Mr. B. Natarajan, whose association with Chidambaram and the Nataraja temple dates to his birth (21st October 1921) has been closely associated in the study of the history of the Chidambaram temple with his father, Padma Shri S.R. Balasubrahmanyam, the well-know authority on Chola Art and Architecture, whose monumental “five” Volumes on Chola temples and temple art have won international acclaim and are widely regarded by scholars as the most reliable source material for research. Mr. S.R. Balasubrahmanyam’s benign influence on Mr. Natarajan, which has been deep and life-long, extended over the field of History and Archaeology too. He has therefore the best of credentials for this labour of love which he took upon himself as an act of dedication by the family to the father in his birth centenary year (1993).
Educated at Chidambaram, Mr. Natarajan took his Honours Degree in Mathematics in 1941 at the Annamalai University with a First Class and top rank and his M.A. Degree shortly afterwards. While at the Annamalai University, he came under the magic spell of the then Vice-Chancellor, the late Rt. Hon’ble V.S. Srinivasa Sastri whom he regards as his Guru. Commending his academic performance during his University career, the Rt. Hon’ble Mr. Sastri wrote: “He easily stood first in his year and secured high distinction. Devotion to ideals and a frank address add to the attractiveness of his character, which is at once amiable and strong”. Over the years, Mr. Natarajan has endeavoured to live up to this assessment.
He competed successfully at the All India Services Examination in 1943 and joined the Indian Railways Traffic Service in 1944.
During his association with the Indian Railways for thirty six years, Mr. Natarajan has held several senior Management positions in the most challenging years in the immediate post-Independence period.
Retiring from the Indian Railways as the Chief of Traffic Operations on the Southern Railway, Madras in October 1979, Mr. Natarajan has been devoting himself to the study of Sanskrit and Tamil Literature, Music, History and Archaeology.
His publications include ‘The City of the Cosmic Dance (in 1974) and ‘Sri Krishna Leela Tarangini’ by Narayana Tirtha with the Sanskrit text edited with transliteration and a translation and a commentary in English (1988-90).
Mr. Natarajan has toured extensively in U.S.A. and Europe in 1967 and 1993. Between December 1966 and July 1967, Mr. Natarajan was deputed on a six- month four of the U.S.A to study Management techniques. Besides the U.S.A, he has visited the United Kingdom, France, the Federal Republic of Germany, Switzerland, Italy and Sri Lanka (in connection with the Indo-Sri Lanka Rail Traffic Agreement).
At the request of the Apollo Hospitals Management at Madras, Mr. Natarajan assisted them as their Adviser from April 1981 to October 1986 and was closely connected with the development and execution of this pioneering hospital project in the Corporate sector. He is now a Director of the Indian Hospitals Corporation, Madras and Sindoori Hotels, Madras (of the Apollo Group).
This book is as much an act of filial piety as it is an attempt at a scientific portrayal of the growth of the Nataraja temple at Cidambaram, its history, its philosophy and its culture. On 29th April, 1893 (Svati Star), my father, S.R. Balasubrahmanyam, was born at Sirkall (in Tanjavur district, Tamil Nadu)– a town hallowed by its association with Jnanasambandhar of the Devaram Trio, and the three great Tamil music composers, Arunacala Kavi (of Rama Nataka fame), Muttu Tandavar (a staunch devotee of Nataraja of Cidambaram) and Gopalakrishna Bharati (the author of the well-known Tamil opera on Nandanar). On the same calendar day in 1993 our family observed our father’s birth centenary symbolically. It was our fervent wish that this book “Tillai and Nataraja” would be released to the public in April 1993 on his 101st birthday as a mark of homage to his sweet memory. The broad outline of my work was ready in early 1993. As I worked on the draft of my text, the scope of my book became wider and wider. This fact, of course, was no deterrent. I was determined to do full justice to my revered father’s memory and to the wide canvas of the subject before me. It was a pleasant assignment which I laid upon myself––a subject dear to us––with the enthusiastic support and encouragement of my brothers.
My father was often heard to say, “a single life-time is not adequate to do justice to all that one would like to accomplish”. My own experience–as every one else’s would–only confirms that feeling. Writing in “The Story of Civilization–Our Oriental Heritage”, Will Durant observed: “Many years of effort have made it clear that no one mind and no single life-time can adequately encompass the task.”
