T.K.S. Kalaivanan took listeners to the golden age of Sankaradas Swamigal, T.K. Bhagavathy, Shanmugham, V.V. Sadagopan and so on.

“The very classification of plays into musical and ordinary drama is alien to the Tamil tradition of stage drama, where iyal, isai and natakam blended into one. In the days of the Boys’ companies, before a person was selected to be part of any troupe, he would have to prove that he was a good singer,” said T.K.S. Kalaivanan in a lecture demonstration on ‘Musical characters in Tamil drama,’ organised by the Indian Fine Arts Society.

While in all dramas, it was the hero who had the most number of songs, the only character who perhaps matched the hero was Narada, for it was he who carried the story forward. Narada would enter singing ‘Kalivikkuriya Kalai Vani’ (Hamsadhwani) with gusto, giving the drama a racy start. This song by

Sankaradas Swamigal was a part of the repertoire of whoever played Narada, whatever the troupe might be. Most plays were mythological, which made the inclusion of songs easy. While most of the songs were by Sankaradas Swamigal, a few were by Madurai Bhaskara Das, who also wrote patriotic songs.

Plays began at 10 p.m. and would go on till 4 a.m. Often top ranking vidwans would be in the audience, encouraging the singers-cum-actors. The play that afforded the most scope for inclusion of songs, was of course, the story of Rama. M.S. Draupadi was the first lady artist to be included in a Boys’ company, and she played the role of Sita, while T.K. Shanmugam played the role of Rama. The song ‘Dasaratha Raja Kumara, alankara,’ that Rama sings to console Bharata was very popular. It was not just the hero who sang in the Ramayana, but Ravana, the villain too.

T.K. Bhagavathy, as Ravana, would sing a song in Khambodi written by Sankaradas Swamigal - ‘Kaala Thaamadham nee seiyaadhe.’ Unlike T.K. Shanmugam, Bhagavathy was not accustomed to singing, and was hesitant, but Sankaradas Swamigal insisted he sing the song. S. V. Ranga Rao was so impressed by Bhagavathy’s acting as Ravana, that he remarked that had Bhagavathy been born in Andhra, he would have given him ( Ranga Rao) a run for his money.

S.G. Kittappa’s singing of ‘Elloraiyum polave ennai ennalagadu’ in Suddha Saveri, when he played the role of Muruga wooing Valli, was so attractive, that it was probably this song that made K.B. Sundarambal fall in love with him, said Kalaivanan.

T.R. Mahalingam, as Arjuna, in the play Pavalakkodi, was a singing sensation. Mahalingam, as Arjuna, would make a dramatic entry singing ‘Jaya jaya Gokula baala’ in Bhairavi, displaying masterly breath control. His entry would be greeted with thunderous applause, and Mahalingam wouldn’t take a breath until the applause had died down. The play was staged even as late as 1970, during the unveiling of Sankaradas Swamigal’s statue in Madurai.

In the play Seemandini, the hero and the heroine would introduce themselves to each other through songs! While songs were written specifically for drama, sometimes the audience would demand a Tyagaraja or Dikshitar kriti, when V.V. Sadagopan or Mahalingam happened to be the actors on stage, and they would oblige the audience. Harikesanallur Muthiah Bhagavatar’s ‘Andavan Darisaname’ was often a popular choice in Mahalingam’s plays.

Kalaivanan sang a few of the popular songs, as part of his demonstration. ‘Pogudhu paar athi vegamadai oru maan,’ sung in a fast tempo, captured the leaps of a deer as it flees from the hunter. runs helter skelter, in fear of the hunter stalking it.

A very interesting lecture demonstration, which one hopes is only a prelude to more lectures on Tamil drama.

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