Shankardeva`s Sutradhara :A comparative study.


The Indian theater of medieval period shows a similarity in case of a particular character which is known as Sutradhara.Many scholars have been discussing about the character and opine that the Sutradhara character of Shankarian Theater resembles with others. In this article I am trying to establish the Sutradhara of Shankarian theater as an incomparable one with some documentary evidence.

Shankardeva`s Sutradhara :A comparative study. :



Folk, Aboriginal and Creative Aboriginal Theater.


At the very outset it should be briefed here that folk and aboriginal theaters carry both similarities and dissimilarities in its nature. Because all aboriginal theaters were springing out of the folk theaters with some sorts of inclusions and omissions according to the demand of time and space (Geographical position). It was so happened because of colonization and industrialization during the last half of 1800 AD. On the other hand the migration which took place depending on various reasons also played a vital role to promote the changes of folk culture through assimilation. The relocation of people coming from different places made a new environment where the folk tradition got a new shape through assimilation with other people and to set with new environment. Thus the folk traditions became aboriginal in different places of India and abroad. As an example the story of Assamese Tea tribes can be placed here. They were relocated here in 1850 from various places of India such as Kolkata, Bihar, Uttaranchal and Chennai etc. Now the tea tribes of Assam are known as aboriginal tribes of Assam.


Every group of people carried their culture with them from their motherland and shared it with the new groups of people in new environment of relocation. Thus they formed a new society of their own through cultural assimilation and integration where the inclusions and omissions of various aspects of traditional life was circumscribed. As a result the traditional folk culture which they carried with them to the new asylum got a new shape and identification in new location which is known as aboriginal culture, aboriginal dance, art and theater etc. The word folk signifies the primitive people who have been dwelling in a particular place from the time immemorial with their own art, culture, language and socio-economic position. On the other hand aboriginal signifies the people who have been relocated in a new place through colonization or through migration depending on various reasons. It is observed that such migrated or relocated groups of people have been getting new identity assimilating with other people of different cultural constitutes.


Shankarian Theater: The Creative Aboriginal Theater.


Aboriginal art form is branched off into two distinct sections such as aboriginal and creative aboriginal. Aboriginal art form is almost same with its folk form with some differences transpired due to its geographical alteration and local cultural impact. Creative aboriginal art form is made of various ingredients of folk and aboriginal art forms to create a completely new genre of art. It is a methodical admixture of various primitive and aboriginal art forms. As an example Shankarian theater could be explained as creative aboriginal theater. Because Shankarian Theater is not folk or aboriginal theater, it is solely the Creative Aboriginal Theater because Shankardeva mixed various folk art forms in innovation of his theater which demands the uniqueness of assortment. Shankardeva deserves the pioneering position in innovation of Creative Aboriginal Theater in India. So it must be stated here that the theatrical art innovated by Shankardeva deserves a uniqueness of creativity with its incomparable characteristics. In this context the Character Sutradhara is the prime factor which could be mentioned as Sutradhari system of Shankarian Theater.


The Similarities of the Character Sutradhara.


The Indian theater of medieval period shows a similarity in case of a particular character which is known as Sutradhara , Vidusak, Nataguru, Kodangi, Nayak and Bhagawata in different places of India both in vernacular and Sanskrit plays. Having analyzed the characteristics of the said characters everyone will preach that all the characters carry a similarity of making direct relation with the audiences. Though the character which may be stated as character of public relation was the prime asset of Indian semi dramatic folk functions but it has already been possessed by both aboriginal and Sanskrit theater. Scholars opine that the vernacular theaters were developed after the declination of Sanskrit theater where the significance of Sutradhara and Vidusaka character of Sanskrit play is broadly observed. But through a small detour we get the appearance of the character in our old scriptures. We get Suka Muni appeared in the Bhagawata as Sutradhara who elaborated the story of Bhagawata to Raja Parikhita. ( Suka nigodoti suna Subhadrara Nati --) The Mahabharata was also narrated by a Sutradhara ( Narrator) Sanjaya. (Sanjaya Ubasa --------) So the idea of descriptive approach or style of presentation was collected from Srimad Bhagawata and Mahabharata. It proves that the idea of narrator (Sutradhara) was always in people's intellect those who were accustomed with the said scriptures. The narrator of our scriptures became Sutradhara in the theatrical arena for presenting any facts and idea to the common people. It was narrator the Sutradhara who was familiar and dearest to the common people. Therefore in every indigenous semi-dramatic form we get such a character interacting with spectators on behalf of actors.