While I cannot pretend that the treatment of every theme I have touched upon is exhaustive––each one of these themes would call for a separate monograph––I venture to believe that it is certainly comprehensive, subject undoubtedly to considerations of space; as far as I can see, no important or relevant aspect has been skipped in the presentation. An integrated approach to the historical, philosophical and cultural aspects has been attempted in three separate sections of the book. But I lay no claim to a perfect treatment of every one of these aspects.
Apart from catching up with the wide scope of the work, various other constraints delayed the printing and publication of this book. I could finalise the text of the last few chapters only by the end of June 1993, before my wife and I left for the United States of America on a private visit lasting four months. While my brothers, Dr. B. Venkataraman and Dr. B. Ramachandran, cheerfully undertook the task of overseeing the printing and correcting the early sets of proofs when I was away from the country between July and October 1993, the final proofs could be scrutinized only between November 1993 (after my return to India) and July 1994. We were keen that the book should be released before the close of the birth-centenary year 1993. We are happy that, at last, this has been possible by September 1994.
His Holiness Sri Mahasvamigal of Sri Kanci Kamakoti Pitham, Sri Chandrasekharendra Sarasvati, the 68th Pontiff of the Matha, was born in 1894–a year later than my father; and the world has celebrated 1993-94 as the birth centenary years of Sri Mahasvamigal. I had very much hoped that I would be able to place the first copy of this book at His Holiness’s feet, as my revered father and I had done all along over the years with our earlier publications. With His attainment of Samadhi on January 8, 1994, His holy presence in human frame has been denied to us. His spirit lives on and will continue to inspire us and comfort us. The first copy will of course be dedicated at His Brindavan in Kancipuram.
His Holiness had been deeply appreciative, over more than half a century, of our father’s historical researches, and the latter was greatly inspired by His Holiness’s grace, love and interest in his research work. It has been my privilege to be present at many of their discussion on Art and Archaeology. It is a happy coincidence that this book on “Tillai and Nataraja”–a theme very dear to His Holiness–should be released soon after the celebrations of the birth centenary of His Holiness.
Appropriately this book has been dedicated to the memory of our revered father. If was at Cidambaram that his long career in Archaeology began in 1920, when he moved to Cidambaram. Undoubtedly, Balasubrahmanyam was the first scholar ever to undertake, as early as 1922, a comprehensive, integrated and scientific study of the history of the Nataraja temple at Cidambaram, drawing judiciously from the vast epigraphical and literary evidence that was available to him. Between 1922 and 1943, the result of his deep study of the Nataraja temple were embodied in many useful contributions to various journals on different aspects of its history. He was not only sound in his history, archaeology and temple architecture but was also a deep scholar in Tamil, with the added advantage of a sound knowledge of Sanskrit. He could count among his intimate friends and well-wishers Mahamahopadhyaya U.V. Swaminatha lyer (the distinguished Tamil savant), Professor S.Vaiyapuri Pillai, Mahamahopadhyaya Professor S. Kuppusvami Sastri, equally distinguished in the field of Sanskrit learning, and Professor K.A. Nilakanta Sastri, the Cola historian, with whom he had a life-long association. The Right Honourable V.S. Srinivasa Sastri, who looked upon our father as “my dearest friend and well-wisher”, was deeply appreciative of Balasubrahmanyam’s work in the field of South Indian History and Archaeology. My father’s association with Sri P.S. Sivaswami Ayyar, whose High School at Tirukkattupalli he administered for thirteen years, was close an memorable. With the passing away of Professor K. Swaminathan in May this year at the age of ninety-seven, our family’s last link with the eminent intellectuals of that age has been snapped.
Balasubrahmanyam’s discovery of the “Oldest inscriptions in the Anantisvaran temple” at Cidambaram, in 1940, was a landmark contribution to our knowledge on the subject. When he formally retired from his teaching career in 1956, Archaeology claimed his attention exclusively. Throughout his working life, he had set exacting standards of scholarship of himself and others; and even while he worked single-handed, with hardly any institutional assistance in his field-studies, he never ventured a conclusion without visiting the site or the monument. In his last years, of course, my brothers and I accompanied him on some of his study tours, as we had done earlier in our youth. Despite constraints of age and infirmity, he undertook extensive field tours in the Cola and Pandya country in the years 1960 to 1975. The five-volume series on “Cola Temples”, published between the years 1965 and 1979, was the result of such intensive field-tours–a striking testimony to his love for the subject, his accuracy in scholarship, enormous industry, his intellectual integrity and pains-taking research. Particularly in the volumes “Early Cola Temples”, “Middle cola Temples” and “Later Cola Temples”, quite a few sections were devoted to study of the Nataraja temples at Cidambaram. His analysis of the six-fold enlargement of the Nataraja Temple complex at Cidambaram by the Later Colas is a vivid description of their astonishing achievements and magnificent contribution to Cidambaram.
