CHENNAI: It could have been a scene inside any temple — people folding their hands in devotion, a few whispering ‘Rama Rama’ and a few others tearing up in awe of the omnipresent. The Tamil play Sri Bhagavan Nama Bhodendral by Mahalakshmi Ladies Drama Troupe, staged the life of one of the greatest saints — Nama Bhodendral of 17th century— right from when he was born to when he attained jeeva samadhi (buried while still alive) at the age of 82.
Written, directed and produced by Bombay Gnanam, the play marks the 25th show of this religious piece. Also, 2014 being the silver jubilee year of the ladies group, the mood was upbeat at Krishna Gana Sabha all through the two hours of performance. With the majority of the audience comprising the elderly, verses and hymns sung in the play turned to choruses, with a few immersing themselves in the Rama keerthanam by slapping their thighs and swaying from side to side.
For the scanty number of youngsters present, the story of Bhodendral was a revelation. What began as a conversation between two maamis about Govindapuram, (a place near Kumbakonam), smoothly charted the life of Nama Bhodendral who spent the last years of his life there. Snippets from his life — how his parents were blessed by the acharya of Kanchi Mutt to have him, how he was named Purushothaman and willingly given away to be at the auspice of acharya and later became the pontiff himself, his Kasi yatra and how he propagated Bhajana sampradayam — were performed in a succinct manner by over 35 women and child artistes.
There were no compromises made on the perfection of sets. The emulation of Kanchipuram agraharams or brahmin quarters where Bhodendral was born and the river stream into which a worshipper jumps in for jal pariksha on stage, left the audience slack jawed. It is not everyday that you see a recreation of river on stage complete with splash of water and artistes coming out of it all drenched. The lights played a major role in setting the mood — be it a faint morning glow or the bright halo of the pontiff. A few compared the sets with what late renowned theatre artiste Manohar used to treat the audience with.
A classical dance performance by students of bharatanatyam dancer Chira Muralidharan wrapped up the play. Violinist E Gayathri was also present on the occasion.