Sri Bhaktha Prahalada’ is always a treat for connoisseurs of performing arts. The dance drama in Telugu was staged as part of the annual Vasanthotsava Narasimha Jayanti at Saliyamangalam, Thanjavur, Tamil Nadu. Organised by the Sri Lakshmi Narasimha Bhagavatha Mela Bhaktha Samajam, the festival is a fine example of dance, drama and music. Supported by the Sangit Natak Academy and Tamil Nadu Eyal Isai Nataka Manram, the festival was organised for the 367th year last month.
The theme of the drama: Hiranyakasipu, an asura, who has declared himself the king of demons, wins a cryptic boon from the Creator. That he should not die either indoors or outdoors. No man, animal, angel or any weapon shall cause his destruction during day or by night and on earth or in the sky (‘mrithyuleni jeevanamu’). He is hell-bent upon avenging his brother Hiranyaksha’s death at the hands of the Lord. It is this unquenched blood thirst that turns out to be his fatal flaw and blinds him to the efficacy of the ‘Ashtathra Narayana Mantra’, his son, Prahalada, is ordained by fate to
instill in his mind.
The dance-drama is dotted with action-packed scenes and evolving characters: Hiranyakasipu played by C S M Subramaniam, puffed with pride in his accomplishments (‘thrimurthulu anniyu nene’) springs to his feet acrimoniously and vows to do away with his ethnic foe (‘kula vairi’). The scene where the asura grows in disbelief in the existence of the all-pervasive (‘akkadanum, ikkadanum, ekkadanum unde’) divinity and takes on his own son is captivating. Emotions come to the fore when Leelavathy, saintly wife of Hiranyakasipu and mother of Prahlada played by Master V Venkatramani, showers her affection on her fortuitous child. She pitifully beseeches her husband to spare their son and ultimately resigns to her
The character of Prahalada played by S Anirudh is intriguing. He is spiritually-inclined ever since his umbilical days, righteously angers his own father; miraculously out-herods every time the villainous hero employs a newer design to kill him and ultimately prevails upon the Lord to emerge from the mysterious pillar.
Lord Narasimha’s character played by D S Lakshmanan is the icing on the cake — with his frightful roar, terrific mane, horrid look, hanging tongue, protruding canine teeth, sharp fingernails and stunning gait. The scene where the Lord pounces on a war-mongering Hiranyakasipu during twilight; laying him half-way between earth and sky on His lap; clawing him to death is gripping.
The dialogue is well-written and continues to haunt you long after the dance-drama is over.
What an effective use of parallelism, contrast and irony! While the father hates the Lord the most, the son loves Him all the more. Against the hatred of Hiranyakasipu for Prahalada (‘naa putrudu naa satruka’) is the affection of Prahalada for Hiranyakasipu. Against the simple opening scene of familial surroundings is the complicated closing scene of cosmic circumstances.
Perfection of limb movements alone does not constitute good Bharathanatyam. The dancer must also vividly externalise emotions, as do Hiranyakasipu, Leelavathy and Prahalada with aplomb. Music is the twin of dance. Thanjavur G Ramadoss and party, with their ‘ragamalika’ and ‘talamalika’, finely reflected the ‘navarasas’. ‘Sri Bhakta Prahalada’ of the Saliyamangalam kind, composed by Bharatham Panchanatha Bhagavatar, with emendations by D Sethuraman, has remained popular since the times of Achuthappa Naik, an erstwhile ruler of Thanjavur. A matter of pride!