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Updated: December 3, 2009 16:23 IST

She has a way with words

V. BALASUBRAMANIAN
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Desa. Mangayarkarasi
The Hindu Desa. Mangayarkarasi

Trained by Kripananda Variar, Desa.Mangayark-karasi's lectures stress on women empowerment.

Torchbearers of a great tradition

It was a bit difficult to locate her house in Virugambakkam but the stress vanished after getting a treat of Tamil in Madurai dialect. The narration was like a stream meandering down the hill to the plains and it was no different from her live programmes at temples and on TV. Desa.Mangayarkkarasi, a well-known orator of religious literature in Tamil, shares her experiences.

“Although my parents and their ancestors were from Thanjavur district, my father Devi Shanmugam, a drama actor and a playwright, shifted base to Madurai as most of his professional assignments were there. Since I was born there, I can call myself a typical Madurai girl,” begins young Desa.Mangayarkkarasi with a smile.

Her exposure to Tirukkural began at the tender age of three even before she learnt Tamil. Mangayarkkarasi attributes this to the fact that her mother Bakkiyalakshmi had written the script for the play, ‘Tiruvalluvar' as dictated by her father when she had conceived her.

“I believe the knowledge was passed on through the umbilical cord. As a child, every night before going to sleep I was taught 10 Tirukkurals which was followed up again the next morning. After a few days, I had to recite them, the incentive being a chocolate. Thanks to the effort of my parents, I could spout any of the 1330 Tirukkurals by the time I was six. The foundation was laid for my career as an orator.”

Her father was a great admirer of Kirupananda Variar and would never miss any of his programmes in and around Madurai. It was Variar Swami who gave her this name. Taking Mangayarkkarasi along with him to Variar's discourses was his habit. Variar normally attracted audience of all ages. “I too was captivated by his declamation and always longed to listen to him. My father always seated me besides Variar Swami on stage and that exposure was tremendous. More than reading, what I listened to got embedded in my memory easily. It was during his discourse on Ramayanam at the Aadi Veedhi, Madurai, where thousands had turned up that he announced, “All along you have seen Madurai Meenakshi in the temple. Today, you will be able to see her speak,” and asked me to speak. It was an impromptu arangetram. I never expected it. All that I knew at that time was Tiruvalluvar and Tirukkural. Seeing a six-year old talk undaunted on stage sent the crowd into raptures.”

Desa. Mangayarkkarasi grasped the nuances of Kamba Ramayanam, Villi Bharatham and Kanda Puranam gradually from Variar Swami. Soon she became popular in Madurai and its surroundings, for Variar gave her enough opportunities to speak at his discourses.

Till date she follows Variar Swami's advice like any faithful student. ‘Never under estimate your audience. Learn to respect the stage. Words of literature should flow from memory without referring to books on stage.'

Different styles

“I adopt different styles to suit the broad spectrum of tastes of the audience but never compromise on content.” How did she manage her studies? “Initially my father planned all my lectures only during weekends and as I grew up lectures had to be given over a week on subjects such as Ramayanam. The school authorities went out of the way in permitting me to take exams to suit my dates. Sister Soosai Mary encouraged me a lot. My teacher Stella Mary also was a great source of strength. This went on till I finished my middle school.” Finding it difficult to continue, Mangayarkkarasi dropped out of school and went on to complete school privately.

Although she started giving lectures independently, she continued to be part of Variar Sawmi's lectures. “The virtual on the job training, that too from a person who had mastered the art was really fruitful in that it increased my self confidence” she asserts. After Variar's passing away, it was her parents who helped her as both were well versed in Tamil literature. “After all we exist because of rasikas. I take utmost care in presenting myself even off stage. Following Variar Swami's advice to practise what you preach, I am a strict vegetarian and I never sip water during discourses. I have learnt to take both encomiums and criticisms alike.”

To keep abreast of happenings around, reading newspapers and magazines is part of her routine. This apart, she reads religious texts which help her to clear doubts of rasikas who throng the dais after her performances.

The toughest subject? “Undoubtedly Kanda Puranam,” she replies. “Of the eighteen Puranas it has got the maximum number of granthas. A treasure it is, you will find a new concept every time you read it.” Equal is her passion for Kamba Ramayanam and Villi Bharatham, and she passes on the information about how Arunagirinadhar asked Viliiputhurar to translate Vyasa Bharatham in Tamil after he had lost of a battle of wits in Tamil with him. She holds Arunagirinathar and his Tiruppugazh in great veneration. “He did not have any formal education in Tamil, yet where it did it come from? I believe it is the Divine Blessings.”

Her lectures stress on women empowerment. She seamlessly blends these topics in her lecture and says, “Planting as many trees as possible will benefit the future generation.” Her concern is genuine. Her husband, a software engineer, is a great support. She revers Madura Travels' V.K.T. Balan who arranged her maiden trip to Sri Lanka by merely listening to her audio cassette when she was just 13. Ever since, she has been regularly travelling to many countries where people are eager to know more about the treasures of Tamil literature. Desa.Mangayarkkarasi wants the youth to preserve the art for posterity.

A monthly column on those who have kept the art of storytelling alive

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