Natyarangam revives a rare opera on Krishna

Anantha Bharathi’s Sri Bhagavatha Keerthanai — Dasama Skandam will be presented as a Bharatanatyam performance

September 29, 2022 06:01 pm | Updated September 30, 2022 02:28 pm IST

The first page of Anantha Bharathi’s Sri Bhagavatha Keerthanai — Dasama Skandam

The first page of Anantha Bharathi’s Sri Bhagavatha Keerthanai — Dasama Skandam | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

It was in the early 90s when Kalyanapuram Aravamudachariar was rendering Srimad Bhagavatam Dasama Skandam that I heard the name of Anantha Bharathi and his keertanais on Krishna for the first time. There started my quest for the book of the keerthanais, which I thought would be a worthy addition to the Bharatanatyam repertoire.

After a three-decade search, I found the two volumes of the book at The Music Academy library. The volumes, which were part of Embar Vijayaraghavachariar’s collection, were donated to the Academy.

The preface of the book gives an outline of Anantha Bharathi’s life. He was a contemporary of the Trinity and was born in Umayalpuram, in 1785. He had started composing at the age of 13.

He composed a natakam on Uthara Ramayanam, as a sequel to Arunachala Kavi’s Rama Natakam. Unfortunately, it is not traceable.

Anantha Bharathi composed his magnum opus, a Tamil translation of Srimad Bhagavatham Dasama Skandam, in two parts. Like Kambar’s Ramayanam and Arunachala Kavi’s Rama Natakam, Anantha Bharathi’s Sri Bhagavatha Keerthanai also had the arangetram at the Srirangam temple. He passed away in 1845.

There were two manuscripts of this mammoth work and the script from them was printed in January 1877 at the Kalvi Vilakka Press of Pu. Ma. Sabapathy Mudaliar of Chennai.

In the introductory verses, Anantha Bharathi mentions the total number of songs in the first part as 998, comprising Venba, Kalithogai, Dharu Keerthanai and also a varnam and swarajathi. The story is mostly in the form of dialogues, monologues, interspersed with descriptions in viruthams. The language used is reminiscent of Rama Natakam, which is a combination of the poetic, conversational and the colloquial styles. There is a sprinkling of Sanskrit and archaic words.

Commencing with the customary raga Saurashtram, diverse ragas including Thodi, Sankarabharanam, Kamboji, Kalyani, Nattai, Saveri, Madhyamavathi, Yamuna Kalyani, and Manji have been employed. And talas such as Adi, Rupakam, Chapu and Jhampa are frequently used.

While the format is that of an Isai Natakam (opera), the songs are eminently suitable for harikatha, and discourses.

Natyarangam, the dance wing of Narada Gana Sabha, has undertaken the task of reviving this work, the excerpts of which will be premiered in a dance drama format on October 2, 6.30 p.m., at NGS. Set to music by R.K. Shriramkumar and choreographed by Sasirekha Raammohan, it will be presented in memory of Dr. S. Ramanathan, under the Endowment for Tamil literature in Bharatanatyam.

The Chennai-based author is a musician and bilingual writer.

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