Bharat Muni rightly picked up the precious character (Narrator) of our scriptures and designed as Sutradhara in his Natya Sastra which was followed by the Sanskrit playwrights in their dramatic endeavors. But it does not mean that the character Sutradhara was the sole asset of Sanskrit theater. It was first used by the Sanskrit playwrights as designed by Bharat Muni. So credit goes to Bharat Muni not to the Sanskrit dramaturges. Annexation of the Sutradhara character from our scriptures was a unique approach of Bharat Muni because the system of narrating event for educating common people was a primitive culture of human race.


Depending on the said truth it is to be presumed that the Sutradhari system was in force during the period of Bharat Muni which he learnt from his vicinity along with the scriptural lessons of narrative characteristics. It is apparent that the story of Mahabharata took place in between 8th to 9th century BCE but the script was written in 400 BCE. Researchers express that the Bhagawata is a product of oral tradition like Puranas which was written during the period 8th to 9th century CE. When Bharatmuni formulated the whole theatrical system taking lessons from the available sources of oral tradition of his time including the descriptive techniques of scriptures, at that time the Sanskrit theater was out of conceive. It must be stated here that the Bharatmuni Natyasastra written during the period between 200 BC and 200 AD, is scientifically accepted and acknowledged as an original book of theater science but the elaboration given by the same Natyasastra establishing Lord Shiva as a teacher of Sage Bharatmuni is not acceptable to all walks of people. These are fictitious and counted as religious fanatics.


The character Sutradhara in different folk and aboriginal theaters.


The use of Sutradhara and Vidusaka are seen in several vernacular theaters which is broadly discussed as classical asset of Sanskrit plays. Both characters were designed as Natya Guru, Duari (Vidusaka), Sandhi, Bhagawata,Nayaka and Sutradhara in the said theaters. It is explained by the scholars that the Sutradhara of Desi Nata, an ancient form of play presentation located in the Koroput district of Orissa, performs the same activities with the Sutradhara of Shankarian Theater. These statements are quite erroneous and perverted which destroys not only the outstanding characteristics of Shankardeva`s Sutradhara as well as the unique adornment of Desi Nata because both characters are unique with own magnificent characteristics. The subject may be elaborated unambiguously as follow
1.Though Natya Guru is treated as outsider but besides writing and directing the play he sometimes plays the role of Sutradhara and Sandhi.
2.Sandhi is a musical master; he sings the theme of the play and narrates the sequences of the play including entry and exit of characters.
3.Sutradhara acts as coordinating character from the beginning to the end of the performance.
4.The Duari character is comparable with the Character Vidusaka. He acts as bridge between performer and audience which partially resembles with the Sutradhara character of Shankarian Theater except some witty scenes performed by him.


From the above statement it is easily understood that the Sutradhara of Shankarian Theater has been fragmented in to four different characters in Desi Nata such as Natya Guru, Sandhi, Duari and Sutradhara. So the Sutradhara of Shankarian Theater has no genuine resemblance with the Sutradhara of Desi Nata.


We have many other vernacular plays in Indian such as Bhabai, Daskathiya, Khyal, Maach , Nautanki and Tamasha which has been enriched with the Sutradhara character. But no one is establishing the Character Sutradhara as a gorgeous system of play presentation. The character remains as simple character whose influence on audience intellect is quite partial and morphological.


