Upholding This Endangered art Form
HYDERABAD: As the screen opens, artist Puranam Ramesh proudly tells the camera that his forefathers were happy and content, going around various districts in Telangana, narrating stories while displaying paintings on scrolls. By the end of the documentary, Kunapuli Patam Katha, his mood switches drastically.
“When we go to meet the village heads with a proposal to narrate a patam katha, they don’t respond like they used to in the past. There is neither any recognition, nor respect. They say we are begging and we need to find a job instead of asking them money for performance,” he says.
Ramesh is one of the few members of the Kunapuli community of the Padmashali caste who are known for their unique story telling talent.
“Today we are proud to tell the world about that son who is a doctor or even a daily wage labourer, but if we have to talk about our caste, and this traditional art form that has been our bread and butter, we feel ashamed,” he adds.
The documentary, “Dedicated to performers who have been upholding the artistic tradition,” directed by veteran artist Laxman Aelay, tells the story of this dying art form through Ramesh.
The artists choose a village, sit down with the heads and begin by telling them that they have a right to perform. “It is a family tradition,” that’s what they tell them. They negotiate a deal, including food and refreshments and then set up the stage. “It has to face the East or the North, only then the performance will proceed smoothly,” explains the narrator, Mimicry Janardhan. Among the Markandeya Puranam (historical texts), Padma Puranam and the Bhavana Rushi Puranam, the Markandeya Puranam is the most narrated one. Ramesh too narrates this Puranam in the documentary.
The history of the art form dates back to 16th century say researchers in the documentary.
Prof Jayadheer Tirumala Rao, poet and researcher says, “This art form belongs to Telangana – particularly Warangal, Nalgonda and Karimnagar. Artists in Andhra and Chennai also have their roots in Telangana.”
Nakashi artists work their charm on the scroll. Veteran artist Dhanalakota Vaikuntam Nakash, who painted the entire Makandey Puranam talks about the process of making one scroll. “The artists talk about the story, the characters and the situation. We work in sync with them. It is important because what we draw should be what the artist interprets,” says Vaikuntam.
Members of Kunapuli community are poets, artists and storytellers – all rolled into one. “There have been great pandits in the past and now too,” says Prof Pulikonda Subbachary, Dean, Human and Social Sciences, Dravidian University.
He says that the cultural richness of the Padmashali caste, that has been recognised as one of the Other Backward Castes of the country, is much like that of any other upper castes, for instance the Kshatriyas.
“They have an understanding of all the Puranas. Their stories also talk about the intricate details of their profession which is primarily weaving,” adds Subbachary.
Neither the richness in the Kunapuli’s way of story telling, their profession of weaving, depiction of the stories on the scroll nor the poverty of the ones still in the profession has helped the art form to survive.
Mamidi Harikrishna, Director of Language and Culture, Telangana Government says, “This is an art form that has survived hundreds of years. If we are able to adapt the stories to the modern day context, while keeping the historical significance of the art form intact, we can surely revive it. There are people who love such art forms and with the support of the government, we can prevent it from dying.”