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Muthukuri Sevai – Muthu Kuri Araiyar Sevai

Murthukuri Sevai, or Muthu Kuri Araiyar Sevai, is the dramatization of the mystic experience of the Alvars, enacted by Arayar – Sevai. From December 15 to January 15, in Srivilliputtur, Tamil Nadu, Muthukuri Sevai is performed in one of the three temples. It is also enacted on certain special occasions. The name Muthu Kuri means divine pearls (kuri means divine and muthu means pearls).

This mono-acting is based on the elaboration of the content of the first eleven verses of Thirunedunthandakam of Thirumangai Alvar. 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 deeper in her pangs of separation. She 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 is the doing of Bhagavan Vishnu. This situation, handed down as a literary convention of Tamil ‘aka-p-porul’ poetry, represents suggestively the state of one who is in full 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 Bhagavan and placing her there, utters a plaintive cry to Bhagwan Vishnu; her appeal evokes a high note of pathos.

It takes an hour and a half a perform the text of the dialogue. Muthukuri, along with Arayar Sevai, 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 ad 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 Alvar verses – Divya Prabandham.