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 Kalaapam

S. V. Joga Rao

(Lecturer, Andhra University)


A Kalaapam is a lyrical drama which cares not much for the dramatic sequence or action, but can bring out the effect by a subjective exposition of the characters themselves, accompanied by a systematic dance and tune, suggestive of the situation. This is not mentioned as an Uparupaka in any of the works on Sanskrit dramaturgy, but it has the essential features of an Uparupaka. As in the Kabuki or the No of Japan, and as in the Kathakali, the famous pantomime of Malabar, so in the Kalaapam, each and every movement of the limbs of an actor should be apt to convey an idea, and each of the above-mentioned art forms pursues its own traditional technique in practice and presentation. It is evidently of the status of the Uparupaka as distinct from that of the Rupaka: “The chief object of the ten types of dramas (dasa-rupakas) or Natya is to arouse the Rasas in the minds of the spectators, while that of other types of drama which are known as Uparupakas is to present the particular Bhavas by means of appropriate gestures, and therefore they are known as Nritya.”1 That apart, the Kalaapam is something akin to a particular type of the recognised Uparupakas which will be dealt with later.

Before diving deep into the subject, the relation of the Kalaapam to the Yakshagana should be taken into consideration. Yakshagana is a type of indigenous drama, peculiar to Telugu in particular and the South Indian languages in general. It is poetry, music, dance and drama, all in one, something like the Javanese Wayang Wong and the Yatra of Bengal. The Yakshagana seems, to have passed through three stages in the course of its development. In the first instance it came into being as a piece of narration set to music. Later, traditionally trained danseuses set to rhythmic movement and gorgeous costumatic presentation. Lastly the histrionic element took its turn and the Yakshagana, with some of its earlier features preserved, has assumed the form of a regular play. The Kalaapam should be ascribed to the second of the above stages, that of an Uparupaka.

The word Kalaapam, as applied to a work of the above kind, and as its meaning stands today in the lexicons, is not quite significant of its content. Sanskrit dictionaries like that of Monier Williams, besides giving various other meanings, speak of it as ‘A poem written in one metre’. This is not exactly the case with the text of a Kalaapam, but a certain metre, dwipada, is a major constituent of it. The ‘Bharata Kosh’, a monumental dictionary on Sanskrit dramaturgy compiled by Sri Manavalli Ramakrishna Kavi, gives the meaning of Kalaapam to be a type of a certain taala and a hasta. This hardly suits our present purpose of elucidating the meaning of the Kalaapam. Mr. F. Kittel picks up another meaning, from common parlance, to be a quarrel or contention and so mentions it in his Kannada-English dictionary. This to a certain extent expounds the sense of the Kalaapam, as the main interest of the theme really lies in a quarrel between the leading characters of the play. There is a work called ‘Pranayakalaha Kalaapam’ in Telugu by Kovela Raghavadasa; its title and the theme adds to the weight of Kittel’s view of Kalaapam.


Closely associated with the Kalaapam is the name of Kuchipudi, an agrahara in the Krishna District of the Andhra State, which, like Merattur and Sulamangalam in South India, is regarded as the venerated centre of popular theatrical tradition. The dance-masters of Kuchipudi were customary votaries and great exponents of the traditional school of Bharata Natya. Besides Kalaapam, they used to perform mimicry and the popular drama, and they also imparted instruction to the dancing girls; but their major contribution to the world of art and the specialty about them lies in the Kalaapam. Every year, seasonally, they used to tour every nook and corner of the country, mainly the Andhra, in troupes, were warmly received everywhere, and on their way home carried rich gifts. In fact their abode, Kuchipudi, was an inam given to them in token of appreciation of their art. They became popular as early as the Sixteenth Century. Dr. N. Venkata Ramanayya, M.A., Ph.D., Retired ‘Reader in History, of the University of Madras, picks up a reference from the Local Records, Vol. 56, pp. 66, which resumes to the above fact. From that reference, we learn that the Kuchipudi dramatists visited the royal court of Vira Narasingaraya, the then Emperor of Vijayanagara, and there is also evidence to the fact that the ladies of the harem witnessed the Kuchipudi show. Those were days when Kuchiptidi performances were considered to be pleasant amusements by the man in the street and the prince in the palace alike. Some say the Kuchipudi performances even influenced the South Indian “People’s Theatre.”

The Kuchipudi stage is quite a simple one. It could be constructed in an hour or two, just on the eve of the performance, in some convenient corner of a street with the help of a fewbamboos serving as poles and a fewpalm leaves to form the roof. A plain piece of cloth, supported by two men at each end, serves as the curtain. Another couple of men hold each a country torch called ‘kagada’ at each end. Behind the curtain hangu and vanta,or the chorus and the play-parties, take their seats with their saranja or the usual musical accompaniments, the drum (Mridanga) the bellow-pipe (titti) replaced afterwards by the harmonium (only for the purpose of sruti), and the cymbals. The green-room is tentatively set up in some yard of a house or a temple nearby according to convenience. ‘This is all due to the limited resources of the performers, they being peripatetic professionals. Their stage is simple but not the performance. It would last from 9 P. M. till day-break. Their make-up box, the ganiyam pette, is a heavy treasure of a variety of costumes, ornaments, paints and masks.

