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Welcome to Bharatham Mitta

Welcome to Bharatham Mitta
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Welcome to Bharatham Mitta. Every village of this area contains a place called ‘Bharatham Mitta’. Many of these places have a small temple of...

Every village of this area contains a place called ‘Bharatham Mitta’. Many of these places have a small temple of Dharmaraja that becomes the hub of activity in the months of May and June when ‘Mahabharatha yagna’ is performed

To call The ‘Mahabharatha’ a literary text is a heresay and to say that it is a scripture amounts to sectarianism. Then what is it? It is a part of life, especially for the people of erstwhile North Arcot district of British India and to the southern parts of Chittoor district and the northern parts of Vellore district of the present times. Every village of this area contains a place called ‘Bharatham Mitta’. Many of these places have a small temple of Dharmaraja that becomes the hub of activity in the months of May and June when ‘Mahabharatha yagna’ is performed

Pothuraju in Damala Cheruvu

It is hot summer when the mercury climbs over 40 degrees, the water level in the wells get shrunk and the peasants wait for rains. People of this area conduct the ‘Harikathas’ of ‘Virataparva’ whenever there is drought and ‘Nalacharithra’ when they fall on evil days as they believe that that would bring them good luck and happiness . Organising ‘Mahabharatha yagna’ every year may be an extension of the same belief. Like the ‘Kurukshethra’ war which went on for 18 days and like the ‘Mahabharatha’ which contains 18 parvas, it is a festival of 18 days. Huge pandal is erected before the temple and sand is spread on the floor under the pandal for comfort while sitting. The ‘Mahabharatha’ is related in the form of a ‘Harikatha’ by an exponent during the day time. On the other side of the pandal, facing the temple, a stage with mud platform, stone beams and a canopy of coconut leaves would be constructed on which the folk dramatic version of ‘Mahabharatha’ is performed during the nights.

There were many ‘Harikatha’ exponents in different parts of Rayalaseema at one time. The number dwindled due to many factors like urbanisation and lack of encouragement. My maternal great grandfather was a great exponent of ‘Harikatha’ and the old generation of our place says that he had a sweet voice which was audible even to a mile as there were no megaphones at that time. A life size photo painting of him used to be there on the threshold of our house for a long time when I was a child but I don’t know what happened to it afterwards. But I still remember his majestic posture in a silk ‘dovathi’, flowing ‘angavasthram’, ‘vibhuthi’ stripes on the forehead and shoulders, huge ear rings, golden ‘kankanams’ to hands and anklets on feet. When we were children ‘Harikatha’ exponents of Nellore and the coastal districts were popular.

The wooden statue of ‘Pothuraju’, the brother in law of Pandavas according to a folk story, is taken in procession to the surrounding villages announce the commencement of ‘Mahabharatha yagna’. On the first day of ‘yagna’, Sri Krishna, Dharmaraja, Bhima, Arjuna, Nakula, Sahadeva, Draupadi and ‘Pothuraju’ are worshipped and then the statue of ‘Pothuraju’ is brought to the platform as the presiding deity of the Yajna. Every day of the eighteen days is allotted to an important part of the story. The importance of ‘Mahabharatha’, Bhartha’s birth, Bhisma’s prathigna, Wax House, Bakasuravadha, Rajasuyam, Mayasabha, Pachikalu, Vasthraapaharanam, Vanavaasam, Gograhanam, Rayabaaram, Abhimanyu’s death, Karna’s death and finally slaying of Duryodhana … in that order. Some of the events are celebrated as performances during the day after the ‘Harikatha’. Bhima’s journey to the cave of Bakasura in a cart filled with all kinds of food is enacted as a live show after which the food is distributed as ‘prasada’. A big toddy tree is erected to which many branches are arranged. It is called ‘Thapasumaanu’, the tree of penance. The actor playing the role of Arjuna climbs it singing ‘padyas’ and songs requesting Lord Siva to present him ‘Paasupatha’. After reaching the top he drops down lemons and ‘Vibhuthi’ as people swarm around it. People vie with each other to procure them as they believe that these things have divine power. Women who crave for children take a holy bath and prostrate in front of deities. The looting of cows (Gograhanam) is the next important event when the cows and calves of the villages would be taken in a procession. On the final day the killing of Duryodana is performed. A huge figure of Duryodana is made with mud as if he lies on earth and the actors personifying the characters of Bhima, Duryodana and Sri Krishna perform the play beside the mud figure.Later people compete with each other to grab at least a pinch of the mud from the right palm of the figure of Duryodana as they believe that the wealth line of his right palm stretches like a male centipede if they keep the mud in their houses they shall flourish. They also believe that everything got nullified after the death of Duryodana and Dharmaraja had to rule nothing but a grave yard. (Afterwards I learnt that Andhras took the side of Kouravas in the Kurukshethra war. I believe that we have a strong sympathy for Duryodana and many of our popular books and movies vouch for it. We might have retained that concern in the genes.)

The night ‘Ata’ begins at 9 pm and goes up to 6 am next morning. It is performed by a troop of players from Kangundi, a place near Kuppam. The play begins with the Chopudaar (Introducer) who announces the arrival of the kings and the makeup of some actors is quite amusing as they wear sun glasses and wrist watches. Villages arrive there with their mats and blankets and many of them watch the show lying on them and occasionally slipping into the sleep.

95 percent of the people of our village, Damala Cheruvu (Chittor district) are Muslims and all them used to attend the ‘Harikatha’ and the night play during our childhood. All of them were well versed in The ‘Mahabharatha’ story. I was regular to all the day- stories along with my friends, obviously majority of them were Muslims. But our elders never allowed us to go for the night shows as we would be deprived of the sleep and then we had to skip going to the school next day. We prevailed on them on Saturday-nights and managed to go to ‘Bharatham-Mitta’ but soon slipped into slumber and our grandmothers used to rebuke us forever for spoiling their happiness.

After some years we found that a number of gambling tents sprouted around the place during those 18 days and many men sneaked into them than to see the night-play. Moreover the organising committee had to conduct auctions for them to collect money to meet out the expenses of the 18 day ‘yagna’. Thus the irony is that the gambling which ‘Mahabharatha’ vehemently denounces had become the only source to conduct it.

(The writer is a bilingual short story writer, novelist and poet, writing in both Telugu and English)

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