Curtain-Raiser The Kaumudi Mahotsav opening this Monday hopes to bring Sanskrit centre-stage as a medium of theatre, says ANJANA RAJAN

E ntertainment and theatre go hand in hand, but Sanskrit and entertainment? Anglicised educated India may not be too aware of it, but this too is a possibility. The National Sanskrit University (Rashtriya Sanskrit Samsthanam), the umbrella body for Sanskrit in India, has been bringing this ‘dead' language to life in an annual theatre festival, Kaumudi Mahotsav, for the past seven years. This Monday, the eighth Kaumudi Mahotsav takes off at New Delhi's Little Theatre Group auditorium with a festival dedicated to plays of Bhasa.

The plays will be presented by students of the Samsthanam drawn from its 10 campuses across India, besides a performance of “Urubhangam” by invited artistes under the direction of Kamalini Dutt, dancer-choreographer and currently Director, Archives, at Doordarshan.

For a few years now, the Kaumudi Mahotsav has been given a fillip by the university's Vice Chancellor, Radhavallabh Tripathi, who takes particular interest in theatre and is the author of a Hindi book on the Natya Shastra, “Bharatiya Natyashastra Kee Parampara Evam Viswa Rangmanch”. In the past the Kaumudi festival came in for criticism from theatre professionals who felt the performances, despite flawless enunciation by the students, could not pass muster in other aspects of stage production. The professor has taken care to invite stage professionals who have been holding workshops with the students.

“For the past three years we have had workshops at different campuses. Last year it was held in Ujjain under the guidance of (theatre director) Rajendra Awasthi. Chhau guru Sashadhar Acharya also came. Om Prakash Sharma, an eminent guru of Maach (traditional music form of Madhya Pradesh) also guided the students. Earlier we had a workshop in Sringeri directed by K.S. Rajendran of the National School of Drama, where Kavalam Narayana Panikkar and other experts participated, and also in Jaipur.”

Another stalwart is Baladevanand Sagar, well known radio voice, who has been associated with the Sanskrit University for years as a mentor as well as Kaumudi festival jury member. This year he is also associated with the production of “Urubhangam”.

Sagar festival

While Kaumudi is held every year in Delhi, Tripathi mentions another theatre initiative he has undertaken during his tenure. “I have started another festival, the All India Sanskrit Drama Festival which is held in different towns,” he says. “The next one is in December in Sagar (M.P.).”

Earlier Kaumudi festivals featured a range of works by different playwrights, but since last year there is a more thematic approach. “This year we have only Bhasa's plays. Last year we took Kalidasa,” notes Tripathi. “We want the works of a great author to be highlighted. This year is also the centenary year of the discovery of Bhasa's plays. It was T.C. Ganapati Sastri who discovered the 13 scripts in 1910, when they were being performed by Chhakyars as part of temple theatre. Even the artistes did not know these were works by Bhasa.”

This Kaumudi, says the Vice Chancellor, features 11 of the 13 available plays by Bhasa.


LTG Auditorium

Monday 25 October

11 a.m. Inauguration

12 noon – 1 p.m. “Karnabharam” – students of Guruvayoor campus of the university

2.30 – 3.30 p.m. “Madhyamavyayoga” – students of Jaipur campus

4 – 5 p.m. “Pancharatram” – K.J. Somaiah Sanskrit Vidyapeeth, Mumbai

5.30 – 7 p.m. “Urubhangam” – by invited artistes under the direction of Kamalini Dutt

Tuesday 26 October

10.30 – 11.30 “Pratignyayougandharayanam” – students of Bhopal campus

12 – 1 p.m. “Dootavakyam” – students of Allahabad campus, U.P.

2.30 – 3.30 p.m. “Daridracharudattam” – students of Garli campus, H.P.

4.30 – 5.30 p.m. “Swapnavasavadattam” – students of Sringeri campus, Karnataka

Wednesday 27 October

10.30 – 11.30 a.m. “Balacharitam” – students of Puri campus, Orissa

12 – 1 p.m. “Avamarikam” – students of Lucknow campus, U.P.

2.30 – 3.30 “Pratimanatakam” – students of Jammu campus, J&K

For the past three years we have had workshops at different campuses. Last year it was under the guidance of Rajendra Awasthi, with Gurus Sashadhar Acharya and Om Prakash Sharma