Theatre

Mythological origin

A scene from the play 'Bali Vamana'. Photo: Nagara Gopal   | Photo Credit: NAGARA GOPAL

Scriptures across the world are sacrosanct and are best left untampered. For one, they are dated and hence beyond alteration; they would have been penned at a time too far removed in history to be understood in a 21st century perspective and lastly they address the spiritual and moral needs of man illustrated through a fable for better understanding. The relevance of such stories begins and ends with societies of those times. Hence any attempt to research the story alone is to miss the metaphysical thought embedded within.

It has now become a fad to probe into the lives of great men be it an Abraham Lincoln, Mahatma Gandhi or art works like Da Vinci's and the Taj Mahal and offer an interpretation built on surmises and tout them as greater truths than reality itself (which the biographies portray). In such a scenario, it was not very surprising that the story of the fifth avatar, that of Lord Vamana and the King Bali was taken as the theme for what the script writers (Sauda Aruna) termed a ‘mytho-folk play' premiered at Ravindra Bharati on Sunday.

The genesis of the story of is Vamana Purana as interpreted by Mahatma Phule. The Telugu play Bali Vamana was staged as a tribute to Phule on the occasion of his 185th birthday. The organisers revealed that the drama was ‘a search into the origin of untouchability.

Firstly, the plus points: the music by K. Pratap Vidyasagar was touching especially where we see a Dalit with a lamp in hand, a small pot hung to his neck and a palmyra leaf to his back like a tail, on groping for an ‘identity'. A very profound scene indeed! The electronically created fire burning to indicate the Brahmin or mantra was a beautiful piece of creativity. Similarly, the digitalised backdrop served to enhance the situation.

Though all actors on stage did their best, Kabir as Shukracharya excelled, looked convincing and acted with ease. Bammidi Jagadeeswara Rao as Vamana was an antithesis of the archetypal avatar as depicted by most Hindus. Here, he seemed a militant leader bent on wreaking vengeance rather than a redeeming deity that He is supposed to be, as per our mythology. King Mahabali looked regal, but his characterisation seemed to make him a semi comic, semi degraded scion whose birth has been relegated to the downtrodden Dalit, which was really sad! What transpired on stage was conversation and commentary upon the dominance of Brahmin-Kshatriya combine over the Dalit represented by King Bali! Since it was a period play, Dalits were referred to as ‘Balijana' or ‘Moolajanam'. The play conveys that caste discrimination and domination and concurrent annihilation of the Dalit identity began way back with Vamana.

However, it had a few technical lacunae; for instance, the raj rishi Shukracharya was addressed as ‘un Arya'! His recitation of the ‘mritha sanjeevini' mantra to restore life to Bali with the syllabic utterance of ‘bam' was totally out of place as this syllable does not occur in the mritha sanjeevini mantra! Importantly, there was no testimonial of the period (era) in which this play was placed, to verify whether there was untouchability during those times!

This play-dedicated to bard Gadar and to the activists and agitators of Sompet thermal power plant- is best viewed as a mouthpiece for Dalit ideologues.

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Printable version | Jan 17, 2021 10:49:49 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/friday-review/theatre/mythological-origin/article3303562.ece

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