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FOLK THEATRE OF ANDHRA PRADESH

The folk theatre of Andhra, with its multiple forms and techniques, has been a major source of public entertainment through the centuries. It served the dual purpose of providing entertainment to people and also making forceful emotional appeal to eradicate many social evils. Many references are found in the early Telugu literature, which show the popularity of this art form during the 12th century AD. The Vira-Saivite poet Palkuriki Somanatha mentions in his well-known work Panditaradhya Charitra about such dramatic performances at Srisailam hill on the occasion of Mahashivaratri. It is thus evident that the folk theatre tradition in Andhra can be traced back to the period of Kalyani Chalukyas, if not earlier. In Andhra, Pakkuriki Somnatha composed one of the very early forms of indigenous musical drama known as Bahu Naraka around 1250 AD which portrayed the ten varieties of the Shiva-leela episodes. In time, these took the form of the Yakshagana plays, common to many regions of India. The other major forms of the Telugu folk theatre are Burra Katha, Veethi Bhagavatamu and the leather puppet show, Tolubommalatalu.

YAKSHAGANA

 

Yakshagana is perhaps the oldest and most popular theatre form in Andhra Pradesh. The Yakshagana tradition was developed by the Telugu Brahmin families, who were settled at Melattoora village, near modern Thanjavur in olden days. In earlier days, the Yakshagana shows were presented in the royal courts. Kandakuri Rudra Kavi, who was one amongst the eight famous court poets of Krishnadevaraya of Vijayanagar, composed the earliest Yakshagana work, Surgriva Vijayamu. It can, therefore, be presumed that the Yakshagana tradition was quite popular during the time of the Vijayanagara Empire. After the fall of the Vijayanagara Empire, this tradition was patronised by the Nayaka kings of Madura and Thanjavur. In this connection, the names of Vijaya Raghava Nayak of Thanjavur and Shahji of Maharashtra are of special significance. Vijaya Raghava Nayak introduced a number of novelties to improve the tradition of Yakshagaana. He composed a number of plays, viz., Raghunathabhyudaya, Kaliyamardana, Prahlada Charitra, Putanaharana and Vipranarayana Charitra, which are still preserved in the Saraswati Mahal library of Thanjavur.

The Yakshagana plays of Andhra Pradesh were largely descriptive in style and at first only one artiste danced and sang the whole story, playing the various roles in it. The dancers came from a particular community known as Jakkula Varu, who specialized in Yakshagana. From being a musical play with dance interpreted by only one artiste, Yakshagana developed further and two principal characters were introduced on the stage, and then two more characters were added, namely, the clown for the comic element and a fortune-teller or Yerukala Sani. There was thus a gradual development of Yakshagana into a regular dramatic dance form with a number of artistes playing the various characters in the story.

Three well-known Yakshagana plays belonging to the 15th and 16th centuries are the Garudachalam by Obayya Mantri, Krishna-Hiramani by Srinddha (both 15th century) and Sugriva Vijayam by Rudra Kavi (16th century). The prototype of what is Yakshagana in Andhra, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu, is called as Lalita in Maharashtra, Bhavai in Gujarat, Yatra in Bengal and Gandharva Gana in Nepal.

BURRA KATHA

The Burra Katha is the most popular and the most extensively used narrative form of folk singing in Andhra Pradesh. It gets its name from "burra", the percussion instrument used in the narrative. It combines in itself all the significant aspects of many of the ballad types of Andhra Pradesh and presents itself as a recreated model. Burra Katha was actually developed to create social awareness by conveying contemporary messages but with times it began to be exploited to serve political purposes.

The traditional performers of the Burra Katha believe that they are descendants of Valmiki, the composer of the epic Ramayana. The Burra Katha team consists of three narrators. The chief narrator coordinates the narration, description, explanation, humorous comments and anecdotes. He recites the ballad to dramatize it by exploiting the nuances of story telling. He not only entertains the people but also educates them in the quickly changing political scenario. He is assisted by two "vanthas" or narrators, who provide the rhythm during the narration by means of small drums and gives their chorus voice. One of the assistant plays the role of the "hasyagadu" or humour man who indulges in tit-bits, witticism and makes fun of the main story and connects the past of the story to the present, while the third character attires himself in a simple angarkha and kurta and provides the political thrust to the performance. He provides explanation to the questions posed by the "hasyagadu" and emphasizes the important features of the performance. The Burra Katha team also recites traditional stories of Bobbilli Katha and Palnati Yuddham.

VEETHI BHAGAVATAMU

Another form of folk theatre in Andhra, which has been popular amongst the village-folk, is the Veethi Bhagavatamu, a degraded form of Yakshagana. It was practised by the members of various communities viz., Yamadulu, Chindumadigalu, Jangalu and Jakkulavaru who enacted the various themes from the Mahabharata, Ramayana, the Bhagawata and Shiva Purana. It did not require any fixed stage. These shows took place mostly on the outskirts of a village where they would erect a thatched stage, supported by four bamboo poles fixed on the ground.

PAGATI VESHAALU

Pagati Veshaalu is a series of performances enacted during the day by artists who disguise themselves as different characters. It is role-playing by donning a costume and assuming another's role. Pagati Veshaalu is a marginal theatrical form, which evolved as a deviation from the mainstream folk theatrical performance. It is popular in Telangana region and the Krishna district of Andhra Pradesh.

Each performance revolves around a single episode consisting of a prominent "vesham" (disguise) and other less important characters. Pagati Veshaalu is performed consequently for four to five days and each day's performance centers around one character.  The "characterization", costumes, make-up, mannerisms and the sly humour in portraying the characters make Pagati Veshaalu an enjoyable experience to watch.

 



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