The play commences with a prologue, usually a eulogy of the gods, and ends with an epilogue, as in a Sanskrit play. During the course of the performance, the erudite stage-manager often comes in front of the curtain and explains the sequence of the Story to the audience with his usual eloquence; and at moments of tedium the comedian engages the audience in an interesting jovial talk. Enlightenment and entertainment go hand in hand in Kuchipudi performances.

Saint Siddhendra of Kuchipudi is held in high esteem as the father of the Kalaapam. (His date is not definitely known.) His Kalaapam, thematically, is of two kinds–the Golla Kalaapam and the Bhama Kalaapam, which are celebrated in the rich repertoire of Kuchipudi. The two represent two aspects of the incarnation of Sri Krishna, the spiritual and the secular. The Bengali proverb, kanu bina geet nai’ meaning that there is no song without Krishna, suits the Telugu Kalaapam also in all its propriety.

In these Kalaapams we see the characters themselves narrating their story to one who goes under the technical name of Madhavi. Madhavi is invariably found in every Bhama Kalaapam and, in the other, his place is often taken up by a Brahmin, usually the stage-manager. Madhavi is something of the Vidushaka of a Sanskrit play, and of the Lu-byet of the Burmese Nibhatkin. To be more specific, he has a striking resemblance to the Tora-taru Kathakaraya of the Sinhalese Kolam Natima. 2 Madhavi, like the latter, is the friend of every character that appears on the stage, and at the same time behaves like an agent of the audience for thepurpose of introducing the characters by means of eliciting information from them. He has no prescribed costume. He behaves like a male with males, and like a female with females. He is present throughout the play, but is not involved init. In that he may be called the catalytic agent of the dramatic activity in the Kalaapam. He is otherwise called Madhava. Madhava and Madhavi are terms applicable to Krishna and any of his consorts respectively, but curiously enough they are applied also to the above theatrical agent. In the Bhama Kalaapam, Krishna and his queen Satyabhama are the protagonists. Sometimes they have no opportunity to address each other, or anybody else involved inthe play. But the characters are expected to give vent to their feelings. Monologue is a monotony in a play, and even unnatural as some argue. The above agent, it may be presumed, might have been invented for the purpose of avoiding the monologue. But a Madhava speaking to another Madhava, and a Madhavi to another Madhavi, is something curious. It is almost like the characters speaking to themselves. Herein lies the beauty of the Kalaapam; one can feel the pulse of its lyrical element.


‘Golla’ in Telugu means a shepherd. It might be a corrupt form of the Sanskrit word ‘Gopala’. The Golla-Kalaapam usually begins with the song of the chorus indicating the entrance of a shepherd girl, the ‘golla-bhama’, with a pot of challa or butter-milk. The sing-song selling cry of hers follows. A Brahmin usually the stage-manager, enters along with the ‘golla-bhama’ and puts her several questions in a charming and comic manner as to the customs of her caste, the specialty of her butter-milk, and so on. While answering them, the ‘golla-bhama’ somehow makes a context and delivers a lengthy philosophical discourse on many themes, right from the beginning of Creation to the salvation of the human soul. In former days this was very much appreciated, but as days passed it was considered to be a prolix talk and a detriment to the dramatic interest. Consequently, in later productions of this type it was abandoned and a new character, namely Sunkari Kondayya or Kondadu, was introduced, who became an indispensable character, and appeared under the same name in all the plays. He has a likeness to the rangalo of the Gujerati ‘Bhavai’. ‘Sunkari’ means a toll-collector. He is very rude by nature. He insists on the ‘golla-bhama’ paying the toll for her selling the butter-milk or to give a kiss instead. She tries to evade him. A funny quarrel takes place between the two. Their dialogue, especially Sunkari’s, is interesting but somewhat vulgar. The play Usually comes to a close when the termagant mother-in-law of the ‘golla-bhama’ appears on the scene and takes away her daughter-in-law. From this the misbehaviour of the toll-collectors of the time can be inferred. There is yet another point for consideration. In two Telugu Works called ‘Sunkari Kondhdu Veshamu-katha’ by Lala Kannayya and ‘Rangapuri Parijatam’ by Srinivasadas, it is clearly stated that Krishna himself assumes the form of Sunkari to test the ‘golla-bhama’. Then, one is prone to interpret the Golla-kalaapam to be a Krishna-lila (a miracle done by Krishna), taking Sunkari to be a symbol for Krishna and the ‘golla-bhama’ to be a symbol for Radha, His consort. Quite famous is their romance.


