Monday, 19 May 2014

Bharatam - of the people, for the people

The Bharatam is a eighteen day drama event, based on the Mahabharata. . ... Annaswamy, now about 70 years, says he has seen around ten Bharatams in his life in places in the vicinity. He says that the Bharatham in Kommireddigaripalle, near Palaguttapalle, has had the most kala, or grace.
The harikatha, or the story of the Mahabharatam, goes on through the day and the drama through the night. People from surrounding villages, upto a distance of many kilometers, come by walk or auto through all the days and nights. It is religion, devotion and entertainment.  It is completely community funded and organized.

The harikatha happens in the temple. The temple has a vast pandal erected before it, well thatched with plaited coconut fronds. This is done to shelter the thousands who come to the Bharatam. People come and sit under the pandal or in the shade of some tree further away to hear the harikatha in the day.

The night drama is enacted on a makeshift stage facing the temple. The changing room is behind the stage. During the drama people sit around the stage, or further away under the pandal near the temple. At night they spread the mats brought from their homes under the pandal and accommodate friends and relatives. Everyone makes space for themselves, and somehow there is space for everyone. People also sleep here when they want snatches of sleep through the night long drama. The pandal gives shelter from rain if required. It may leak in some places, but people adjust. Whole families from Dalitwada come and stay the night. Sarojamma’s three little grandchildren were there, Saayi, Lalli and Susmeeta. She said she brought them because  ‘Ikkade nidra pothe manchidi’ (‘It is auspicious to sleep here’). She had brough a box full of murukkus, fried rice snacks.  People wander between attentiveness and sleep, and also wander down the makeshift stalls on the side, and the drama goes on not minding any of this.

There are shanty stalls all around that sell hot and tasty bajjis and bondas at a rupee apeice. There are other stalls where cheap plastic toys are sold. There are balloon sellers. Old women go around with their little baskets of neeredu (Syzygium cumini)  fruits or fried gram or wild fruits like ulinji pandlu or boodudhai pandlu. They measure these out in their tiny vessel and give a rupee’s worth or two rupees’ worth. When families go with children the costs can add upto twenty to fifty rupees given all these attractions.

A colourful electrical bulb figure of Krishna stands tall near the stage. Over following days other changes happen in the space as the tapasu maan (tree) gets erected, and later the reclining figure of Duryodhana is made on the ground. The whole area from temple to stage to the ground inbetween is a performance space. The actors, the harikatha exponent and the people are all participants in the performance.

There are no tickets for this magnificent performance, but practically every individual contributes. The contributions made are part of the ‘chadivinchatam’s (‘readings’.) There is a reader who publicly reads out the sums of money or gifts given. That is how all gifts and contributions are given in society, as also in  marriages. Here the process of the harikatha or the drama or the other events like ‘tapasu maan ekkatam’ would be frequently interrupted to read out the latest contributions, “Chandra of Maalapalle gives Bhima a sum of Rs. 10, and the temple a sum of Rs. 5”. “Erriah of Bandakadepalle gives the haridas a sum of Rs. 50, and Draupadiamma a jacket piece”. The reader also apologizes for the interruptions sometimes and explains that this is part of the social structure, and that by reading out, the culture of contributions gets strengthened. Gifts are specifically given to the various parties. The lady singing the harikatha and Draupadi get many sarees and blouse pieces apart from other ‘chadivinchatams.’ Also during the events like ‘Duryodhana vadha’, one of the actors dressed like Draupadi, goes through the audience collecting contributions in a small vessel termed sombu kaasu. People ask for change back from it too ! If they wish to give two rupees and they have a five rupee coin, they will put that in and ask for three rupees back. ‘Draupadi’ will count and give that back. This money is shared among the actors. Money is also pinned onto the clothes of the actors directly by the audience. Duryodhana on the day of ‘Duryodhana vadha’ had notes pinned all over his clothes. As people come and pin, he sometimes asks them their village and name. And he announces to the audience – ‘See so-and-so is giving me this amount because today is my death’. On the day of Draupadi’s wedding ‘odi baalu kattatam’ is done as is done in weddings where auspicious items are tied into the saree end. Turmeric, kumkum baramni, yellow thread, betel leaf, betel nut, coconut, bangles, comb, money, blouse piece and rice are given. The blouse pieces are kept and sold, and the rest are distributed back to people. People who have taken a vow to do this due to issues of health or because they desire children may do the odi baalu kattatam. ...

At the end money is usually left after paying for all expenses, and this goes towards the temple development ...

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