Harikadha Kalakshepam is a composite art. It is in a sense, a mono drama. It corresponds to the kirtan of North India.
In addition to kirtanas in Sanskrit and other languages, one can hear in this religious discourse to the accompaniment of music, certain distinctive musical forms. The most important of them is the Nirupanaam. This is a short song, set in a crisp, attractive tune. The sahitya is in a simple style and relates to a specific theme or episode in the story taken up for discourse. There are many delightful nirupanams in Telugu which deserve to be widely known and learnt.
Merattur Venkatarama Sastri and Muvvalur Sabhapati Ayyar (the author of Telugu padas), have composed a number of beautiful nirupanams for many charitrams (stories).
The latter’s talents were of a high order and earned for him the title of Chinna Tyagaraja.
The musical construction of a nirupanam is very simple. Its tune is attractive. It has no sangatis. It has the sections – Pallavi, and Anupallavi. Sometimes it has a Charanam.
With the emergence of Kalakshepam as a concert form, a number of nirupanams relating to the different episodes in Puranas came to be composed. The upagayakas who commanded an extensive repertoire of nirupanas and who had good voices and were able to sing alapanas in a polished manner were in great demand.
Panchapadi (5 padas or devotional songs) is the collective name given to the invocatory songs sung at the commencement of a kalakshepam. In addition to Aryas, Slokas, Padyas, Viruttams, Abhangas, Doharas, Ovis and Namavalis, the following forms also figure in the type of concert: Savaayi, Khadga, Laavani, Saaki and DIndi. Tillanas are also sung in Kalakshepams to create an atmosphere of liveliness and to alert people who are half-asleep.
Requisites of a Bhagavatar:
The ideal Bhagavatar i.e., performer of Katha Kalakshepam should possess the following 18 (Ashta-dasa) Lakshanas:
- An attractive and a commanding personality; and a Prasanna Mukha.
- A sound bhasha jnanam inclusive of knowledge of Sanskrit, Tamil, Telugu, Kannada and Marathi.
- Fine powers of exposition (pravachanam)
- A sound knowledge of sacred lore in Sanskrit and vernaculars.
- Knowledge of the psychology of audience and ability to adjust his delivery according to their receptive capacities.
- A good sense of humour. (A witty speaker who maintains dignity is always liked by people)
- Ability to establish contact with the audience and also ability to keep the audience interested, by narrating appropriate upakathas (side stories).
- Ability to maintain a proper proportion in the katha. He should not waste the time of the audience over unnecessary and stale upakathas. Nor should he tire them with wearisome and long introductions and references to contemporary events of a trifling nature.
- A good memory and ability to give apt quotations from the classics. This often serves to raise the cultural tone and intellectual level of the discourse.
- Fine powers at story telling.
- Capacity to appeal to people of various grades of intellectual level in the audience.
- Possession of a dynamic scholarship and a continuous desire to enrich his knowledge and repertoire.
- A fine and pleasant singing voice and a speaking voice. Must possess Vaak DhaaTi.
- A sound knowledge of music and Bharata sastra.
- A large repertoire of nirupanams and songs of the great composers and ability to sing portions of them at apt places in the story.
- A sound knowledge of raga and rasa.
- Possession of lokaanubhava. Without transgressing limits, he may give his racy and intelligent comments on current happenings.
- Ability to give apt comparisons and use appropriate similes and metaphors.
During his discourse he must wear the prescribed orthodox dress, enjoined by custom. He must put on the gowri sankha Rudraksha mala or the tulasi mani mala round his neck.
A chastening influence is felt when people listen to Kalakshepams by Bhagavatars who possess all the above or atleast a substantial number of those qualifications. The Kalakshepam provides entertainment and elevates the listener spiritually. It is an instrument of mass education.