‘Natyanjali’ is a festival of dance. The word Natyanjali is composed of two words; ‘natya’, which means dance and ‘anjali’ which means offering. So,Natyanjali is a festival, where dancers devote their dance and reverence to the Lord of Dance i.e. Lord Nataraja.
Natyanjali festival falls in the Tamil month of Masi; which coincides with the English months of February and March. In Tamil Nadu, at Chidambaram, Natyanjali festival is celebrated at the Nataraja Temple.Dancers from all across India participate in this festival to dedicate their dance to Lord Nataraja; the dancing manifestation of Lord Shiva. All the forms of classical dances i.e. the Bharatnatyam, Kathak, Kuchipudi, MohiniAttam, Odissi, etc.are performed by well-known dancers.Besides having a religious significance, the Natyanjali festival is also a great occasion to revive the spirit of ‘unity in diversity’ as dancers from all over India perform at a common platform. Each group of dancers gets around 20 – 30 minutes to perform their dance recitals.
To express devotion and to worship Lord Shiva in a unique style, in the year 1981, an annual event of a combined dance program was organized. This tradition of performing at a concert has since then been carried out each year. Natyanjali has developed not only as a National Festival,but has also gained international fame. It is a five day event in which more than 300 dancers show their dancing talent in the traditional dress and offer it to Lord Nataraja. The celebration starts from the day of MahaShivaratri.
Initially,this annual classical Indian dance festival was celebrated at the Chidambaram Temple only, but now it is also organized at other temples in Thanjavur, Mayavaram, Nagapatinam, Chennai, Thirunallar,etc. An interesting fact about the festival is that it was started in Chidambaram by a Muslim person, as a mark of religious integrity. He began by teaching dance to children from Dheekshidar, without charging any remuneration for it. He mixed his own compositions with Kirthanas.
The celebration of this festival is the result of collective effort by the Tourism Department of Tamil Nadu and the Natyanjali Trust within the vicinity of the Shiva Temples.