A variation of yakshagana theatre, Talamaddale is not a well known art-form outside coastal karnataka. It is called Koota (gathering) as against the costumed performance ata (play). It is also called Baithak (sitting), prasanga (episode), odike (reading ) and Jagara (keep awake). To put it simply, Talamaddale is a Yakshagana minus dance,,costume and stage conventions. It has features which are a combination of puranapravachana (discourse), harikatha and Yakshagana. While the Yakshagana ata has speech, dance and costume and the ballet has dance and costume, talamaddale has only the spoken word. Music is common to all forms.
The word Talamaddale is derived from the word ‘tala’ (Cymbal) and Maddale (the drum). This suggests that it was basically a singing tradition with the spoken word added to it later. If we are to accept that Yakshagana is also is originally the name of the composition type, (Yaksha = Worship Gana = lyrics), Talamaddale could have existed prior to Yakshagana with costume.Telugu works on prosody mention Yakshagana as a composition meant for ‘temple service’. Later, there was the inclusion of short explanatory words by the singer himself and possibly still later, the verbal part was taken up by artistes and presented as “drama”. A more popular theory is that Talamaddale developed as a ‘rehearsal’ (without the use of costume) of Yakshagana, especially during the rainy season.
Dakshina Kannada (including Kasargod), Uttara Kannada, parts of Shimoga, Hassan ,Coorg and Chikmagalur districts constitute the area from which this art-form has originated and where it still flourishes. Coastal areas of Dakshina Kannada have produced the maximum number of major artistes. There are no stylistic schools in Talamaddale, like Tenku (Southern) and Badagu (Northern) found in other variations of Yakshagana. Yet the southern artistes have developed the spoken-word better. Their presentation is elaborate and explanatory, and source materials have a richer texture in discussions, debates and wit. The northern Talamaddale players present more dramatic performances, but ones which are less rich in scholarship or treatment.
Talamaddale is not a ‘Troupe’ art or nor a ‘professionalized art’. It is a ‘freelance’ or ‘hobby’ art. Some artists are paid an honorarium per performance. Normally, artistes are invited individually and the roles are distributed just before the performance. Because of this, innovation and improvisation are obligatory components of this art! Amateur artists belonging to particular ‘groups’ perform regularly, (fortnightly or weekly) at a particular place. They perform on invitation too. There are about one-hundred and fifty associations having over a thousand artists. The associations normally take up one epic (say Mahabharata) and perform continuously as serials.
Support for Talamaddale has been on the rise during the last three decades, with an expanding middle-class and corresponding revival of various social and cultural organizations. The recent boom in electronic media has not affected Yakshagana patronage so far. However, in the urban areas many prefer a two or three hour evening – performance rather than a full-night show. Considering the very high quality of art, the learning, the talent and effort required of the artists, Talamaddale continues to cost very little financially. A full night’s performance of the best artistes would cost three to six thousand rupees inclusive of all expenses and publicity.
Talamaddale performances are usually incorporated into various social, religious or secular functions. Communal, social, religious festivals like the anniversaries of various organizations, temple festivals, Dasara and Deepavali are some occasions on which a Talamaddale is arranged. It is also arranged for its own sake, as an entertainment or what is popularly called a ‘Cultural programme’. Talamaddale as a religious service, the fulfillment of vow, or thanks giving-service is practiced only in association with the worship of God Shani (Saturn) and is called Shani Mahatme (the narration of great deeds of Shani). The main season of Talamaddale performances is between June and November. This is related to the agrarian – seasonal calendar i.e. the period between sowing and harvest and the onset of the monsoon. However, the performances are organized in the winter and summer as well.
