Triveni Journal

1927 | 11,233,916 words

Triveni is a journal dedicated to ancient Indian culture, history, philosophy, art, spirituality, music and all sorts of literature. Triveni was founded at Madras in 1927 and since that time various authors have donated their creativity in the form of articles, covering many aspects of public life....

The South Indian Stage

By V. Bhaskaran

THE most fascinating study about India is her ancient culture. For, in the history of nations, no culture has withstood the devastation of Time so resolutely, and India's light burns brightly through the ages. And to-day, the spiritual beauty of Indian culture has revealed itself to the world through the poetic genius of Rabindranath Tagore and the sublime doctrines of Mahatma Gandhi.

But India does not shine in the realm of spirituality alone. Her literature is like a vast mine, which to an ardent and enthusiastic explorer, will reveal a rich panorama of life rare in human history. Her great epics still extort admiration from the best savants of the West. Her culture manifests itself in diverse ways, through her drama, painting and poetry. The link with the past, which for a time was lost during a dark period in our history, is being forged afresh; for, the impact of an alien civilization has also awakened in us a new yearning for the study of our own culture and traditions.

It is our special purpose to examine the achievement of South India in the realm of the Drama, and see to what extent South Indian culture finds expression through the great dramatists of the day. To study the present position of the South Indian drama, we have to go to the ancient tradition which gave birth to it. Unlike Western Drama, the drama in India has in most cases a didactic purpose. The central theme on which the dramas of Kalidasa, Bhavabhuti, Bhasa, and latterly of Pandit. D. Krishnamacharlu are based, is always God and His Leela. Social dramas are slowly coming into prominence to-day, and in a land like ours, they are bound to leave their impress on the development of modern Indian culture. To some extent, the present-day education, with its craze for sensation, has weaned us away from our rightful moorings, but the love of God is still there, as may be judged from the huge audiences at a devotional drama. But if the stage has to play its part in a nation's life, mere repetition of the stories of the deities will not serve any purpose. With the aid of the past, we must build up the future edifice of the Indian drama.

Turning to India's dramatic literature, one is amazed at its rare qualities. The earliest work on this class of literature is the Bharata Natya Sastra, followed sometime later by Bhasa of ancient fame. The age of staging plays began with Bhasa and Sudraka Kavi, and the tradition of active Indian drama may be dated from this time. But it was given to Kalidasa to immortalise the Indian drama by his wonderful genius. With his wealth of poetry, beauty :of imagery and command of technique, Kalidasa made his dramas such perfect expressions of his art, that they were not easily capable of being staged by common actors. But that is the way of genius.

Closely following the Kalidasa tradition, came the era of Sri Harsha, Bana, Bhattanarayana, Visakhadatta and Bhavabhuti, who all belonged to the seventh and eighth centuries. History records an intense dramatic activity during this age, culminating in that masterpiece of Dhananjaya, The Dasa Rupa, a standard critical work on Indian dramaturgy written in the 10th century. Then came a period of inactivity in the production of dramatic literature and criticism. In the middle of the 14th century, there arose a new school of dramatists who concentrated upon the production of religious dramas with the main purpose of fostering Bhakti. This effort did not, however, materially contribute towards the uplift of the Indian drama as in the period of the domination of Bhavabhuti and Bhasa. Dhananjaya's Dasa Rupa covers the whole gamut of dramatic technique, and one is surprised to find in this classical treatise the quintessence of the drama. The choice and development of the plot, the emphasis laid on action, and the naive exposition of the various rasas, reveal a master-mind, handing down to posterity an authentic and most brilliant contribution on Indian dramaturgy. This is the rich dramatic tradition which modem India has inherited, though it has been passing through various stages of upheaval and decadence during long intervals. We have a great tradition behind us. Only, the present reconstruction has to proceed on right lines.

Apart from classical works which deal exhaustively with the science of the drama, and the works of Kalidasa, the stories of the Mahabharata and the Ramayana, improvised for the occasion, have played a great part in making the Indian stage very popular and attractive. The majestic grandeur of Kalidasa and of the earlier dramatists like Bhavabhuti, was not easily appreciated by the modern actor. His woeful ignorance of Sanskrit also stood in the way. So, a new school of dramatists sprang up in this country. The adaptability of puranic stories to suit the taste of the modern play-goer, with a liberal interspersing of music, became almost a necessity, and in South India, Pandit D. Krishnamacharlu of Bellary was the pioneer in the renaissance of the drama. Indian drama is, as we have observed, didactic and intensely religious. The street dramas, still in vogue in Indian villages, were designed to appeal to the religious instincts of man. Thanks to the impetus given by Krishnamacharlu, the South Indian stage is on the threshold of a new era. This great Andhra poet presented the Puranic stories in a new garb, irresistible in its charm. Quite apart from his appeal to the Andhra public, his achievement as a dramatist has a national significance. In South India, the stage has received a new inspiration from him, and scores of dramatists have followed in his wake. He concentrated mainly on epic stories, and by his magic touch, he cast his characters in such a mould that, without losing their epic ground, they satisfied the requirements of the modern stage. He developed the true spirit of the drama and the various rasas with such punctilious care and finesse of execution, that he has rightly earned the title of Andhra Nataka Pithamaha (The grand-sire of the Telugu Drama).

