Beginning of Professional Theatre of Mysore
The Mysore palace had inherited a keen interest in drama from the court of Vijayanagar Empire, and kept up a tradition of extending patronage to it. As early as in 1826, the palace had its own dramatic troupe, but this was obviously the Bidarada Dashavatara Mela, the Yaksagana party of the palace, maintained from 1812 or even earlier. It staged the traditional Yaksagana or Bhagavatara Ata and was not a dramatic troupe in the modern sense of the term. It was a happy story of court patronage extended to a folk mode. Any tangible result with regard to the professional stage in Mysore was achieved after the year 1870 when the Marathi and Parse theatre troupes visited Mysore.
The Sangli Company (originally of Vishnupant Bhave ) under the leadership of Mahadevabhat paid a visit to Mysore in 1876-77 and staged mythological plays at the palace in the presence of the Maharaja, Chamarajendra Wodeyar. Learning of the success of the Sanglikar troupe, the Victoria Parsi Company paid a visit to Mysore the next year and staged Indra Sabha and Gulebkavali, making them memorable with dazzling costumes, settings and curtains. These performances, with lady artists taking part on the stage, stunned the people who were used to witnessing only the Dasavatara plays. More than anything, the wonder was the curtains that rolled up and down automatically. People never understood the language of the plays but still, came in large numbers to see the miracle performed by the curtain. These visiting troupes opened the eyes of the local people to the possibilities of establishing their own stage, utilising the histrionic talent and material resources of the region.
Contribution of Palace Company to Professional Theatre in Mysore In the year 1880, Shri Chamarajendra Wodeyar instructed the students of the Royal School (attached to the palace) to try theatrical experiments, and so, they staged the play Prahlada. Though in Marathi, the play was very much relished as it was entirely different from the usual Dasavatarada ata. Later, the encouraged students staged a play in English entitled Finished Apartments. C. Rangacharlu, the then Dewan of Mysore, who witnessed the performances by the students of the Royal School, saw the advantages of developing a local stage. With the permission of the Maharaja, he instructed the court poets Basavappa Sastri, Sosale Ayya Sastri, Jayarayacharya and others, each to write out a play in Kannada. An early and fruitful result was the Kannada rendering of Sakuntala by Basavappa Sastri. The Dewan, himself a scholar in Sanskrit was very happy at the translation and soon the play was rehearsed with artists drawn from the Royal school.1 It was carefully rehearsed under the supervision of the Head-master B. Mallappa (checking up the pronunciation of words and also acting), Asthana Vidwan Sadasivarao and Subbanna (training the artists in Music) and R. Raghunatharao (general supervision of production). The troupe was called Sakuntala Karnataka Natak Sabha as it was the first troupe to stage the Kannada version of the immortal play of Kalidasa.2 After rigorous rehearsals, the play was first staged in the Palace in November, 1881, and the talented troupe consisting of Lakshmipati Sastri (Sakuntala ), M. D. Subbanna (Dusyanta), Giribhattara Tammayya (Kanva) and Devaraj Urs (Vidusaka) was richly honoured for its triumphant success. The show was put up for the public in the specially erected stage at Kalyani Maidan in December 1881. People for the first time saw the marvel of a Kannada play in such dazzling settings and costume. The miracle was performed by the rolling-up curtain in the same way as it did on the Parse stage. This great success inspired the troupe to move to Bangalore to stage public shows early in 1882. The Palace Company earned a great reputation, and as a token of gratitude to the King, who was responsible to bring it into being, the troupe re-named itself as Sri Chamarajendra Kamatak Nataka Sabha in 1882.
On the instructions of the Maharaja who desired that well known English plays also should be translated into Kannada. There were a lot of things happening in the Kannada theatre circuit. The main roles like Shurasena in Shurasena Charitre, Ramavarma in Ramavarma-Lilavati and Aswathama in Venisamhara were played by Certain Ramarao, and roles like Dushyanta, Udayana and Manmatha by M. D. Subbanna while the talented Lakshmipati Sastri played the leading female roles.
In the year 1884, Bidarada Krishnappa, a prominent court musician was put in charge of rehearsals, and H. Lingaraja Urs, the Darbar Bhakshi, in charge of general administration. Shri Krishnappa collected the cream of the talent available in Mysore, and in 1889, secured the services of Mandyam Rangacharya who was already well known as a great actor, Puttari Sastri who later excelled himself in humorous roles and also Janjuti Seshagirirao, a well trained musician having considerable histrionic ability. This talented group, guided by Bidarada Krishnappa, marked the inauguration of the golden era of the professional stage in Mysore.
The greatest of royal gifts to the theatre of Karnataka was a series of Kannada plays starting with Sakuntala. The year 1880 marked the age of translation in Mysore and from then, at the royal command, learned pundits of the Court set themselves at the task of rendering into Kannada, well known Sanskrit and English plays. Many a Sanskrit scholar who was not initially connected with the palace like Bellave Narahari Sastri, Tirumala Srinivasa Iyengar, Panyam Sundara Sastri and N. Ananthanarayana Sastri, took the trend and contributed to the treasure of Kannada dramatic literature.
The theatre was then firmly established in Mysore essentially by the interest and encouragement given to it by the Maharaja Sri Chamarajendra Wodeyar. Later, the dismissal of Palace Company actually adversely affected the theatrical circle of the state. Disbanded artists joined together under the leadership of N. Subbanna, a veteran actor of the Palace Company and revived the Sakuntala Karnataka Nataka Sabha, late in 1917. Old plays were again picked up, rehearsed by the re-shuffled troupe and were staged with success in Bengaluru and Bellary. The troupe returned to Mysore in 1918 and went defunct owing to disagreement among its members. The frustrated Subbanna and B. Rachappa "retired" from the stage, but within a year, in 1919, they were harnessed again by their admiring friends who started a new troupe under the title Sri Chamundeswari Karnataka Nataka Sabha.
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