The enactment of Talamaddale performance proceeds thus: A Bhagavatha (Singer) and Maddalegaraand Chandegaar (Drum beaters) are seated at one end of the stage. In front of them the ‘Arthadaaris’(Actor- narrators) are seated in rows. They are informed of the roles just before the performance. This is followed by Invocation. Then the singer takes up songs from the prasanga texts and sings them. The actors develop the song in dramatic prose basing their ‘extempore’ lines on the text , expanding the story and theme found in their verses.The actors normally cue or prompt the singer to the next verse or situation to be taken up by means of ethugade (catch word ) system. The length of each event in story, the dialogue, arguments , selection of the verses , time control and interpretation – all these are done on stage by a tradition of intricate conventions among the artists.
The function of the Bhagawatha is to sing songs, conduct the performance, edit the prasanga and to participate in the performance responding to soliloquies, asides and to emotions. The Bhagawatha acts as the outer mind of characters with which they converse. The other accompanying artistes too perform this function sometimes. The Bhagawatha is also the ‘other’ role-player; reminding the players of the important aspects of the episode, regulating and controlling the play. An active resourceful Bhagawatha keeps the whole show lively, interesting and constantly in focus. The Bhagawatha has to follow the actors closely. Each Arthadari has his own way of presentation and verse progression. This individual method of ethugade (catch word) requires the singer to be alert to dramatic ‘movements’ and to ‘arrange the plot’.
Technically, therefore bhagawatha is the director of the performance. He selects the verses and decides the time segments allotted to each sequence of narration. He can intervene when he feels a particular scene is being prolonged or that it is an unnecessary deviation from the ‘text’. However, the concept of Bhagawatha – direction has now receded giving way to consensus-type of team work concept. This is a significant conceptual change probably reflecting a change in our general social values- a shift from the ‘leader- follower’ to group consensus.
Talamaddale has three levels of ‘Text’. First , there is the Prasanga (episode), then, the intricately-wrought lyric compositions based on these episodes in various meters set to different talas (rhythms) as a musical text. Ragas (musical modes) and Talas, do not always conform to those prescribed in the text. This is the static text. Finally this text is presented by the singer on the stage as a verbal text, evoking various emotions. Thus the singer ‘re-creates’ the text in music within the limits of the rules of Yakshagana music.
The Prasanga Text: The basic value-system which forms the prasanga – texts pertains to the age of heroism and the Bhakthi age. So poetic expression has to show the ethos of those ages especially in a stylised art likeYakshagana. Thus presentation and characterization involve special features, and problems too. The player’s perception of characters is his own and he is freely interpreted; but it is fixed simultaneously within the frame work of the prasanga text. The actor has to be loyal to the text and yet surpass it. Theprasangas have a clear Vaishnava- bhagawatha bias with equal respect for other deities. The artists read between the lines to bring new ideas. Character portrayals partly fulfill expectations by being ‘True’ to the text and partly ‘thwart’ expectations by a new focus and elaboration of the texts ‘suggestions’. Mythological characters are presented from the whole range of Indian cultural heritage from the Vedic age up to the more recent works on Indian Mythology and culture. Hence, this art presents an interesting cultural mix of the different layers of tradition, woven into a single performance, often in single situation or even a single dialogue.
The Musical Text: The orchestra of Talamaddale consists of Bhagawatha (singer) and Maddalegara and Chandegara (drum beaters). This is common to all forms of Yakshagana. The music of Talamaddale has three controlling functions: 1. It provides a basis for the story ‘sequence’. 2. It controls the dominant ‘tone’ of a performance and 3. It performs the ‘pace’ of a presentation.Each verse is sung in a mode which reflects the mood of the character. Maddale (Horizontal drum) and Chande (Vertical drum) are powerful instruments specially suited for emotions like anger, joy, spiritedness and enthusiasm. Apart from scoring music for the verses, the musicians produce effects to stress the spoken word and give the conventional bidthige (rhythmic beats) for actions like entry, escape, fight, fall, journey a sudden stop etc. Yakshagana music has an excellent range of emotions and rich technical repertoire. Though the speech is more popular part of Talamaddale, without an able and experienced music team, it dwindles to a pale outline of Yakshagana. A well sung, well scored Yakshagana song followed by powerful, dramatic speech makes the Talamaddale experience complete. This provides the basis and inspiration to the Arthadhari (actor). The verbal text is charged with emotion introduced by the singer’s tone, emotions, notes and beating of the drums. Thus, the ‘Himmela’ (background-orchestra) gives new meaning to the text.