In the Tamil Nadu, Rao Sahib P. Sambanda Mudaliar took up the study of the stage in right earnest. He has to his credit many fine dramatic pieces in Tamil. He gave a new orientation to the Tamil drama by assigning a secondary place to music. The themes of his dramas always relate to some aspect of human psychology, and one could discern in them a harmony and a fresh outlook on life which explain his great popularity.

The rise of the amateur theatricals is another factor in the development of the South Indian Drama. Both Krishnamacharlu and Sambanda Mudaliar have helped the healthy growth of such associations. Both were born actors, besides being literary men of outstanding merit, endowed with an instinctive perception of the most beautiful and subtle things in art. Still there is a subtle distinction between the art of the Andhra dramatist and that of Sambanda Mudaliar. Krishnamacharlu revelled in the antiquities of the Mahabharatha and the Bhagavatha, and the colour and the setting he gave to some of his Puranic representations were a marvel of dramatic skill. The wonderfully humanising touch he imparted to the character of Hiranyakasyapa, to take but one example, will reveal the rare flights to which his genius could soar while working up the tragic element in a drama. Sambanda Mudaliar, on the other hand, with his remarkable literary skill and elegance of style, wrote a series of dramas in which the Indian social life is portrayed in vivid colours. After Krishnamacharlu came a number of Telugu dramatists of varying degrees of merit, and Telugu Literature is all the richer for their efforts. Effete social customs form a ground for the modern dramatists. The revolt of Veerasalingam Pantulu against unjust social laws emboldened the hearts of these dramatists to turn to the portrayal of contemporary social life. To the credit of Andhra Desa it must be said that it has given the lead in this direction.

In the Tamil land, unfortunately, things are different. So far as professionals are concerned, the plays have lost all social value and are merely used to promote mirth and flippancy on the stage. Dramas, full of intrigue and sensation, have become so common a feature of the modern Tamil stage, that one hardly goes to the theatre for inspiration or intellectual enjoyment. The degradation to which the Tamil stage has sunk in the hands of the professionals, is a blot on the pure tradition inherited from the past. Fidelity to the plot is invariably thrown to the winds, and the hero or heroine thinks more of the applause of the crowd than the necessities of the historic ground. This state of affairs is perhaps due to the fact that the ordinary professional is not educated enough to appreciate the importance of the drama as the mirror of a nation's life. The need for a change is being slowly felt, thanks to the splendid work of the amateurs, but nothing short of a radical reform will make it possible for the real beauty of the Indian drama to reappear. The new life pulsating through India is bound to effect a reform of the stage, even as it is purifying other spheres of Indian activity.

It is clear that India is coming into her own, not only politically but also culturally. Rabindranath Tagore has contributed, more than any living Indian, to the resuscitation of the Indian stage. By his matchless eloquence, his powerful pen, and his unerring insight into human nature, he has given a new impetus to the reform of the drama. There are others who have also taken seriously to the study of the drama and are spreading its message. One such outstanding personality is Mr. Raghavacharlu of Bellary. He is perhaps the greatest actor that South India has produced. He had his early training under that great doyen of the Andhra stage, Krishnamacharlu. With a genius for detail, Mr. Ragavacharlu has made the stage ‘a living university of the people’. His personation of epic and historic characters is the very quintessence of his keen dramatic perception and command of technique. The stage to him is but a channel through which a nation's best thoughts ought to find expression. He is the most successful and brilliant Shakespearean actor in South India, and Dr. Arundale paid him a will-merited tribute when he compared him to Sir Beerbohm Tree. The great work of Mr. Raghavacharlu for the reform of the stage deserves praise from all lovers of culture. The Suguna Vilasa Sabha, under the leadership of Sambanda Mudaliar, is doing excellent work in this direction, while amatuer associations are being organized in the City of Madras and elsewhere. These are sure signs of a bright future, when the Indian stage will fulfil its mission. In the words of Sarojini Devi, "To-day we want dramatists to be the great interpreters of to-morrow, not merely what was yesterday great and noble, but what shall be to-morrow radiant and beautiful." We hope that ail true lovers of the drama will take this message to heart and help the stage to become an interpreter of the nation's best thoughts. India has an authentic dramatic tradition, and only a new orientation is required to make it once more a power for good in this ancient land.

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