select families still continue the sacred art from in temples like Srirangam, Srivillipputtur, Alwar Tirunagari and Tirunarayanapuram.
This mono acting is based on the elaboration of the content of the first eleven verses of Thirunedunthandakam of Thirumangai Azhwar.

It is in the form of a monologue of a mother, sorrowfully reporting the state of her daughter lost in her love for God, neglecting her doll (with which she would play), dressing herself in silk expecting Him to arrive only to get disappointed and sink keeper in her pangs of separation.

The daughter becomes restless and sleepless as tears pour down her cheeks, and she continuously wails for her Lord of Thiruvarangam.

The anxious mother asks a woman soothsayer to find out the identity of the lover who caused this sickness to her daughter. The fortune-teller tells her that this the doing of Lord Vishnu.

This situation handed down as a literary convention of Tamil ‘aka porul’ poetry, represents suggestively the state of one who is in full of devotion to God, using the traditional device of a mother asking a soothsayer to find out the truth.

The mother then takes the lovelorn heroine to the steps of the sanctum of the Lord and placing her there, utters a plaintive cry to Lord Vishnu; her appeal evokes a high note of pathos.

It takes an hour and half to perform the text of the dialogue.

Muthu Kurri has recently become a subject of study, which had so far been traditionally preserved by the Arayars.

Arayar sings the verses with meaningful repetitive variations and with impressive gestures.

His traditional exposition of it is called tambiran-padi or urai, memorized by him from his text (preserved in palm leaf manuscripts as heirloom).

The Arayar enacts the roles of the tai (mother), the divine woman, besides that of the narrator speaking his text with gestures and musical modulations befitting the changes of scene.

Facing the image of the deity, the Arayar stands at a distance, allowing space for his movements during acting.

The audience sits around on three sides, fully participating in the dramatic experience with its make-believe assumptions, forgetting the absence of conventional theatrical equipment, bewitched in the sheer poetry of the speeches culled from the Azhwar verses – Divya Prabandham.