The Verbal Text: Then the actors develop this skeleton of verbal and musical texts, using imagination, interpretation, dramatic talent and learning, creating a drama that elevates the basic text to almost visual dramatisation. The compositions are based mostly on medieval Kannada classics like Kumaravyasa’s Bharatha, Torave Ramayana, Laxmisha’s Jaiminibharatha etc. But the actors work into their enactment parallels in word and situation from the other Kannada and Sanskrit classics and various other sources like scriptures, plays, literature, practically everything of their learning and imagination and blend all of them coherently into an improvised classic. Here again each artist has his independence and his resources are different from those of others. This creates interesting patterns of dramatic representation. The freedom of the spoken word is the greatest strength of this art. Alternatively, it could turn out to be a weakness, as it can allow the performance to drift, and deviate.
The musical text is the dynamic variation of the written text and the verbal text is still more dynamic. It is interesting to note that the spoken word is called the artha (meaning) in Yakshagana parlance.Talamaddale as a whole is a continuous attempt to find and give meaning to the text, the theme and the roles. It is like an extempore drama created and enacted by different artistes independently and in combination at the same time, the prasanga composition being the loose framework holding them together. Thus there is an essential creative structure to the art, providing immense scope to the artist and also offering challenges and expectations. The text unfolds into Talamaddale imbibing new elements at every stage. The text-performance relation in Talamaddale could be compared to a sea-wave which goes on gathering momentum and volume till it dashes on to the shore.
Formerly, the meanings conveyed by the composition and the spoken word were very close. The message of the text was translated into prose, and presented dramatically. Hence the artist’s merit lay mainly in the ‘presentational’ aspect and not so much in representational or creative aspect of his rendering. But with the entry of scholar-artists into the field, the ‘verse-word’ relation assumed new dimensions. The concept of being loyal to the text is not taken seriously now, though it is technically honoured as the prasanga is the script of the play’s scheme. An arthadari is not a translator. He is a re-creator of the plot/theme.
Traditionally, the entire prasanga text was sung and the dialogues followed the text closely. Now, however, instead of one full story, two to three small portions/episodes of different stories are selected. There are set conventions regarding combinations as well as text-editing. Text-editing is done either by Bhagawatha (singer) or by the other experienced artistes.
The element that has held the people’s keen interest in this otherwise ‘actionless’ art is the logical and dramatic dialectic between the roles. It concerns questions and replies, accusations and counter-accusations, and charges and justifications. The debate often hot, sometime seemingly bitter, takes the entire audience into all issues involved in a situation.
Audience-involvement is high during two occasions in every Talamaddale performance. 1) During highly emotional situations (e.g. Bharatha’s anguish over Rama’s exile and 2) during logical discussions on ‘charged’ issues (e.g. Vali-episode, Karna-Arjuna, Rama-Ravana, Hanuman-Arjuna, Krishna-Duryodhana, Bhishma-Parashurama confrontations). The flow of language, the sparkle of philosophical and scriptural evidence, abundance of examples, punching wit, enlightening analysis, irony and satire – all these make Talamaddale a rich experience. Often the villains like Ravana or Jarasandha outwit the heroes like Rama and Krishna exposing their established greatness. This aspect of Talamaddale, literally causes the ‘ explosion of myth’ inside a mythological drama- form! In such debates, the distinction between the role and the role player disappears , and there are instances where the debates have led to strained relations between leading artistes.
