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Tamil play on Ramana Maharishi

The all-woman troupe of Bombay Gnanam   | Photo Credit: R_Ragu

“I was never spiritually inclined. It was my husband, Balasubramaniam, who was always reading books on the subject,” surprises Bombay Gnanam, whose Mahalakshmi Ladies Drama Group Trust (MLDGT) is getting ready to stage its next, “Bhagawan Sri Ramanar.” Balalui as he was called was a mentor of sorts for the all-woman troupe, which Gnanam founded 29 years ago. His passing created a vacuum but then Gnanam felt that he had left her a legacy. “How else can I explain the interest that I suddenly developed in spiritual subjects and the courage to stage them,” she wonders supervising the rehearsal of the play on Ramana Maharishi, to be staged for four days from tomorrow, April 14-17 6.30 p.m., at the Mylapore Fine Arts Club.

This is the fourth in the line of plays on saints — the previous being ‘Bhakta Jayadevar’ (2017), ‘Bhagawan Nama Bodhendral’ (2014) and ‘Bhaja Govindam (2003).’ In August last year, Gnanam presented ‘Mahatmavin Mahatma,’ Tamil adaptation of ‘Yugpurush — Mahatma na Mahatma,’ of Uttam Gada, directed by Rajesh Joshi. ‘Bhaja Govindam’ was about the journey of Adi Sankara, propagator of Advaita, traced through another saint — Sri Chandrasekharendra Saraswati Swamigal, 68th pontiff of the Kanchi Kamakoti Peetam. Bodhendral was a subject close to Balasubramaniam’s heart. The troupe’s 25th play, it was dedicated to his memory.

How does Gnanam zero in on her subjects? Generally, she gets suggestions. Her husband gave her adequate material on Bodhendral and Gnanam also found inspiration from the lectures of Hariji. Gnanam was contemplating Jayadeva, one of the iconic saint poets, who composed Ashtapadi, when suggestions about Jayadevar came from several quarters. So she decided to take the plunge.

Tamil play on Ramana Maharishi

“Believe me, I had no great awareness of Ramana Maharishi or the Ashram in Tiruvannamalai,” says Gnanam. “It was a sudden thought, which was echoed by a friend in Mumbai — again a coincidence. I started reading up on Bhagawan and his philosophy,” she adds. A visit to Ramanasramam followed. Although those who had seen Ramana and were blessed to serve him had passed on, Gnanam found the ambience pulsating with his presence. “Nochur Venkatraman was the main resource person. He guided me in selecting the important parts to present, the persons who made the most impact and Bhagawan’s works,” says Gnanam.

Episodes from his life

A granddaughter of Bhagawan’s brother narrated episodes from the saint’s life. “Even as she spoke, the scenes unfolded in my mind,” says Gnanam, who has written the script and dialogue. The family knows a lot about the initial days of Venkatraman, who left home as a teenager and landed in Arunachala searching for answers.

“It was an emaciated form, bitten away by insects, which Seshadri Swamigal retrieved from a cave and announced to the world as Bhagawan Ramana. You know, sitting in that posture had left Bhagawan with a slight limp. The characters of Annamalai and his wife have been used to tell the story,” expands Gnanam. “Here was a incredible man, a contemporary. He conveyed profound truths through his silence. I thought the younger generation should learn about him.”

A 22-year old girl is playing Bhagawan Ramana. “It was not easy to find a person. We find Bhagawan in minimal clothing and a tonsured head. And I didn’t want to compromise the all-woman principle of our troupe.

“This young girl came forward to do the role. Her parents are followers of Ramana and therefore had no objection. She has been reading and internalising the subject so much so that she didn’t need instructions regarding her gait or demeanour,” says Gnanam, who has relied on cosmetic aids for appearance.

Two more have been roped in for the younger versions of Bhagawan. There are 65 characters which will be shared among 19 actors. Music is by R. Giridharan, the troupe’s asthana composer and art by Mohan Babu.

Gnanam has reason to feel that her effort is blessed. The date for inauguration was fixed as April 14 because it is Tamil New Year and will bring audience to the hall. It has turned out to be the Mukti day of Bhagawan Ramana — April 14, 1950. Says Gnanam: “So the scene of Ramana’s Mukti will take place exactly at 8.47 p.m., the time he merged with Arunachala as a streak of light.”

Visit to Ramanasram

Gnanam recalls her recent visit to Ramanasramam: “Foreigners on the premises are a common sight there. Seeing them sitting cross-legged in meditation, I wondered, ‘what brings them here? How do they adjust to the weather, discomfort and pollution?’ One of them said: ‘True. But this place gives something we don’t get back there — peace.’ One of them said he was drawn by the eyes of Ramana that he saw in the picture. ‘They are magnetic,’ he observed.”

Cost factor

Most Tamil drama troupes fend for themselves, lucky ones managing to find generous sponsors. The expenses shoot up if the play is historical or spiritual. So how does Gnanam manage? “I always solicit funds to support my productions, even making announcements at shows,” she admits. “Money doesn’t pour in but we get just enough to stage them. In a way it makes sense. After all, the plays are about souls that didn’t care for money,” she laughs. She recalls her husband’s words — “Be happy with what you have. Too much money will impact the troupe’s unity and your peace of mind.” Is the shift to spiritual themes permanent? “Well, not really. May be we’ll take up social subjects next year, our 30th,” says Gnanam. Contact 98403 56632.

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Printable version | Apr 17, 2021 11:05:34 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/theatre/a-play-on-bhagawan-ramana/article23511952.ece

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