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HARIKATHA is here to stay

K. Nirmala, supported by Mridangist, G. Narayana Murthy, and violinist , M. Eswari, presenting an interesting Harikatha. - -Photo: C.V. Subrahmanyam

K. Nirmala, supported by Mridangist, G. Narayana Murthy, and violinist , M. Eswari, presenting an interesting Harikatha. - -Photo: C.V. Subrahmanyam  

The dwindling numbers at Harikatha performances do not seem to disturb them much, but the hurt in their eyes is too evident to be missed when they refer to the denigration of their art in films.

With declining patronage, these artistes are leading a hand-to-mouth existence but take pride in their profession and wish to continue it against all odds.

The residents of the colonies surrounding Sri Kasivisweswara Swami temple at Sai Nagar on the National Highway had a great time listening to the Harikatha exponent, Kalla Nirmala, on the evenings of the Karthika month. Though the crowd was not much, those who turned up listened in rapt attention as she told stories from the epics and `Puranas' in a lucid manner. Her fine `abhinaya' on the stage was a delight to watch.

Two decades into the profession, she does not seem tired of dancing, singing and narrating the stories on stage.

Harikatha is originally a form of Yakshaganam. In the beginning, there was only singing. It was the `father of Harikatha', Adhibhatla Narayana Das, who added dance and music to it.

Nirmala's father, K. Suryanarayana, was a Burrakatha artiste. She joined her father's friend, Kalaprapoorna, D.A. Narayana's troupe and learnt dance. She gave dance performances from the age of eight. She had performed in various places all over the country, including Chennai, Hyderabad, Bhilai, Puri and Tatanagar. She had also given performances as a singer for a few years.

In 1982, when she was 14, the founder of the Harikatha Patasala at Kapileswarapuram in East Godavari district organised the `Adhibhatla Narayana Das utasavam' for seven days in Vizianagaram. After witnessing the performers at the festival, Nirmala made up her mind to become a Harikatha artiste.

Impressed by the interest shown by the girl, Harikatha Choodamani Samavedam Koteswara Rao made her his disciple and taught her the nuances of the art. She gave her first performance in Vizianagaram in 1983. She had participated in the State-level Harikatha competitions organised by the Telugu University in Hyderabad in 1988. The next year she bagged the first prize for her `Rukmini Kalyanam'. She has told the story of the Ramayana on 150 occasions and 1,500 other stories from the epics. She had told the story of `Rukmini Kalyanam' and `Sri Krishna Jananam' on Doordarshan and presented 20 stories on All India Radio.

"In the early days, Harikatha artistes hardly had any time to relax. Now it is just the reverse. We are called only during Kartika masam and during festivals like Sri Rama Navami and Ganapati Navarathri. The organisers prefer films and orchestras as they are easy to organise instead of calling Harikatha artistes from rural areas and providing them accommodation," she says.

In films when someone bores another by saying long stories, the latter says, "Don't tell Harikathas". This has become a common feature in Telugu films. "Do they mean to say Harikatha artistes are telling cock and bull stories?" she asks with anguish in her voice. She deplores the dramatisation of Annamacharya kritis in film songs.

"The younger generation is keen on watching either Sachin batting or Chiranjeevi performing a break dance. They do not even care to see a Harikatha programme, which propagates our ancient tradition and culture," laments the pouranic artiste, G. Venkateswara Rao. He also decries the apathy of the Government towards the welfare of artistes.

The violinist, Mudapaka Eswari, has done her diploma from the Vizianagaram Sangeeta Kalasala. A student of the renowned violinist, Dwaram Durga Prasada Rao, she has been performing as an accompanying artiste for the past 12 years.

The mridangist, Goudu Narayana Murthy, had discontinued his degree. He has been learning mridangam from the age of 10 and performing for the past six years. He is also a radio artiste.

"We have been organising Harikatha programmes during the month of Kartika for the last 12 years. The programmes had evoked good response. Last year, B. Ethirajulu, had delivered the Harikathas and the programmes had evoked good response on all the days, says the Chairman of the Temple Committee, K. Seshagiri Rao.

Harikatha has been here from time immemorial and though it may have ups and down, it will continue till eternity, say the artistes. The confidence and determination in their voice makes one believe that Harikatha is here to stay.

B. MADHU GOPAL

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