Imaginative artists can and do bring a contemporary sensibility to the characters. A Ravana inTalamaddale often questions the propriety of Rama’s behavior at Panchavati and accuses him of colonization of the rakshasa territory. Karna is portrayed as the down trodden rebel, fighting the disadvantages of social inequality, and questions the credentials of Arjuna and bonafides of Krishna.
The effect of a Talamaddale performance depends much on riddles and other conventions of pun, stichomythia, repartee etc. Active response from the audience makes the performance lively. However, it is interesting to watch the audience applauding, enjoying and following closely every bit of fine, often hairsplitting arguments between great artists. The actor fleshes out his arguments and responses by a recourse to different sources for constructing his part- the prasanga text, the classics with their frame texts of epics, legends, traditional thoughts and scriptures. But Talamaddale is not mere argumentation. It is essentially a drama, and therefore is judged by standards of other drama forms. There is a ‘Rasa’ the Natya, development of the story, and stylized dialogue. But the structure of this drama itself is such that it artistically drifts and wanders and gives scope for an element of improvisation.
The presentation by the arthadari (the actor) has three aspects – the Peethike, Samvada, and Nirupane (introduction, dialogue, narration). Peethike or Pravesha (entry) is the introductory soliloquy and is also called Purvakathe ( Past story). It introduces a character, includes the character’s thoughts at the particular juncture and offers a version of what has already happened. It is a an open and free opportunity to convey to the audience the standpoint of the character, in terms of past actions, conflicts, problems, etc. Such introductions are normally used by major characters. Recently, there has been a tendency to indirectly reply to the introduction. Thus often a point raised by an actor, lingers on to many scenes and the audience is able to get the perspective of the different aspects of one issue in the question. The Samvada or dialogue and Vada or argument are of two types. The first is the traditional verse- dialogue in which each character responds to the other with alternate verse sung. Now-a-days, characters intervene and react even when other characters speak. This heightens the dramatic effect.
As already mentioned, the prasanga is only a skeleton for performance. The verses offer only an outline and hints to the actors who develop it through nirupane or narration on different lines depending upon their ability. One little lyric could provide a basis for a long, intricate dialogue. I give just one example form poet Devidasa’s famous Krishna Sandhana. Krishna, representing Pandavas as an emissary, presents the Pandava-viewpoint regarding the dispute over the kingdom. The verse goes like this: “The sons of Pandu lost their kingdom in dice; and later they completed their vows set by you. Now in order to be with you as before, they have sent me here to arrive at some understanding regarding their share of kingdom and they beg you to be considerate”.
This little piece gives rise to a complex debate on the stage. Pandu’s sons – were they? Did they really lose the kingdom or abandon it? Is the sharing of a kingdom permissible? Would they come and live with the Kauravas or demand a division? As brothers or as Kings? If it is a matter of right, why do they beg – so on the arguments continue. Each of these questions would lead to further debate, and the entire background would unfold into two opposite versions.
The artists sometimes resort to an elaborate play on words, puns and juxtapositions – for comic effect or to sharpen arguments. The finest elements of Kannada language/idiom come out in such situation. If Karna tells Arjuna ‘You know who you are, not what I am, who I am’, the equivocation in ‘who’ and ‘six’ charges (Karna is the eldest of Kunti’s six sons, hence sixth, a fact not known to Arjuna). These simple words with poignant irony, the Kannada term for who and six being the same. Karna being the abandoned and unacknowledged son of Kunti, is really the first of her ‘six’ sons.
The language of Talamaddale, Kannada, is a unique mixture of the standard, rhetorical, ‘literary’ language and the contemporary, informal, local vernacular. The spoken language of coastal Karnataka is itself a variant of standard Kannada. Messengers, courtiers, servants etc, use slang. Dramatic speeches are generally stylized, rhetorical and occasionally rhythmic.
