This is a popular song, dance form of story telling theater prevalent in the coastal districts of Karnataka and nothern part of western ghats. The performances in the bygone years used to start at dusk and end at dawn,I have vivid memories of these whole night performances in my childhood.The stories are generally drawn from the epics with many added local asides.
The characters are generally played by home grown artists so are the musicians and their instruments.The main instrument is the chande. The sound produced by this drum is a shrill repetitive rather violent one designed to herald the beginning of the show and also to keep the audience alert.The other is maddale, a less violent drum and there are pipes. The main singer narrator is called Bhagavath and this man is again a home grown pundit and can when situation arises turn the epic he is narrating to goings on in the neighborhood,state or the country
The characters dress in great splendor with elaborate head gear and bright blown up costumes. The sound, the elaborate singing narrator, the characters who dance sing and also converse is so entertaining that hardly any one leaves the arena till the end.Usually held in a field with a make shift stage with the audience mostly squatting on the floor covered with matting.
Some incidents I should recall. In one play the chief character was Bhima, one of the five Pandava brothers.He was to make his appearance to counter Dushyasana the Kaurava who was to pull the saree of Draupadi to shame the Pandava chief Dharmaraja. The saree pulling Dushyasana had already danced the sequence thrice.The character playing Draupadi [ a man] was also ready to get rid of his/her saree. But where is Bhima?. He was to have come an hour ago! By now the tired Bhagavatar sent some men to get Bhima from his house. These emissaries found Bhima lying down dead drunk.Thinking a drunk Bhima is better than no Bhima they half dragged and half carried him to the venue. Dressed him hastily and pushed him on to the stage. By now most in the audience knew what was happening and were eager to see what would happen next.
Seeing his adversaries in a pitiable state, Dushyasana admonishes him,'hey Bhima, you are supposed to protect this woman, who is waiting for you since one hour and has exhausted a packet of my bidis, where have you been, what has happened to your power? are you afraid of me and that is why you got drunk or words to this effect. This insult suddenly wakes up the man and his Bhima like character comes to the fore. He shouts loudly,' who are you to doubt my power, my capacity to drink, I can drink one bucket and show you' So saying he jumps and makes an appropriate dance. Dushyasana character is not the one to leave him alone. He asks where is your weapon [club, favorite of Bhima] how can I fight you unarmed, it is against my warrior dharma. Confused, Bhima looks around for his club which was duly brought and given to him and the normal story continues from then on.
I will narrate another similar incident in the next post.