THE BIRTH OF BHAGAVATA MELA
In the history of Indian music three kinds of dramas are discernible.
They are namely: nataka, nrtya nataka, and geya nataka. Nrtya natakas
are earlier than geya natakas and adhere strictly to the Natya Sastra
Even during the rule of Cholas in Tamil Nadu, especially
Thanjavur, geya natakams and sadir were a regular feature in the temples
and Royal Court during festivities. It is believed that these
performances were mostly of grand operas. Such performances and the
performers were patronised by the kings.
From the 9th Century AD when marked development and growth of
regional languages took place, the Sanskrit theatre tradition too was
getting adopted to regional languages. An excellent example of one such
work is Jayadeva's "Gita Govindam". Came into being as a result of
Bhakti Movement to counter the milieu, it occupies a key position in the
history of both music and dance that led to the flowering of a
classical musical dance-dramas in the local languages, in different
parts of the country. Yakshaganas of Karnataka, Kuchipudi Bhagavata Mela
natakams of Andhra Pradesh, Koodiyattam of Kerala, Ariya Koothu,
Bhagavata Mela and Kuravanji natakas of Tamil Nadu stand an axiom.
Yakshaganas, Bhagavata Mela and Kuravanji natakams are nrtya natakas.
The Yakshaganas and Kuravanji natakas happen to be popular varieties,
while the Bhagavata Mela nataka is a refined classical dance drama.
The Yakshaganas form a priceless part of the legacies that the
Nayak rulers of Thanjavur had bequeathed to their successors, the
Marathas. If Raghunatha Nayak (1600-1634 A.D) inaugurated the golden era
of Telugu learning and literature in Thanjavur, it was during the
period of Vijayaraghava Nayak (1634-1673 A.D) that it received fresh
impetus and developed new features of its own, which consequently led to
the amazing growth of Yakshagana literature.
The Maratha Rajas not only took to the Telugu language but
themselves acquired remarkable degree of proficiency in composing and
became reputed authors of a large number of literatures in Telugu. Like
Nayaks, Maratha Rajas too patronised poets and scholars in Telugu
language by donating free gifts of land, property and founding colonies
for establishing scholarly families.
According to Madurakavita of Telugu literature, the language,
metre and sentiment are "Desi" and are characterised by music and dance
elements, and are enacted before an audience from which developed, later
on, the refined musical plays. And Bhagavata Mela falls in this form of
The tradition of Bhagavata Mela natakams of Tamil Nadu employed
the art of music and dance in rich flavour using themes from "Srimad
Bhagavatam" and other "Puranams" to extol the principle of Bhakti. To
maintain the purity of purpose, only men called "Bhagavatulu",
Bhagavatar", participated in this art and thus the tradition came to be
known as "Bhagavata Mela". Obviously, the Bhagavata Mela natakams are
considered a cultus and therefore, are performed only in the propylaeum
or within the precinct of temples, even today.
Thus the Bhagavata Mela tradition took roots in the Tamil
country, especially in the then Chola mandalam, during the early part of
the 16th Century AD. But no vestiges are found to establish that the
tradition of Bhagavata Mela of Tamil country is of Andhra origin.