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As the titles suggests, Padya Natakams consists of many padyams (verses) along with dialogues. In the beginning years, these dramas were performed by organized troupes with more emphasis on acting and dramatisation than rendering padyams with elaborate ‘aalapan’ of ragas. Emphasis was given on rendering padyams in a lucid way to enable audiences to understand the words and meaning of the padyams. There was team effort and the main characters of Sri Krishna, Sri Rama, and Harishchandra used to be performed by a single actor, who had to read about 60 to 80 padyams by himself.
As time passed on the taste of audiences veered towards elaborate aalapana(singing) of ragas in the padyams and due to introduction of sales of tickets for seeing the natakams, the actors had to sing the padyams with elaborate ragas(dhirgaalapana) to stay in the race for audience appreciation. Contractors took over the running of the dramas and to make profits, started to the practice of casting 3 or 4 artists to do the main characters like Sri Krishna, Sri Rama, harishchandra etc who could sing for long period to cater t0o the taste of the audience. A sort of Hero worship gripped the audience and they used to buy tickets for the dramas if their favorite artists and singer of padyams is in the start cast. The contractors and some artists made lot of money due to commercial aspect. As a result, the dramatic element started to take back seat. The performance as a while became a sort of fight between popular actor singers to out sing one another with prolonged RagaAlapana in the highest pitch(Sruti) possible without any regard for sahithya(content of the verse) and action and Bhava.One peculiar aspect of telugu audience is to shout “Once more” after one artists sings a verse to their liking and some of his favourites used to come to the stage and offer their monetary rewards. One funny and farcical thing is in this regard is when the artist sings a verse with full raga and falls down in the act of dying, the audience shout “Once More”. Then the artist who is on the stage gets up again and sings the same and again falls down. I have personally witnessed some instances when this happened, and I could not comprehend the logic behind the response of the audience. I will give u another funny anecdote. When one artist is singing a verse for about 3 minutes, the other artist on the stage goes behind and comes to the stage when he is due to singing his Padyam. The audience does not mind the absence of the second artist and the lapse in the continuity of the Drama. The artists repeat the same verse and the other artists on the stage stand as mute witnesses to this drama within the main drama (antharnatakam). Then the other favorite actor of the audience renders his verse in the same in his style trying to out sing the earlier actor. Then the audience repeat the same act thus the dramatic aspect(natakiyatha) retreats completely and the performance starting from about 10 PM in the night goes on till early in the morning.
This happens particularly in the towns and villages, but not in cities, where people cannot spare so much time due to lack of transport in the late nights. Some of the actors who are famous for their prolonged singing of the ragas, in the leading roles like Krishna,Rama and harishchandra are: Abburi varaprasada Rao, ‘Eelapata’ Raghuramaiah, Shanmukhi Anjeneya raju,Prithvi venkateswarlu,’sampath nagar’ Lakshmana Rao, AV Subba rao,G Jayraj, Abburi kamala Devi, Smt T Kanakam, DV Subba Rao(Vetapalem) etc. When compared to this, one positive aspect has emerged from the drama competitions(nataka parishats).In these competitions the time limit of two and half hours is to be strictly adhered to, and ‘once more’ and long-winding ragas are forbidden. Thus more emphasis is laid on action and rendering of verses and dialogues with clarity and good diction.
But there are a few exceptions, who rendered the padyams, with short raga and more emphasis on clarity and raga(words in verse).Among the actors I saw, Sri Pisapati Narasimha Murthy, is the most notable of these exceptions. More of him can be found here. Villain( prathi nayaka) roles like duryodhana, ravana, hiranyakasipu and all demon characters, who had more dialogues than padyams almost never indulged in long raga alapana, and audience also accepted the same and did not demand them to do so. This is a peculiar trait in padyanatakams.
Some of the associations staging padya natakams
Sri Srinivasa Natya Mandali (Nellore) : Started in 1976 by founder secretary Thirupathi HaraGopal and co-artists.Since then the mandali has staged the following dramas, many times throughout the state.
SathyaSai kalaNikethan(Hyderabad): Founded by Gummadi GopalaKrishna. The details of awards and performances can be found here.
Meera Jyotsna kalaNikethan(visakha patnam): Founded by Dr.Meegada Ramalinga swamy
Srinivasa Natya Mandali(Hyderabad):Founded by Emani Uma Maheswara Rao, a registrar in AP high court ,and his co-artists. He acts in the main roles in all dramas which are staged throughout the state and in competitions.
Malladi Suryanarayan memorial Arts: Founded by the sons of the famous actor Sri Malladi Suryanarayana Sastry. All the members of this mandali are his sons. They are all actors with clear diction in rendering the dialogues and verses with emphasis on sahithya and bhava. They are not adept in singing padyams with correct shrithi. But their acting talents and performance are appreciated by the elite audience. They are staging the following dramas.
