The dramatic voice of Bharatidasan
Bharatidasan did not favour any compartmentalisation as prose, music and drama in Tamil literature. For him, the emotive centre of these genres remained an integral power containing all the three, writes PREMA NANDAKUMAR.
ALTHOUGH BHARATIDASAN is generally hailed as a poet, it may be remembered that he was also a prolific writer of plays. Contraries lost their lines of control in the flow of his creative exuberance. One moment he would dedicate his play, "Iraniyan" to Periyar E. V. Ramaswamy because the latter had chosen "to work all his life for those who were not Brahmins"; another moment he would be writing impeccable verse in praise of his Brahmin-mentor, Subramania Bharati.
Such an emotive make-up was ideal ground for the gestures of stage-dramatics. Bharatidasan must have realised his own strength and seems to have written nearly 40 plays. Thus, it was perhaps appropriate that he was given the Sahitya Akademi Award in 1969 (posthumously) for his drama, "Pisirandaiyar."
Bharatidasan's dramaturgy was a child of the stagecraft honed by Pammal Sambandha Mudaliyar. Known as the father of modern Tamil drama, Mudaliyar introduced social themes to a stage that had hitherto been dealing with Puranic themes or folklore like "Satharam." In fact, Tamil has had a hoary ancestry regarding drama known as "Nataka Tamizh." All the same, Bharatidasan did not favour any such compartmentalisation as prose, music and drama in Tamil literature. For him, the emotive centre of the three genres remained an integral power containing all the three.
Hence, each of his plays is an emotional sweep, and cannot be analysed in terms of the western genre of drama, be it Greek, medieval, Elizabethan or modern. Naturally, Bharatidasan had no time for the pastel shading of characters. The good and the bad are defined in sharp terms and there is no grey in-between. His involvement with the Dravidian Movement marked his approach to a given theme. Hence, Hiranya smoothly gets transmuted into the all-good.
Traditional commentators may find Hiranya a symbol of the evil of materialism and the all-grab ego. But for Bharatidasan he was the victim of an Aryan-Dravidian divide, a victim of Brahmin invasion. His choice of this Puranic character was understandable as in the history of Tamil literary appreciation, Kamban's Ramayana has been a favourite with the masses. Linked to religion, this great Tamil epic sports within it, the Book of Hiranya-killing as a brilliant inset, favoured by orators and asthikas. Bharatidasan may have felt that by striking at the Hiranya myth, he would be snuffing out the life-breath of Kamban's narrative.
However, Bharatidasan was writing in the earlier half of the 20th century when people had not seriously questioned the theory of an Aryan invasion. Sri Aurobindo did open a discussion in the 1920s and Dr. Ambedkar rejected the Aryan-invasion theory as an "invention" but serious academia has taken note of revelatory findings (based on scientific and technological data) only in recent times. When Bharatidasan was writing, we still drank from the poison cup of European scholars who sought to aid the divide-and-rule policy of the colonisers. As Michel Danino puts it:
"... according to them, around 1500 BC., hordes of semi-barbarian, pastoral nomads, the so-called `Aryans', poured out of Central Asia into Northwest India, and drove south the ancestors of today's Dravidians; then, over a few centuries, they composed the Vedas, got their language, Sanskrit, to spread all over India, and built the mighty Ganges civilization."
Thus, Bharatidasan's understanding of the historicity of our national culture was due to the darkness that had fallen upon our mental horizon, and we had not had the benefit of archaeological findings that are now making a more scientific approach possible. If Bharatidasan sought to re-write even Manimekalai as Manimekali Venpa, in what was for him a clean-up action of the Dravidian culture, one should blame the times that had plunged the Tamil land into a suicidal communal divide. Bharatidasan himself might have taken a fresh look at our social history and not flinched from adopting a new stand, if it had been the need of the hour.
The plays he wrote without paying attention to the Aryan-Dravidian divide certainly will have an enduring appeal. Whatever he wrote to educate the common man on social themes remains contemporaneous.
The need to reject the idea of widowhood, the removal of superstition and the importance of democratic ideals for a nation's growth and national unity are some of the themes chosen by Bharatidasan for plays and play-lets such as "Theevinai," "Veerathai," "Puratchikavi" and "Bharata Pasarai."
The conventional division of acts to indicate a compartmentalised thematic progression is not to be found in these plays. In keeping with Bharatidasan's view of the Tamil language as an integral unit of prose, music and drama, there is as much prose and music in his plays as there is dramatics in his lyrics and narratives. For instance, the Sahitya Akademi Award-winning drama, "Pisirandaiyar," is a continuous string of 34 scenes with ten songs interwoven in them.
"Pisirandaiyar" (1959) is about the Sangam poet who seems to have been youthful-looking even at an advanced age because of his balanced view of life and a loving family. The theme leads to the sterling friendship of the poet with King Kopperunchozhan. Building a world of imagination on the hints found in the lyrics of Pisirandaiyar, Bharatidasan presents a tale of love, hate, betrayal, murder and dark humour as when the child Ponnu speaks about his mother's death. The aim throughout is to announce aloud the greatness of Tamil culture. As when we note that the ancient Tamil artisans could make life-like images in wax. Bharatidasan's favourite word-play gives pep to the dialogue.
The rivalry of the Pandya and Chola kingdoms is ignited by the murder of the Pandyan girl Pachaikili by her husband due to a ruse engineered by the Chola youth Thooyan. Taking advantage of this case, the Chola Princes try to wrest power from their father.
The king seeks to kill his sons, but the poet Pullatrur Eyitranar calms him down and advises him not to stain the greatness of Tamil culture by fratricide. The king accepts the admonition and decides to quit the world by withdrawing from sustenance in the time-tested tradition of "vadakkiruthal.'' His bosom friend Pisirandaiyar of Pandyan kingdom hears of this and hurries to his side and so does another poet, Pothiyar. Both of them join the King in his resolve to die.
Death cannot be proud in the face of such incandescent friendship between the emperors of land and the emperors of poesy.
Bharatidasan's tribute to the Sangam poet speaks of him as "Paa Vendhar" since poets were the acknowledged legislators of Moral Law in ancient Tamil land. Bharatidasan's admirers have given the same sobriquet to their idol and call him Paa Vendhar Bharatidasan.
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