Bhavai of Gujrat has a series of plays known as Vesha or Swanga. The Veshas are different with each other without any continuity of plot and action. Bhabai is segmented in to four different categories known as Mythological, Social, Royal Rajput and Contemporary. But presently it is adored as folk dramatic form of social plays which are full of humor. The Character Sutradhara of Bhabai presentation is known as Nayaka (anchor) who sings acts and directs the play. It is obvious that the audiences get fully involved with actions played by the players to create funny environment where the character Sutradhara plays the role of detonation. Daskathiya is one of the most popular folk function which has two narrators known as Gayaka and Paliya. It has a resemblance with the folk function like Oja pali of Assam to an extent.


Khyal, the folk dramatic form of Rajasthan assumed different names in different regions which are known as Rammal, Nautanki (Haryana and North India.), Swanga , Maach (Madhya Pradesh) Yakshagaana and Tamasha (Karnataka, Maharastra). Tamasha is a folk entertainment known for its humor and erotic singing and dancing. The Lavani songs and dances (Part of Tamasha) which are most popular are naughty and erotic.


Yakshagana is known as typical dance drama of Karnataka as elaborated by some eminent scholars. It is emphasized by some scholars that the character Bhagawata/Sutradhara (Conductor) of Yakshagana is smack of Sutradhara of Shankarian Theater. But if we compare the character Sutradhara with Bhagawata of Yakshagana then the direct comparison of Sutradhara with Sanjaya (Mahabharata) and Sukamuni (Srimad Bhagawata Geeta) will have to be accepted unanimously. Because the similarity of a particular characteristic of a character does not encompasses the wholeness of the character. All narrations of Yakshagana are seen in verse form where the music takes the prime position. The Bhagawata narrates the story through songs and verses at a very high pitch. He also behaves as a clown through trivial talk with Vidushaka.


Having studied the characteristics of Sutradharai characters of different vernacular plays it is obvious to all that the character Sutradhara of Shankarian Theater is matchless both in perspective and intellectual angles in the concerned presentations. Because all the Sutradhari characters of both vernacular and Sanskrit theaters lead the audiences to enjoy the presentations with full attachment and merriment including the approach of announcing dramatic events and entry exist of performers are seen. Sutradhara acts as a catalyst to overwhelm the spectator's mental concentration and attachment with the presenting event where the audiences do not avail the chance of perpetuating the innermost attempt of presentation. Another subject which has been frequently mentioned by various critics that Shanakarian theater and the Sutradhari character resemblance to Chau dance of Mayurbhanj (Orissa) Charaikola (Jharkhand) and Puruliya (West Bengal). Chau is absolutely a folk dance form where the use of mask and special make up is seen. The use of mask takes prime position in the Chau performances of Charai Kola and Purulia where the Chau of Mayurbhanj is performed without mask. It is true that the exercises of Chau dance carries some similarities with the Mati Akhora (medieval aerobics) but this type of similarities are not unequivocal of the concerned subject.


After being analyzed the factors of Sutrdharai characters of different vernacular plays we can sum up the Sutradhara of Shankarian interpretation as follow.
1.The dance form of Sankari Sutradhara is of high definition without any resemblance.
2.Gestures and attire establish the character in a combatant form who struggles or arguments on behalf of supremacy against evil power.
3.The unambiguous approach of instillation to the intellect of spectators regarding friend and foe presented through the play is quite incomparable.
4.The majestic gesticulation of Shanskara`s Sutradhara is not seen in Sanskrit and other vernacular plays except some outward similarities which are not countable.
5.Shankari Sutradhara eradicates illusion and empathy from the mental state of spectators and keeps them alert for judgmental approach through his dialogue. Through such Sutradhari course of action the spectators become intellectually reasonable to extract the innermost essence of dramatic elaboration.


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