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Navarathri Mandapam concerts to begin on September 19
THIRUVANANTHAPURAM, September 14: The annual Navarathri concerts at the Navarathri Mandapam next to the Shri Padmanabha Swamy Temple here will begin on September 19.

The festival will feature top artistes.

The concerts here are held to strict time schedules. They commence at 6 p.m. and conclude at 8.30 p.m. The style of concerts held here is very different. At the Navarathri Mandapam, it is mandatory to play the mridangam during the thanam- rendering phase. Till recently, ghatam was not permitted here.

Navarathri Mandapam is situated on the right side of the East Gopuram of the Padmanabha Swamy Temple.

Almost all major musicians have performed in the Mandapam. Semangudi Srinivasa Iyer tops the list, having performed over 50 times in the Mandapam. Palakkad K.V. Narayana Swamy, M.D. Ramanathan, G.N. Balasubramaniyam, T.V. Gopalakrishnan, T.N. Seshagopalan, Maharajapuram Santhanam, T.K. Govinda Rao, T.V. Sankaranarayanan, Neyveli Santhanagopalan, Neyyattinkara Vasudevan, R.K. Sreekantan, Sanjay Subramaniyam, Aswathi Thirunal Rama Varma, Trichur V. Ramachandran and O.S. Thyagarajan have graced the Mandapam.

The Navarathri Mandapam is situated inside a beautiful wooden building. During the festival, the Mandapam will be decorated with fresh flowers and fruits. The entire place will be lit by oil lamps. Sandalwood and camphor are used as incense. Even today, age-old codes of dress and conduct are followed here. Women are not allowed to give concerts here. Only the Royals are allowed inside the Mandapam. The public will be restricted to the nalukettu around the Mandapam.

Prior to the main concert, there will be a 30-minute thodaya mangalam recital by the traditional Mullamoodu Bhagavathars. This practice continues even today. They have a fixed repertoire of Swathi kritis - Jaya Devaki Kisora (Natai) and Pari Pahi ganadhipa (Saveri). They conclude with, curiously enough, a no-Swathi kriti Narayana Thee namo Namo composed by Annamacharya. It is believed that Swathi had suggested this kriti for inclusion as a good specimen of kritis other than his. This Annamacharya kriti is popular in concert platforms and Dr. M. Balamuralikrishna has sung this in rag Behag, though it is rendered in Madhyamavathi in the Mandapam.

During Navarathri concerts, the Mandapam will see a very curious arrangement of earthen pots. They are usually kept in place by means of coir ropes tied around the neck from one pot to another. The mouths of these pots open down earthwards. The pots are of different sizes. Their mouths are also of different measurements. The pots are not uniformly arranged, but kept in different angles. The thickness of the pots also varies.

They are very ingenious and indigenous way of providing sound reflectors. They also prevent echoes. The sound reflectors are arranged over the area where the musicians give their performances. In olden days, when modern acoustics were not their, these earthen ware pots ensured the even distribution of sound through the Mandapam without the noise pollution of echoes.

Navarathri is a nine-day festival in the month of October. It is celebrated in honour of Devi or the Mother Goddess. She is worshipped as Saraswathi, the deity of all learning and arts, Lakshmi the Goddess of Wealth and Durga, embodiment of courage and power. Every year in the month of October, the nine nights of the festival are celebrated with great fervour.

Saint Kambar, the author of Kamba Ramayana, is believed to have gifted the idol of Goddess Saraswathi to the Chera King, who was his disciple. The Saint, it is believed, made the King promise that the Devi would be worshipped during every Navrathri. This promise is being kept by the Travancore Royal House, the descendants of the Chera Kings. Till 1834 AD, the Navarathri festival was conducted at the Saraswathi Mandapam in the Padmanabhapuram Palace complex.

The Saraswathi idol is now kept at the temple inside the Padmanabhapuram Palace complex. It was Swathi Thirunal who shifted the capital to Thiruvananthapuram from Padmanabhapuram. But the King made arrangements for the idol to be brought to the new capital during the Navarathri in a grand procession and built the Mandapam for the festival.

During the festival the idol is kept at the Navarathri Mandapam for nine days. Special poojas and vedic rites are conducted during the festival. But the highlight of the Navarathri festival is the music concerts in the evenings.

Maharaja Swathi Thirunal composed nine songs in nine ragas for the Navarathri concerts. During the first three days, the Devi is worshipped as Saraswathi, as Lakshmi during the next three days and as Durga on the last three days. On the first day, Devi Jagajanani in raga Sankarabharanam will be rendered. It is Pahimam Sri Vageeswari in Kalayani for the second day and Devi Pavane Seve in raga Saveri for the third night. Bharathi Mamava Kripaya is sung on the fourth day. It is composed in raga Thodi. Janani Mamavameye in Bhairavi and Saraoruhasanajaye in Panthuvarali are rendered on the fifth and sixth day. The last three days will have Janani Pahi in Sudha Saveri, Pahi Janani Santhatham in Nattakurinji and Pahi Parvatha Nandini in Arabi in the same order.