Ramakrishna natya Mandali(Nellore): Founded by Ponnala RamaSubba Reddy. All the dramas were staged as one single unit. Dramas staged are
Sahithi Art Teaters(Guntur): Founded in the early fifties by late BK Visveswara Rao , GSN Sastry and Late ASR Anjaneyulu (drama writer and actor) and other co-artists. This association comprising of amateurs is active since its formation. Dramas staged are
Kaja Krishna Murthy Smaraka Kala Samithi: Formed in 2004 by this writer as secretary and family members in memory of their father late Kaja Krishna Murthy. This writer is in the field of Padyanatakams since 1968 as an amateur actor in the roles of bhima, duryodhana. Mayasabha (mono action), Karna(Veni Samharam), Sakuni (Maya Bazar), Visharada (balarama vijayam), Vasanthaka (tulabharam),Akrura(gayo pakhyanam), Vishnu sarma (Sathi Savithri),Dhrita Rashtra and other side roles. He acted in roles requiring delivery of dialogues with clear diction and action. Te natakams arranged by the samithi in Hyderabad since inception are
Competitions(parishats) in which padya natakams are held
Procedures for selection of dramas
Applications in printed form are called for from intending organizations through newspaper advertisements or by sending applications to the troupes fixing the last date. After receipt of applications the troupes will be intimated in writing about the dates of scrutiny of their performances at their places. Two or three famous artists/critics will be nominated as scrutiny judges. The judges will travel to all the places to witness the performances (with or without make-up) as per the choice of the troupe. After the completion of scrutiny, the judges will select the dramas, eligible for performance in the parishath. The number of eligible dramas will be fixed by the parishath. The selected troupes will be intimated in writing , the actual date and time of their performance in parishath held at a fixed place. Each troupe will be provided free boarding and lodging on the date of their performance. Awards: Each troupe will be paid a fixed amount for performance. Cash prizes and mementos will be awarded for first and second productions, best actor, best actress, villain, supporting actor/actress, child actor, best music, make-up, lighting, script, sets etc as fixed by the organizing committee. Railway Concession: All the performing troupes will be eligible for railway concession of 75% of the charges from their station to the parishath station return fair ,on production of the invitation to participate.
About some Parishaths of padya natakams:
Nandi nataka parishath: This parishath was started in the year 1999 by the govt. of AP and conducted by the Andhra Pradesh State Film, TV and drama development corporation.(FDC).
Ten padya natakams will be selected for the parishaths. For performances, Rs.15000 will be given to the troupe. For the winners, cash amounts and Nandi plaques coated with gold, silver and bronze will be awarded .For best production, Gold nandi Plaque and Silver nandi for second best production and broze nandi for jury production, best actor, actress, villain, comedian, character actor/actress, director, script-writer, child actor, make-up, sets, lighting and other awards decided by committee.
In 2008 it is scheduled to be held in Anam Kalashetram ,Rajamundry from 19th jan 2008 to 25th jan 2008.Scrutiny of dramas is now in progress. The drama organizations and artists consider the participation and winning of prizes in nandi parishath as prestigious and coveted reward for their talent.
Sri Venkateswara nataka Kalaparishath, Tirupathi: This parishath is held each year from 1955,continuously at thirupathi sponsored by TTD and others. This parishath includes mono actions, one act of one hour duration based on historical, mythological or folklore themes. Full length padya natakams(two and half hours duration), should be based on mythological and devotional subjects only. Scrutiny and prizes/awards are similar to Nandi natyothsavam. This parishat, will be held between last of may and first week of June.
The unique feature of this parishat is that, the full length padya natakams staged in the parishaths will be staged in Tirumala (Sri balaji Temple), the next day with cash remuneration.
NTR natakaparishath , Ongole: This parishat in commemoration of the Late NT RamaRao, is held each year on January 18th(Death anniversary of NTR) for a week at Ongole. In addition to full length dramas, one hour padya natikalu (on any theme) will be staged. Scrutiny and prize are similar to above mentioned parishaths.
Pantham Padmanadham Memorial nataka parishat, kakinada: This was started in memory of pantham padmanabham Ex MLA and a popular leader. This is organized by his sons and and friends. In this parishath, full length padya natakams will be staged and cash prizes and awards are given similar to above mentioned parishaths.
Jakka Ranga Reddy memorial Nataka Parishath, Nellore: This parishath is held in memory of late Jakka raga Reddy, a land lord and drama lover, by his sons each year in September. In this parishath, one hour padya natikalu (based on any theme) will be staged with the condition that at least one scene therein should consist of 5 actors on stage out of which minimum 3 should render padyams. The selection of natikalu is made through scrutiny. Cash prizes and other awards are given as per the decision of the committee.