In Talamaddale speech is the main medium. Hence it has to be more elaborate than and different from both Yakshagana and regular drama. But the difference is not merely of quantity. There is an important difference in form. The action, entry, exit, reaction and movement have to be depicted only through words. The audience of Talamaddale too expects a qualitative difference. The audience of Talamaddaleis generally from the literate middle and upper-class, as against the more diverse audience of Yakshagana.
The artist follows auchithya and rasa principles. But the concepts of these principles is to be viewed in the light of special context of this art. It is a verbal form. The process and the product are simultaneously and continuously created on the stage. It is a full night’s performance meant primarily for entertainment. Further, it is not a creation of one playwright but is a performance presented simultaneously by many artists, of different caliber, in co-operation and in contrast with each other. All this could certainly demand a relaxation of the critical rules applicable to a written-play text. A slant on a character- interpretation or an outline or a thought introduced by an artist may be attacked, distorted, twisted or contradicted by others. This possibility is ever present in the form itself. So there is always the need for adjustment and remodeling which makes Talamaddale a tightrope walk.
Talamaddale artists should be well versed in mythology, classical, literature, philosophy and poetry. He should be well-versed with the prasanga texts. An artist should be capable of merging with the music of Yakshagana, have a good command over language, possess considerable dramatic talent, and be endowed with power of oratory and a strong voice. The artists should additionally have analytical, interpretative abilities and attributes of logic and be good observers of human nature. Finally, the artistes should have an open, liberal outlook, understand the other artistes’ viewpoint and adjust to it. Many good artistes have possessed all these qualities.
This art demands learning. But scholarship should work as collateral to the ‘art’ aspect. Some of our village artistes with very limited ‘formal’ learning have shown that felicitous expression of feelings is the essential aspect of this art. These are the artistes who have kept this tradition alive for centuries.
The decade of 1930s saw a departure from tradition in all forms of Yakshagana including Talamaddale. Some senior artistes and art lovers formed the Yakshagana Sabha (Association for Revival ofYakshagana and Talamaddale). Artistes formed their own groups. New methods of expression emerged. Texts were edited with consistent planning and phasing, performances were targeted towards urban audiences. This led to the spread of new wave of interest in this art. It also led to the emergence of a ‘big’ theatre, while the ‘small’ or local type has also continued till now. Now there are clearly two streams of Talamaddale – the new or the ‘big’ theatre and the ‘small’ or the old type is possible, but is not often successful.
Though this art has been developed by artistes to great heights, bringing in new elements, there have been some developments which have led this art into the realm of discourse or discussion. Very lengthy discussions, disregard for propriety of expression and stage conventions, hair-splitting debates, lack of time-sense and domination by artists have been the major weakness of the ‘big theatre’ in Talamaddale. These have been made to strike a new balance between old and new, big and small traditions and to combine the best of both worlds.
The manner of expression in both Talamaddale and Yakshagana is basically of a ‘charged’ type. It is romantic and of extreme ‘Natyadharmi’ style. Additionally, this art, being a theatre without costume and ‘period’ – limitation, moves easily between past and present, locales of mythic geography and contemporary milieu. Recently, attempts at striking a balance between the Lokadharmi andNatyadharmi, the social and mythological are noticeable. The general tendency is to soften the stylisation. This has created better atmosphere and a contemporary appeal.
As is the case with Kannada literature, Talamaddale seems to be moving from a conservative mythic perception to a secular, modern perception within the frame of the form. Because of its easy and constant adaptability, its future is not bleak, unlike many traditional forms which are becoming obsolete. The verbal component gives scope for the mixed representation of the Pan-Indian and the local, giving vent to the cultural pressures and creative modes of peoples’ mind. Other new directions in its growth seem imminent. Recent trends in Prasanga composition (verse text writings) show a clear departure in content. They are yet to become popular in Talamaddale. If they are accepted, the departure will soon be reflected here too.
Talamaddale is an art that anticipated Grotovsky’s ‘poor’ theatre, centuries earlier. It is now awaiting a breakthrough in organization, performance and also systematic research and serious study.