Saliamangalam Bhagavatha Mela has been moving strongly for the past 364 years without any break from about 1645 A.D. This tradition came into practice around 1645 A.D by Sri Achuthappa nayak who ruled Thanjavur District. Under his “Nayak” dynasty, there lived a great poet named “BHARATHAM PANCHANATHA BHAGAVATHAR” who excelled in different languages such as Sanskrit, Tamil, Telugu etc., The king who was very much interested in cultural activities directed this poet to create some street plays. Accordingly the poet wrote plays such as Sri Bhaktha Prahaladha, Vipranarayana, Rukmangadha, Rukmani Kalyanam, Seetha kalyanam etc. Among these Sri Bhaktha Prahaladha became very popular. As the king Sri Achuthappa Nayak had strived very hard to maintain the cultural heritage this place is also known as ACHUTHAPURAM.
Saliyamangalam, a sleepy village off Thanjavur, comes alive to celebrate Narasimha Jayanthi when Good triumphs over Evil . S.Bharathwajan , ardently devoted not only to Lord narasimha also towards the "Bhagavathamela " proudly captures the spirit of the festival.
DRIVE 15 km from Thanjavur to the little village. Wind drizzling for the Ulmighty, a sudden turn and the stillness is pierced by clangs and beats tattooing rhythms on chanting voices. The agraharam is bright with crowds. There is warmth in the welcome, and pride. For isn't it a momentous celebration of the triumph of good over evil in Saliyamangalam, with Gods, demons and human participants? An annual event with an unbroken history of more than 365 years ``Rest of the year this street may be haunted by dogs and jackals but today it is Vaikuntham,'' I am declaring. ``At the hour before dawn Narasimha will manifest Himself in the actor who wears the lion mask in Prahlada Charitram.'' Village Saliyamangalam shares the heritage of the Bhagavatamela with Melattur, Tepperumanallur, Sulamangalam, Oothukadu and Nallur; a theatre genre introduced in the Thanjavur region during the Telugu Nayaka rule (hence Telugu scripts and Narasimha worship), and patronised by their Maratha successors. Today the performance rite survives only in the first three villages.
To attend the Narasimha Jayanti shows on successive days in Melattur and Saliyamangalam is to perceive differences not only in performance, but in approach. With a common kitchen during the festivities, the Sri Lakshmi Narasimha Bhagavatamela Bhakta Samajam of the well-knit Saliyamangalam community of 32 families, conducts the proceedings like a family function.
Only two plays (Prahlada Charitram and Rukmini Parinayam) of Saliyamangalam's composer Bharatam Panchanata Bhagavatar survive in performance. They have obvious differences in structure and texture from the Melattur plays of Venkatrama Sastri. The treatment of the raga is ebullient, the resonant jatis range from lasya lilts to tandava fireworks. Their Sanskrit-laced dialogue is more dramatic than lyrical, admitting of greater variety in action and characterisation. Hiranyakasipu is not totally villainous, you empathise with the plight of the father torn by conflicting emotions as he sees his cherished son aligning himself with the arch-enemy. Wife Lilavati likewise has much scope for expressing sringara, vatsalya, adbhuta, bhayanaka and karuna in her interactions with spouse and son.
Pre and post play rites are numerous, including those for the transference of the mask's divine power to a water pot the day before for repainting, and back again before the play. Narasimha does not appear on the stage but at the rear end of the street. A long strip is carpeted with jasmine and oleander for the God's progress in a state of enraged trance. The audience is re-arranged for the final combat.
The privilege of playing Narasimha is reserved for the oldest member of the family identified by gotra, now belonging to Srinivasan. ``After the ritual dip, clad in robes of royal design, just to look at the lion mask is to be dazzled by an unearthly fire. Once the mask is on, one loses all consciousness of the self.'' Identifying the actor with the divinity (seated on an ancient grinding stone) devotees garland Him for wish fulfilment. Stunning audio-visual effects tear pillar and curtain apart, and the leonine deity shimmers into viewer vision through the hail of crackers and sparklers. The predawn viewers reach swooning point, their individual self lost in communitarian ecstasy. The Lord calms down after ``tasting'' blood and flesh. As day breaks, flares circle the utsava images stationed on the street as spectators divine. Narasimha's krodha melts in karuna for devotees.