Tuesday, 28 October 2014

Kala Nilayam’s Anubhava Aradhanai

A superb tribute to Tyagaraja

By Charukesi

It must have been an unusual experience for Kalanilayam, the oldest Tamil theatre group, when it decided to choose a totally different subject for its play before the Chennai audience last weekend. It was a period play on the life of saint-poet Tyagaraja, who lived around two hundred years ago, and his immortal songs in praise of his beloved Sri Rama.

Backed by the 98-year old doyen of Tamil theatre, K.S. Nagarajan (who was honoured with a life time achievement award by Ramu Endowments before the play), his son playwright and actor-director K.S.N. Sundar donned the role of Tyagaraja, besides scripting the dialogue. The play featured episodes based on short stories by the late Swaminatha Athreya of Tanjavur, a scholar writer of the Manikodi era. The stories were published some sixty years ago in Swadesamitran, based on his conversations with the disciples of Umayalpuram Swaminatha Iyer and Embar Srirangachariyar, who learnt directly from the saint-poet. Of the more than 25 stories originally published, only a dozen were available now in the book ‘Tyagaraja Anubhavangal’. Every one, however, is a gem.

The play had eight episodes chosen strung as homage to the bard of Tiruvaiyaru. It began with a scene in which Tyagaraja is invited by Natesa Achari to witness the Ramayana play being staged by them in the threshold of the field in the night. Overwhelmed by the impact of the street play by commoners, Tyagaraja embraces the actor who plays Rama as well as Natesa Achari who plays Hanuman.

The commotion created by the abduction of a young girl Ganga by the palace people and the resultant riot averted by Tyagaraja was another scene which had all the ingredients of drama. In another, poignant scene, the temple priest is accused by the rogue Eknath of stealing the golden flowers meant for the archana, Tyagaraja heaves a sigh of relief when the gurukkal reveals the truth that exposed Eknath.

The roles of Tyagaraja’s disciple Ramaraya and Jalpesan, Tyagaraja’s brother, were clearly etched and provided mirth and laughter in an otherwise serious play. ‘Kalanilayam’ Chandru did the role of Ganapadigal and Upanishd Brahmam with his customary ease, underplaying the roles. The majestic Kakaji Panditar, an official from the palace, the gigantic tantric who brings cheer to Jalpesan for his scorpion bite and Ganapadigal’s garrulous friend Krishnamurthy Sastrigal, were perfect foils. 

The play had the advantage of wonderful vocal music by Sikkil Gurucharan which added strength and substance to the whole play. The kritis chosen were contextual and Gurucharan rendered them with feeling.

KSN Sundar not only scripted the play but also took up the challenging role of the saint-composer. His body language and dialogue were close to perfection. The humour in the dialogues was naturally woven into the play.

From family dramas to a classical play of this kind, Kalanilayam has come a long way and it must have been a paradigm shift in their approach to sabha theatre presentation. On the whole, a well produced play Anubhava Aradhanai is booked for a dozen shows in the city as of now and should reach out to many venues in the coming months.

A suggestion to the Sabha authorities: While celebrating the Tyagaraja Aradhana Day, why not stage Anubhava Aradhanai in the evening for the pleasure of the rasikas? They would not only get to hear the wonderful music of the composer, but also watch the events unfold before them on the stage leading to the birth of the kriti-s.

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