Bhasa Theatre Festival

Renu Ramanath | Jan 01, 2015 | Vol. 7, Issue 1
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Natyasastra, Katampazhippuram (Kerala, India) celebrates the 100th year of the publication of Bhasa plays. Bhasa Natakolsavam, stretching from 2014 to 2015, plans to present as many performances from both the classical as well as the contemporary theatre of the Bhasa plays.

Natyasastra, a cultural organisation that works towards promoting Kerala's classical theatre forms as well as contemporary theatre, based in Katampazhippuram, a quiet village in Palakkad district (Kerala, India)has come up with an innovative way to celebrate the legendary playwright, Bhasa.

Bhasa, who is more or less a mythical figure to whom many of the ancient, classical Sanskrit plays of India have been attributed, is credited to have authored at least 13 texts which are popularly used in the classical theatre form of Kutiyattam. Moreover, these plays have also proved to be highly popular among the contemporary theatre practitioners all over India, with their ground-breaking form and content that strikes a novel cord almost breaking free of the tenets of the ancient classical theatre of India.

Interestingly, though the works of Bhasa had been in use in India, especially in the classical theatre form of Kutiyattam for centuries, it was only in 1909 that the 'idea' of the playwright Bhasa was born. The great discovery was made by Dr. T. Ganapathi Sasthrikal, who was the Curator for the Publication of Sanskrit Manuscripts under the Maharaja of Travancore. He had chanced upon a collection of nine manuscripts of Sanskrit plays, written down in Malayalam script, from the home of Manalikkara Potty near Thiruvananthapuram. Intrigued by the characteristics of the texts, Ganapathi Sasthrikal made further queries, finally discovering 13 texts from different parts of Kerala.

After subjecting the texts to intense scrutiny, Ganapathi Sasthrikal came to the conclusion that all the 13 texts must have been written by the same author, and ascribed them to Bhasa, the legendary playwright whose name had been mentioned in Kalidasa's 'Malavikagnimithram.' 

The 13 texts were published by Ganapathi Sasthrikal during 1912 – 1915.  And, current year marks the 100th year of the publication of Bhasa plays. “We plan a complete presentation of the Bhasa plays, stretching from 2014 to 2015, in Kutiyattam as well as in the contemporary theatre format,” says Prof. Dileepan, one of the founders of Natyasastra.

The performances

Though the festival was formally launched in October, 2014 with a Kutiyattam workshop conducted by Chathakudam Krishnan Nambiar Mizhavu Kalari and the performance of the Purappad of Thoranayudham (Act III of Bhasa's 'Abhisheka Natakam') by Sooraj Nambiar, the stagings had already started from the beginning of 2014, according to Prof. Dileepan. 'Balivadham,' Act I of Abhisheka Natakam, had been presented from January, 2014 till April, 2014. The performance of Act 3 of Thoranayudham was also started, and two parts were already presented.

Kavalam Narayana Paniker's rendering of 'Oorubhangam,' in his unique style, was staged in October, 2014. In the coming months, Natyasastra plans to present more portions from Bhasa plays. The idea is to combine both forms, the contemporary and classical.

The festival is being conducted with the support and association of all leading gurukulams and institutions promoting Kutiyattam. Each performance will be by different group. Mani Madhava Chakyar Gurukulam, Killikkurussimangalam will present Manthrankam. Rajaneesh Chakyar has already produced 'Madhyama Vyayogam' which also will be presented here later. That, as well as 'Randu Anthyarangangal,' contemporary theatre production drawing from the Bhasa plays, will also be staged.

There are also attempts to stage presentations of Bhasa in different languages and through different forms. Natyasastra will present a production of 'Prathinja Yougandharayanam,' to be directed by Narippatta Raju.

(To contact Prof G. Dileepan – Mob: +91- 9447531447, e:natyasasthra@gmail.com)

 

 

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