Origin and Forms of Voggukatha:
The origins of Voggukatha are as old as Deccan pastoral culture. Voggukatha's original story was composed prior to the history of Virasaivism in Telengana, initially as a simple sung narrative. The singing technique is older than that of Jangam narratives, an offshoot of Virasaivism in the twelfth century. It did not spread rapidly because of its specialized traditional style though some attempts were made to appropriate it.
Voggukatha is performed by the pastoral Kurama community, one of the two main sheep-rearing tribes of the Deccan plateau. Each of their denominations developed its own performing art around the story of their Mulapurusha. He is also called Birappa or Birdev. In Maharashtra, Voggukatha is called as simple devotional bhajans. In Karnataka, it is popular as a gymnastic dance and there the performers use large cymbals called Kamsale. And in the interior Telengana of Andhra, it is known as the more complex and tremendously plastic Voggukatha.
In the process of social transformation from a nomadic pastoral lifestyle to rigid feudal society, Voggukatha has also metamorphosed. In terms of theatrical enactment of scenes, it later acquired elements of Yakshaganam. But an apparently conscious desire to retain its primitive form, powerful singing saved it from succumbing totally to the patterns of Yakshaganam. At least ten types of original tunes decide the character of Voggukatha even now.
Despite the conversion and Voggukatha's name, the Kuramas retain intact their faith in the ethnic god Birappa. They started calling him an incarnation of Virabhadra, a form of Siva. Their conversion brought several new stories into the repertoire, like that of Mallanna. He is the deity of the Saiva pilgrimage centre, Srisailam, in Kurnool district, also utilizing earlier matriarchal cults like those of Ellamma, Nallapochamma, and Mandhata. But the prime story remained the original one of Birappa.
Musical Instruments of Voggukatha
Voggukatha is accompanied by various musical instruments and one of the unique instruments is drum which is also called dillern bhillem. This instrument produces special sound effects which silence the audience. The other instruments are kanaka-dappu i.e. a small tambourine, napira i.e. an iron horn, and the voggu, symbolic of the community's conversion to Saivism.
Voggukatha and other Narrative Forms
Contrary to other narrative forms that have one main singer or narrator, Voggukatha has two, both singers and dancers, with the same dress. He also delivers the vachanas connecting prose parts. The main difference with other narratives is that Voggukatha suddenly changes into theatre for important scenes. To illustrate an episode, the narrators singing in the third person turn into characters and enter into an exchange of verse dialogue demonstrating the actors quality of subjective involvement with the roles portrayed. If the scene requires more than two characters, the chorus, drummer, cymbalist, and other instrumentalists turn actors, though they never leave their instruments.
Voggukatha and its New Version
During the Telengana insurrection, revolutionary artists like Suddala Hanmanthu and Tirunagari Ramanujachary took popular elements of Voggukatha to propagate their message and they renamed the form as 'Gollasuddulu'. Non-Kurama revolutionary singers like Gaddar started using the new version, but with the old name Voggukatha, leading to protests from the original community. Original Voggukatha is still enacted by at least fifty different troupes of Kuramas in Telengana, patronized by all communities. Present-day champions of the form are Chukka Sathaiah and Sanike Balappa, virtuoso performers. Featuring fast pace with quick changes of characters, each of their stories spreads over three days. They can also reduce their shows to a three-hour performance on one day with the same stunning impact.
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