Ninaivin Nagaram, A Documentary by A. Sashikanth

Tamil Paaramabariyam
(Tamil Heritage)
invites you and your friends to the screening of a Documentary
Ninaivin Nagaram
(City of the Mind)
produced by
A. Sashikanth
at 5.30pm on the 1st of May, 2010
at Vinobha Hall, Thakkar Bapa Vidyalaya, T Nagar.

The producer says:
I have made two documentaries, Ninaivin Nagaram and Kelai Draupadai, both are connected with the Mahabharata koothu. The first deals with the history of the region around Senji which gave rise to a unique Mahabharata festival celebrated in over 200 villages in Tamilnadu. The documentary is of 75 minute duration. This will be shown during this programme. The later is a visual celebration of the festival and runs for a little more than two hours and can be screened at a later time.
Ninaivin Nagaram
This documentary, that would be screened, deals with the history of the region around Senji which gave rise to a unique Mahabharata festival celebrated in over 200 villages in Tamilnadu. The film is a meditation on memory, mythology and history.
A war which happened in the 6th century AD, between the Chalukyas and the Pallavas seems to have left quite a mark on the minds of the people, and is the earliest memory celebrated in this festival. The asuran called Vatapi, a metaphor for Badami and hence of the Chalukyas figures in a lot of narratives around this festival. The festival seems to have started as a record of the Pallavas initial defeat at the hands of the Chalukyas and their subsequent regrouping and victory over the Chalukyas.
Pothu Raja, the popular way in which the Pallava kings were known becomes the first ‘ellai sami’ or guardian deity of Draupadi and hence the people, as Draupadi is seen as the symbol of all people affected by war.
As this region went through a series of wars and was conquered numerous times by many armies, all the memories of those troubled times found its way into the mythology of this festival. Mutthal Ravuttan, a Muslim general becomes the second guardian deity of Draupadi, referring to the Bijapur invasion; and Pormannan, a reference to the Vijayanagar kingdom which ruled this place from the 13th to 15th century AD, becomes the 3rd guardian deity of Draupadi.
The last straw on the camel’s back was the permanent settlement act brought out by the British in 1803, where they created ‘Zamindars’ who were basically tax collection agents for the British and the exorbitant tax which they expected from the people, and the barbarity with which they went out to collect the tax from the people. The people unable to pay the taxes and unable to resist the British, migrated enmasse from this region, and what was once a huge metropolis in the 16th century, was according to the British census of 1871 a ruined city with only 571 people. The memory of this can be seen in the Ballad of Desingu Rajan which has been composed 100 years after his death, where Desingu is venerated as the King who resisted paying taxes to the Nawab of Arcot.
The resonance of this exile of the people from their own land can be seen in this festival -which I would like to call a festival of exile with hope of a return.
I am giving below the twin documentary I have produced, for your information
Synopsis of Kelai Draupada
In over 200 Villages in Tamilnadu, the Mahabharata is performed as a festival. In this, for 20 days and 20 hours per day, the Mahabharata is narrated as a story, performed as a villager ritual and enacted as ritual theatre. The Mahabharata is seen as an anti-war text, and listening to the Mahabharata one is meant to introspect as to what causes conflict and strive for ‘samarasam’ or peace and harmony. The central position of this festival is that ‘rigid’ identities like caste, gender, power lead necessarily to conflict and the question the festival poses is whether one would like to have rigid identities and war or fluid identities and peace. The festival becomes a space where you affirm your individual identities and ‘transcend’ them. All castes in the village have a role to play in the festival and in some villages the Muslim community also participates as one of the deities of this festival is Mutthala Ravuttan, a Tamil Rowther Muslim. The festival has been performed for over 1300 years and is an important document of the social structure of pre colonial, what is currently called, Tamilnadu.
The Mahabharata which is performed is also a doubled text; it is both the Sanskrit text and also the Mahabharata, or the record of wars, which have been endured by these villages. The Mahabharata which is remembered here is a record of the resilience of the people and an affirmation of their will to live through troubled times.
This festival is of a long duration – from 10 days to 40 days and contains a number of elements – narration of the literary Mahabahara epic by Villipuththur Azhwar, rituals involving the icon of Draupati and theru-k-kooththu of the relevant episode at night. In this kooththu there is the mingling of the serious and the profane.
About myself
An alumnus of Film and Television of India, Pune, I worked for 15 years in Calcutta as a cinematographer shooting 10 features and over 200 documentaries. Chief credits would be ‘Kaal Abhirati’ [Bengali feature, Dir. Amitabh Chakraborty, National Award for best experimental feature, 1991], ‘Yugant’ [Bengali feature film, Dir. Aparna Sen, Best Bengali Film, 1995]. I have been directing and shooting independently for the past few years and the last 3 years have been devoted to research and shooting of these 2 films. They were made possible by a grant from The India Foundation for the Arts, Bangalore.

S. Sashikanth (

A. Annamalai: Gandhi Study Centre -; 94441-83198
Badri Seshadri: Kizhakku-p-padippakam -; 98840-66566
TK Ramachandran, IAS : TN Slum Clearance Board -; 99406-41144
S. Kannan: Bank of Baroda - 2498 5836)
S. Swaminathan: Marg Constructions -; 2467 1501