Our father was averse to cocksure judgement. His evaluation was always based on reason, known and proven data, and he believed in precision in both the analysis and the presentation of his material. He was modest enough at all times to say that, while he arrived at his conclusions after an in-depth study of the material before him, other scholars need not feel fettered by his conclusions and should arrive at their own views, if they had the necessary supportive data. Some scholars, particularly in the latter half of the century, who came into the field long after him and pursued the study of the Nataraja temple, making use also of the wealth of Tamil literature behind it, had to lean heavily on Balasubrahmanyam’s unrivalled knowledge of the subject and quoted him extensively in their publications, even if their conclusions were occasionally different. Dr. J.C. Harle referred to Balasubrahmanyam as “one of the few authorities of his time on Cola architectural stule”.
My brothers and I have been nurtured under Balasubrahmanyam’s beneficent care, even in the field of history and archaeology. In retrospect, it is a comfort to us that our own modest, independent studies, during the last fifteen years, have only confirmed the unassailable validity of our father’s conclusions and there has not been the slightest occasion for us to abandon his conclusions and set forth new ones instead. On the contrary, we have, in this book, only reiterated his points of view–with added force, where called for–to meet some varying perceptions that have surfaced after his passing away in 1981 at the age of eighty-nine.
That Balasubrahmanyam’s work has stood the test of time and that many young scholars of today, who had never known him in flesh and blood, turn to his books as almost the only source material for their research to take off, points to his unquestionable position as an Archaeologist for all times; and this response from modern scholars gives us, the members of the family, a tremendous measure of gratification. Looking back on his life-long work in the field of Cola and Pandya history and Cola temple art, we feel happy that the President of India conferred on Balasubrahmanyam the honour of “Padma Shri” in 1968, in recognition of his outstanding work in the field of Archaeology.
We, in the Mudgala Trust, continue to be committed to the pursuit and publication of deeply-researched works on our art and culture in accord with the wishes of Balasubrahmanyam, the Founder-President of the Trust.
My earlier book on Cidambaram, “The City of the Cosmic Dance”, was published in 1974. It was not intended to be anything more than a modest guide-book. I owed the opportunity of that book to His Holiness Sri Mahasvamigal, Sri Sankaracarya Sri Chandrasekharendra Sarasvati Svamigal of Sri Kancl Kamakoti Pitham (the 68th pontiff). During one of our visits to Kancl during 1970, my father and I offered our respects to His Holiness, who was resting on the shores of a holy tank. I read out to His Holiness, at his bidding, the text to my father’s article on the Srinivasa Nallur temple, which had appeared in an issue of Lalit Kala. His Holiness was doubtless impressed by the contents of the article and later put me a pointed question: “Are you Interested in your father’s subject, Archaeology?” I said, “Yes”, and quickly added, “As I had been away in the North for nearly 22 years serving the Railways in senior management positions, I could not tear myself away for the required length of time for field work on temples in the South.”
“You must start writing now”, said His Holiness to me––a command which is a vivid memory. “The City of the Cosmic Dance–Chidambaram”, published in 1974, was the result. When we in the Mudgala Trust published my two volumes of the text in Sanskrit and the transliteration, translation and commentary in English of Narayana Tirtha’s “Sri Krishna Leela Tarangini” in 1988 and1990, the first copy of each of these volumes was placed at His Holiness’s feet. Some American pilgrim scholars–Victor Mansfield, Professor of Physics, Colgate University, New York State and his wife, Dr. Michael H. Eisman, M.D. and his wife, Ovid, N.Y. State, who came to the Kanci Math to pay their respects to His Holiness and sought light from His Holiness on Hinduism, later mentioned to me that they saw His Holiness deeply engrossed in the perusal of these two Volumes till late into the night with the aid of a torch and His Holiness warmly commended the two Volumes to them. There cannot be a better reward for my labours, and I feel more than blessed.
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