A Living Portrait of India
|India Heritage:Performing Arts:Dance:Folk Dance|
Bhagavat Mela: The term itself means the troupes who perform the stories of the Bhagavat ,i.e. the myths about the incarnations of Lord Vishnu, drawn from the Bhagavat Purana. The origins of this theatre can be traced to the neighboring state of Andhra Pradesh. Bhagavat Mela is believed to have emerged from Kuchipudi sometime around 1502. The decline of the Vijaynagar kingdom led to a cultural stagnation, compelling 500 families involved in the performances to travel to Tanjore. The king Achyutappa Nayak (1561-1614) granted them land. Thus the Bhagavat Mela arrived and is traditionally observed in Melattur village in Tamil Nadu. It is no coincidence that the immigrants were Brahmin.
Every year in April or early May, the Varadraja Perumala Temple as well as the village tank witness the enactment of Vishnu's mythology during Narasimha Jayanti. This festival commemorates the victory of Prahlad over his evil father, the king Hiranyakashipu through the intervention of Vishnu in his man-lion avatar (incarnation). Known as Prahlad Charitram, the story places its own demands on the actor portraying Narasimha. The actor prays and fasts before donning the mask of the god, and at the close of the performance, all the performers ( Bhagavatars or Bhagavatulus) circumambulate the deity within the temple, offering songs of praise. They then proceed to another temple, accepting rice from households on the way. It is only at this temple that the actor playing Narasimha is permitted to remove his mask.
The entry of the konangi (clown) marks the opening of the performance. The musicians follow, singing devotional songs. Next to be honored, with flowers and sandal paste, are the teachers of this dance-drama. The arrival of a boy in a Ganapati mask sets the stage for an auspicious start to the performance. The drama itself is characterized by rather natural, flowing movements that enhance the gesture- language used to convey meaning. The actors are always male, and female roles are enacted by the younger males.
While the repertory has remained true to its source,
there have been some additions, as in mid eighteenth century by Venkatarama
Sastri. His musical and dramatic compositions infused much-needed
vitality into this folk theatre.
as performed throughout Tamil Nadu can, like the Bhagavat Mela, claim to have crossed over from Andhra Pradesh. The word Kura refers to the Kuruvas or Chenchus who were and are the nomadic hunters of Andhra Pradesh. Their womenfolk are reputed fortune-tellers. Anji is derived from adavus, the term for their traditional dances. The form is also referred to as kuram and kuluva natakam.
However this seventeenth century art as performed in Tamil Nadu has an identity all its own. Lord Vighneswara (Ganapati, the elephant-headed god) is the presiding deity. After the salutary procession, the kattiakaran (clown) summarizes the story, which in fact is a variation on the one theme that runs through all performances. The action unfolds with a young woman languishing for her love while her maids tease her. She implores these maids, and then the moon, the birds, the clouds and the winds to carry her message forth but they decline. A gypsy woman presents a detailed account of her distant homeland, and offers to read her palm. She guesses the young woman's mind, and after initial denials the heroine accepts the truth of the gypsy's skills. A hunter (kuruva) enters in search of his wife, the gypsy. They reconcile and leave together.
Nondi Natakam = nondi (one who limps) and natakam (play). Thus, a play performed by a one-legged man (one leg was folded at the back). This form emerged during the late seventeenth or early eighteenth century in Tamil Nadu. The play itself revolves round the twin themes of devotion and forgiveness, as experienced by a one-legged thief. He narrates his tale of travails as a thief in love with an unethical courtesan, and the final redemption through devotion to God and the healing of his physical afflictions. This drama is also known as ottraikkaal.
Pavai Koothu: a glove puppet theatre of the sixteenth century. Pavai means `woman', koothu means `play'. An appropriate name because the stories all concern the feelings of Vali, one of Lord Siva's attendants, for Subramanya, one of Siva's sons.
The papier mache puppets are one foot tall and wear paper or coconut -fiber garlands. A single manipulator is required: the thumb and little finger move the puppet's arms; the middle finger works the head. The language of the show is Tamil, and the songs are predominantly folk in nature. The idakka drum and cymbals provide the music for the performance.