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Bhagavata Mela: The evolution of an enchanting art form!

Sukracharay Another composer of substance and repute was Veerabhadrayya (1700-1769 A.D), a disciple of 'Bharatam' Kasinathayya who was acclaimed for his intellectual honesty that made him dedicate his works only to the divinity and not the royalty. He had an amazing sway over not only his native language, but also a score of other languages that included Sanskrit, Tamil and Marathi. He nurtured a glittering array of disciples under his tutelage that included Ramaswamy Dikshitar(1735-1817), the father of Muthuswamy Dikshitar of the music trinity.

Around the end of the 18th century, worship of Narasimha was gaining popularity in Thanjavur region. This period saw monumental works being penned by Saint Sri Narayana Theerthar who lived in Varahur. Operas based on Vishnu’s various avatars were lapped up well by the audience. Gopalakrishna Sastry, an eminent composer from Melattur added to the stage repertoire mythologicals like Dhruva Charithram,

Gowri Kalyanam, Rukmini Kalyanam, Sita Kalyanam and Kuchela Charitam all of which were in the Harikatha format. His son Venkatarama Sastry (1743-1809 A.D) was another scholarly composer and student of Lakshmanayya (a disciple of Veerabhadrayya) whose creative portfolio included several nrityanatakas or dance-dramas like Prahlada Charitamu, Markandeya Natakamu, Harichandra Natakamu, Usha Parinayamu, Rukmangadha, Hari Hara Leela Vilasamu, Kamsa Vadham, Seeta Parinayamu, Rukmini Kalyanam, Druva Charitamu and Sati Savitri Natakamu. Combining the best elements of Sanskrit drama described in Bharata's 'Natya Sastra' and the trends brought in during the Nayak and Maratha periods, he wove a magical tapestry out of his plays that mesmerized the audience. They stood out with the stunning performance of the principal protagonists, lyrical content, use of some rare and lilting ragas, rich costumes and finery and a seamless flow of the narrative.

Sukracharya This colourful tradition in stagecraft extended beyond Venkatarama Sastry until 1855A.D, thanks to the efforts of committed artistes like Venkataramiah, Venkatarama Josier and others. Out of the rich collection of plays penned by Venkatrama Sastry, it was only Prhalada Charitram that was enacted during this period.

The vicissitudes of time saw the native rulers fading out of the scene and the shadows of colonial rule engulfing the nation. By 1882, it was curtains down Bhagavata Mela until it was revived in 1917 by the relentless efforts of 'Bharatam' Natesa Iyer (1865-1935 A.D), a great scholar and connoisseur, who regaled the audience by donning the role of Leelavathi, the wife of Hiranya, the demon in Prahalada Charitram. He kept the tradition going until 1931 amid grueling financial constraints. This was followed by a 7-year interregnum that saw no cultural activity and this dry spell was brought to an end byV.Ganesa Iyer. He resurrected the mela by staging a series of plays likeMarkandeya Charitham and Usha Parinayam in 1938. The rest, as they say, is history. Today, the Bhagavata Mela is a well-known cultural event that draws a large number of art-lovers from across the country.

Kalakendra.com : June 29, 2006, 11:28 am