Monday, June 1, 2009

ಮಾನವ ಜಾತಿ ತಾನೊಂದೆ ವಲಂ (ಕುಲಂ)

All through the last week and yesterday i was hearing in the radio about a sound and light show in lal bagh on 31 may and 1 June . Though yesterday, the 31 of may was a Sunday, i could not make it since i was held up with some office work. It turned out to be a blessing in disguise, since it poured heavily and i was told the show was cut short. But today i made sure that i don't miss it.

"ಮಾನವ ಜಾತಿ ತಾನೊಂದೆ ವಲಂ (ಕುಲಂ)" meaning entire humanity is one was told by Adikavi pampa, a well known writer in Kannada in the 10 century A.D. The sound and light show was based on this theme. The idea was to show that the caste system is a futile institution. The entire show was about all the great men so far who have fought against the caste system. It starts from Gunadya to mathunga to harischandra to Basavanna and goes upto Ambedkar , Dr. Radhakrishna to Ranga rao.

The rain gods thankfully kept away and the entire show was outstanding. It was performed by over 300 artists on one stage. All the artists were between 15 to 30 years of age and all were from socially disadvantaged sections of the society.

Pampa was not the first to speak against the caste system or about social stratification. There were many before him. The prominent among them was Gauthama Buddha. As a matter of fact, even Buddha features in this program.

All in all, it was a quick journey through social history of India from the days of gunadya till Radhakrishna and Ranga rao (he was a brahmin who aced all odds to educate his servant's children who were dalits and eventually saw one of them becoming an IAS officer).

To add to the excitement was simply breathtaking percussion music which was played every now and then. Listening to this sound will take one to the memories of Pooram in kerala. Of course in pooram there will be hundreds of drum players and the sound level there is not comparable to what was there here. The amplifiers gave a kind of pooram effect.

The story starts from Gunadya who was denied a chance to tell his story to the king just because he belonged to the out caste. Then the story moves on to others of the age. It then proceeds to the dwapara yuga where similar treatment is meted out to karna and Ekalavya. Then it comes to closer in history to the likes of Kanakadasa, Purandara dasa, Basavanna and Akkamahadevi. In fact the entire show is a narration of the story of this great men by a group of ladies who are abstract characters. They will be talking about the cultural setting and confrontation of these men with the social milieu of their respective age.

For me the most punching line of the show was from the character Purandara dasa. He enters the stage with words "kabbu donkadarenu sihiyo donke vittala" direct translation of this to English is very difficult. A crude meaning for this is what if the sugarcane is blunt, can sweetness ever be blunt?. Actually the song goes like, "Pushpa donkadarenu Gandha donke vittala, Akalu donkadarenu halu donke vittala, naanu holayanadarenu naama holeya vittala". Crudely put, this means "What if the flower is blunt, can fragrance be blunt, what if cow is blunt, can milk be blunt, what if i am an out-caste, can soul(or god) be out caste?

The show goes on to show the protests by mahatma Ghandi, Dr. Ambedkar and others. After the story of every great man, a group of young girls come on stage singing the song "Manava jati thanode valam".

The show ends up with a superb round or percussion followed by the complete dance by the entire troupe of 300+ artists to the tune of "Manava Jati thanonde valam". The final song sequence is a treat for art lovers

The show really did manage to give out a message and it was powerful too by the way it was enacted. There was a very interesting dialogue in the show. One lady asks the other (both of them are abstract characters), after so much work by these great man, why is that the institution of caste system still prevails in India? to that the other lady responds, caste system is like skin, it keeps coming back every time you peel it. At that moment i told to myself that, the argument is stupid.

Even though i am born and brought up in orthodox brahmin family, i have never witnessed excesses of caste system. I have spent all my life so far in Bangalore which has grown phenomenally cosmopolitan in the last four to five years. So i could not gauge the gravity of the dialogue between the ladies.

The play ended with huge applause. One could make out from the reaction and ovation of the crowd that they really enjoyed it and its definitely true. It was really excellent. So the writing was on the Wall. The clear theme of the show was to show the unity of the community and futility of stratifying institutions in the society.

After the play was over, i started walking back to the west gate. On the way there was a pay and use rest room. I decided to ease myself and then take the ride back home. What was in store?(don't panic read on).

The door of the rest room was open. I just stepped inside and saw three men having their supper in the urinal chamber. I was kind of taken aback. What a pity. They were sitting on the floor of the urinal block to have supper.

It was a bad felling (not because i could not ease myself, it was not an emergency anyways). I had just seen a play where the message was clearly about equity. If not anything, i think our society can afford a better place for these people to atleast have their supper. I took a ride back home with mixed feelings. I don't know what to conclude.

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