Telugu natakalu

Ramarao, Ram (
Mon, 28 Jul 1997 15:48:35 -0500

Continuing on my previous post entitled "Kavyeshu natakam ramyam".

1. What kind of "content" is more suitable for a natakam form as opposed
to padya and gadya forms?

Looking at the Sanskrit literature, in my view, there must be a
considerable amount of story to tell - but not too much. For instance, a
Bharatam or Ramayanam has too much of a story for a single natakam.
Thus, in a sense, it seems that they put rough upper and lower bounds on
the size of the story fit for a natakam. Padya form was most appropriate
for a story less than this lower bound while gadya form was used for
complex, nested stories (puranas and itihasas being the exception - is
it because the gadya form was perfected after these were written?).
E.g., Sakunthalam, Uttara rama caritam, Malavikagnimitram,
Malthimadhavam, Mritchakatikam as natakams; Meghadutham, Rithusamharam,
Nishadham as padya kavyas; Dasakumara caritram, Kadambari as gadya

In addition to the story, the number of characters also is important:
again not too few and not too many. Padya form again appears to be
preferable when the number of characters is too small (with the same
exception as above) with gadya when they are too many.

The number of locations is another parameter: it has to be reasonably

I do not believe that the nataka poets considered it necessary that the
natakam be "stageable": very short scenes, scenes in unreproduceable
locations (e.g., flying vimanas), and changes from a location to another
totally different type of location are all quite common, which make
actual staging extremely difficult (unless they used to simply announce
the location and leave it to the audience's imagination as to how it
looks and feels). My guess is that they placed readability above
stageability although the structure of the natakam where in the
introduction a Suthradhari and Nati introduce the story, author, his
patron, etc., and talk about staging the play, does raise the
possibility of some importance to stageability also.

2. Language used. I believe that one major advantage of natakam form
over padya is the use of language / dialect / expressions most
appropriate for the characters: in a padya kavyam, all characters speak
the same dialect. The venerable, unparalleled natakam "Mritchakatikam"
is a superlative example of this diversity quality.

3. Form of expression. All Sanskrit natakalu use a combination of prose
and poetry. In general, the major characters use more poems while minor
ones use prose almost exclusively. Also, poetry is used for "colorful"
expressions with alankaras while prose is, while not bland, not that

With this background, we can look at the early Telugu natakalu.
Gurazada, being the foremost proponent of colloquial Telugu of that
time, used prose almost exclusively (except for the Khagapathi poem,
which can be justified as not actually part of the dialogue of  the
character but instead supposedly quoting another source - though
invented by the character, which should be in the form of a poem to be
appropriate for the cited source). Others at the time instead chose to
follow the Sanskrit model. Thus we see Prataparudreeyam, Pandavodyoga
vijayalu, Gayopakhyanam combine prose and poetry. Even someone like
Panuganti Lakshminarasimha Rao, who made a lot of fun of poems in
natakams in his Saakshi essays, used poems here and there in his
natakalu like Kanthabharanam. As Pandavodyogam and Gayopakhyanam became
popular as stage plays, a number of others followed the same pattern:
Vara Vikrayam and Chintamani by Kallakuri Narayana Rao; Sri Ramanjayena
Yuddham by Tandra Subrahmanyam; Harischandra (I don't remember the
author); all fall in this category. Given that most of these are
mythological / historical, it may be understandable. Further, it is
possible that these authors felt that it was beneath them to write only
prose. It is also possible that since most of them were highly
accomplished poets (in padya form), they could not write exclusively in
prose. As an example of this, look at Geeratam and Guntur Seema,
compilations of literary and sometimes highly personal disputes between
Tirupati Venkata Kavulu and their "literary enemies" - in spite of the
extremely mundane nature of the issues involved, they could not stoop to
the level of using prose. In fact, some very beautiful poems were
generated in this process. I am particularly fond of some 30 or so poems
that Tirupati Sastri sent with the beginning "SAnthimpumdani
rAyabAramavurA  SAnthimpakEmunnaDi.."

After Gurazada, Athreya was the one to use colloquial language
powerfully to address a variety of societal ills without resorting to
poems. He took up the economic issues,  suggesting that Socialism is the
right way to right the wrongs. He didn't shy away from tragedies to
depict the full impact of social and economic inequalities.

A number of "thriller" plays also came during that period and several of
them were quite popular - Donga Veeradu (by Kodali Anjaneyulu?) is
perhaps the best known of this genre.

Present state of Telugu natakalu depresses me. It is not difficult to
enumerate the reasons for this state of affairs though: the rise of
novel as the most dominant form of literature, the general belief that
plays are for staging only, vanishing patronage for plays, movies as the
ultimate form of entertainment, steadily declining fraction of "people
literate in Telugu"...

N.R. Nandi, Adivishnu, Gollapudi, Ganesh Patro, Dr. Korrapati, Modukuri
Johnson, Divakar Babu are some names I can recall as playwrights that
made major contributions to telugu nataka rangam.

I am sure there are many whose work doesn't see the light of day. There
are also some whose work gets staged at one of the few remaining forums
for plays - Nefja etc. but not many of them get published.

May be organizations like TANA should try to revive this powerful form
of literature as it tried to do with "substantive novel" recently. 

Or, may be we should let the "market" decide what will survive and what
will not. 

But personally I miss the natakalu - even the padya natakalu like
Kurukshetram, Chintamani, Harischandra, Ramanjaneya Yuddham. I also used
to enjoy both staging and watching the many playlets that appeared at
intercollegiate competitions. Is this practice still going on?

Even in this country, I notice that the practice of staging playlets is
on decline. It used to be that most Telugu Cultural assns. staged at
least one playlet an year - for Ugadi normally. Now it's being replaced
by musical programs / fashion shows / record dances. May be the number
of people who can enjoy these MTV generation forms of entertainment have
become majorities; or people are too busy to practice playlets and stage
them; or we have so little in common among ourselves - with the
explosive growth in numbers, we are dividing ourselves by caste, place,
kith-and-kin, age, profession, income,.... - that there is no sense of
community left anymore? A Telugu community in a city here is necessarily
more diverse than one in AP. But should this divide us completely as is
it doing now?

 **               K.V.S. Ramarao                                    **
 **  Southwestern Bell Technology Resources        **
 **  9505 Arboretum Blvd., Austin, TX 78759     **
 **                               **
 **               Ph. (512) 372-5423                        **
 **               Fax (512) 372-5691                        **