Bhagavata Melam is an ancient art form that collaborates three forms of performing arts; Music, Dance, Drama.
Bhagavata Mela has thrived for over five centuries. Over time, it has gathered an audience of its own. The most unique aspect of this art is the fact that all the performers belong to the male gender. Even feminine roles are donned by men. Another unique feature of Bhagatha Mela is its non-commercial attempt of promoting art and culture. Over the years, the art has been performed with a pure intention of dedication and devotion to Lord Sri Lakshmi Narasimha. Bhagavatha Mela is a treat for the eyes and the ears. To the art connoisseur, it pleases all senses.
The Bhagavatas of Melattur were male Brahmin priests who had been performing the ancient art of Bhagavata Mela as ritualistic worship of Lord Vishnu, the Protector of the Universe. Among the noted descendant of these Bhagavatas is the renowned Melattur Venkatarama Sastry, composer of at least 10 Bhagavata Mela dance dramas, whose works are the most prolifically performed today and stand testimony to the richness, grandeur and devotion inherent in this unique tradition. In addition to Melattur, Bhagavata Mela is being or has been performed traditionally in Oothukkadu, Thepperumanallur, Soolamangalam, Saliyamangalam and Mannargudi, in addition to performances that took place in Thanjavur palaces
1. Bhagavatas are devoted to Lord Lakshmi Narasimha Swami as their Ishta Devata.
2. Bhagavatas are not an itinerant group, though there are records of their performances for the royal patrons.
3. Bhagavatas are not professional performers. They are landowners or otherwise engaged for the rest of the year. The dancers of the Bhagavata Mela troupe do not accept monetary rewards for their participation.
4. All the participants were male Brahmins.
5. Certain roles are inherited by the actor and are a precious heirloom handed over by father to son. This tradition is followed even today.
6. Melattur natakams focus on the divine sentiment (bhakti). Even though there are dramas in the current repertoire of the Sangam which focus on romance (shringara: such as Sakuntalam of King Ekoji II), Bhakti is the overarching emotional focus of all performances.
7. Melattur composers of the period of and before Sadguru Sri Thyagaraja Swami created dance forms such as Swarajati, Shabdam and Thillana. These were later adapted as suitable for dance by Sadir dancers and incorporated into present-day Bharatanatyam and Kuchipudi.