‘Bhama’ generally means any female, but in this context it is particularised to mean Satyabhama, the beloved queen of Sri Krishna and the embodiment of Sringara (erotic sentiment) in the realm of poetry. The actor selected to take up the role of Satyabhama is looked upon with much admiration in society. Thus the exalted place of Bhama’s role in the Kalaapam can be easily conceived.

It is a fascinating and an eagerly awaited moment when the stage-manager, late in the night, presents her close behind the curtain. It is a captivating sight, as the curtain slowly slides down accelerating the curiosity of the audience for some time. All of a sudden, as the country torches flare up with powdered resin, the curtain is removed. Bhama appears in an attractive pose, and as the cymbals are sounded, she commences movement. As the chorus give the leading line, she calls upon Madhavi and sings the song in which she tells her tale and explains the present problem of the play. What is that problem? A misunderstanding, of an amorous nature, occurs between herself and Krishna in the bedchamber. Krishna leaves her and goes to Rukmini, his senior queen. Soon comes reentrance to Bhama. “She feels keenly her separation from the Beloved. Now she is in the state of a kalahantarita. That is not only her problem, but also of the play. The play proper usually commences here. Bhama repeatedly sends messages to Krishna. In the end, another interesting event takes place. It is Bhama’s quarrel with her rival, Rukmini, at last resulting in a happy reconciliation of all. This kind of quarrel between two wives of an individual is a popular feature in the Yakshagana and a speciality in the Bhama Kalaapam. For this, very often, the famous Parijatapaharana story of the ‘Bhagavata’ forms the theme. Besides this, the Bhagavata supplied many other themes for a number of plays of they Yakshagana stock, and became a common name for all of them; and the term Bhagavat (-ar) connotes a performer of the Yakshaganas in general. Likewise, Parijata being the most popular of all themes as evidenced in a host of such plays, it has come into vogue as a general term for all plays of that type, especially of the Bhama Kalaapam variety. Parijata is a name to conjure with.

There is a strange correspondence between this and an Uparupaka of the same name, i.e., ‘Parijatakam’ or ‘Parijatalata’ defined in the ninth chapter of the ‘Bhavaprakasan’ of Saradatanaya (about 1175-1250 A. D.) To compare them, Parijata ofthe Bhama Kalaapa is in no case more than one Act. The Mukha and the nirvahana sandhis are there, respectively, in Bhama’s separation from Krishna in the beginning, and in her union with Him in the end. Sringara is evidently the dominating rasa, and vira is believed to have taken its course in the fight for the Parijata which occurs between Krishna and Indra, the presiding deity for vira rasa. It is well known that Krishna is a deva and hence an “Udatta-nayaka’. The role of Bhama, the heroine, begins exactly while she is in the state of ‘Kalahantarita’. As regards the number of heroines, Krishna’s harem of eight queens is quite famous and needs no illustration. But only a few Bhama-Kalaapams bear evidence of the presence of the number in full. Their proficiency in dandalasaka 3 is left for presumption. Madhavi ever and anon serves the purpose of a vidushaka. The other miscellaneous items like the khandatala and the gatha are a matter of the metrical content and may well be counterpoised respectively by the daru9vu) and the kanda of the Kalaapam. Some other items like the apasara and the geya mean dance and music and they are the life of the Kalaapam.

Even though a few aspects may be collated as above, I do not hold that the Parijatalata was the precursor of the. Bhama Kalaapam, or mean that the latter is quite a suitable example of the former. This is only to show that the Bhama Kalaapam has something in common with at least one type of Uparupaka. The other one, the Golla Kalaapam, does not come under the scope of the recognised types of the Uparupaka. But within its own scope, it contains the essential features of an Uparupaka.

Scores of Kalaapams fashioned after the models supplied by the Kuchipudi repertoire flourished in Andhra. Some of them are also called ‘kathas’ and ‘veshakathas’. Every text has also a literary interest of its own. It is a pity that most of them are in palm-leaf manuscripts and remain unpublished. The Telugu Academy, Kakinada, and the Government Oriental Manuscripts Library, Madras, made a considerable collection of these manuscripts. The pristine glory of Kuchipudi has become almost a phantom today. Even that phantom would not be easily discernible, unless at least a few of the above collections are published.

1 From the Introduction to the ‘Bhavaprakasan’ published in the Gaekwad’s Oriental Series of Baroda, 1930.
2 For further particulars “about Tora-taru Kathakaraya it is useful to consult ‘The Sinhalese Dances and the Indian Natya’, an essay by Prof. Manmohan Ghosh, M.A., Ph.D., published inthe Indo-Asian Culture, Vol. I, No.2–October, 1952.
3 A variety of dance.

Like what you read? Consider supporting this website: