YOUNG WORLD

A mode for the masses

RANEE KUMAR

Gurudas the new Generation Harikatha artist...

Gurudas the new Generation Harikatha artist...  

HYDERABAD

Temples not only house deities but are also places of religious discourses, ceremonial festivities like music, dance and drama. It is a converging point for the literate and illiterate, men and women and children — a common platform to voice and elicit information, learn more about ancient Hindu scriptures like the Vedas and the Puranas. Harikatha (literally the story of God — Hari) came into being as an alternative to the regular sermons in prose that are usually held in a temple or in its precincts. Mythological stories recited in a music and dance format, to make the subject more appealing to the masses, made the mode of expression popular in later years. Since those who had knowledge of the Puranas could not sing and dance to a rhythmic pattern, there arose a class of people who were talented and well versed in mythological story telling who were termed "Haridas" (Lord Hari's servant). They were especially trained in the art of Harikatha. Though most of them were bhagavatars (Brahmins) others also took to it as a profession.

The Harikatha bhagavatam usually startsafter the evening prayers in the temple. The bhagavatar sports a special attire — he has anklets tied to his feet , a chiruta for talam (two little plate like instruments that are hung to two fingers to produce a metrical rhythm), a garland of flowers on his bare chest, a coloured dhoti, and kumkum tilak (red and white) on his forehead and sandal paste on his arms. Since Bhagavatam originates from Vaishnavism, most bhagavatars and the mythological stories are attributed to Lord Krishna, Rama or Vishnu.

The dasas begin their presentation of the day's story with a refrain Srimad Ramaramana Govinda Hari. The performance is full of song, dialogue and dance. Today, though Haridas' are on the decline and Harikatha is not a regular feature in the urban areas, it is often held during Telugu festivals. It is also popular in the rural areas of coastal Andhra.