I haven’t come across anyone who has described in detail the services rendered to Kannada literature by the doyen of drama, Nāṭaka Śiromaṇi A V Varadacharya. The plays that he produced never saw publication – i.e. they were never printed as books. Words are inadequate to describe the charm of his scripts, songs, and poems. I used to marvel when I would hear how flawless, rich with emotions, and brilliant his plays were.
I never had the fortune of meeting and conversing with Varadacharya. Neither did I see him at close quarters. I was one among the thousands who were part of the audience, experiencing the magic of his art from afar and being lost in it.
Two or three of his close friends, who knew him intimately, were my friends too. I remember them speaking about Varadacharya, in preliminary terms. That Varadacharya was an extraordinary person became steadfast in my mind, thanks also to the accolades given to him by such friends.
I have watched just three or four of Varadacharya’s plays. Prahlāda-caritre twice or thrice, Manmatha-vijaya twice, Sāraṅgadhara-caritre once, and probably Śākuntala once – that’s about it. And all this, fifty or fifty-five years ago.
I recollect having watched Prahlāda-caritre at the theatre near Tulasithota. During those days I lived on Fourth Street, Chamarajpet. Advocate M G Varadacharya used to live in the house opposite to mine. He was a dear friend. He passed away in 1919 – fifty years have passed since but my grief today is as acute as it was then. M G Varadacharya was a rasika (connoisseur), an expert in literature, a powerful orator whose eloquent speech was rich in valour and vigour; he was generous and magnanimous. He had immense admiration and respect for A V Varadacharya’s art of drama. We enjoyed watching Prahlāda-caritre together at the theatre in Tulasithota. It was a popular play. People would throng the theatre. Ten or fifteen days after watching the play, one day I visited a friend’s house. About ten or twelve of my friends were sitting down playing a game of cards. Five or six of them were singing non-stop, songs from this play.
Near Kichchetty’s Choultry
The other time I saw Prahlāda-caritre as well as Manmatha-vijaya was in the drama house near Kichchetty’s Choultry. The choultry used to be in today’s Gandhinagar, in the northern part. Our new-found patriotism has been to erase the past. ‘Kichchetty’ is a corrupt version of ‘Krishna Shetty’ – Krishnashetty—Kittishetty—Kichchetty. Krishna Shetty was a dharma-abiding man. He had built the choultry. He lived in a time that did not have the facilities of railways or hotels. He undertook the philanthropic act of constructing this choultry for the benefit of people who came with their cargo, from the regions of Hindupur, Tumkur, and Chikkaballapur. With the progress of time, it fell into the jaws of neglect. It could have been used for a different social purpose, thus rejuvenating Krishna Shetty’s work of charity. At least his name could have been retained. If today’s generation obliterates the legacy of the yesteryears, will the same fate not be theirs over time? Let that be. Thanks to Varadacharya, at least for a period of time, Krishna Shetty’s name intermittently cropped up in people’s memory.
During the time Varadacharya produced plays, there was one person who was the jewel of the theatre; I can never forget him. His name was Narasimha Iyengar. His elder brother Anantarama Iyengar was a partner in the textile business with Rao Bahadur B K Garudacharya, who gained renown as the city’s mayor.
Narasimha Iyengar had a majestic build. He was a tall man with a rich brown skin tone. His dressing was immaculate and in the latest style. He wore a turban in the Punjabi style. He also used to wear a hat sometimes. He spoke smilingly with everyone. A most energetic man, he always radiating enthusiasm; he was carefree and friendly. He had no part to play in the drama. Just looking at him was a joy. An extremely good-natured, kind soul; he would resolve any quarrels or troubles that arose. He would receive influential officers when they arrived. Such a friendly, smiling, immaculately dressed, and good looking individual is a jewel in an assembly.
Art is Beyond Language
During those years, A Rangaswamy Iyengar of the famous The Hindu newspaper of Madras would come to Bangalore to spend the summers. His abode used to be at Chamarajpet – at the residence of his nephew C R Srinivasan (who managed The Swadesamitran, a Tamil newspaper). Rangaswamy Iyengar was particularly enthusiastic about Varadacharya’s plays. He used to come to my house and take me along with him. Rangaswamy Iyengar was a scholar and had gained proficiency in Sanskrit and music.
Rangaswamy Iyengar was a Tamilian. He did not know Kannada. Even so, with no desire for an interpreter, without exception, he would follow and understand the context of the play. The principles hidden in this tale are relevant to our context today:
1. The plot (Prahlāda, Manmatha) is familiar to the Tamilians as it is to Kannadigas.
2. In the case of Kannada words, the Tamil people are acquainted with them as related words.
3. In the case of Sanskrit words, the language nears the pan-India range and hence easy for non-Kannadigas to follow.
4. Carnatic music is common to both Kannadigas and Tamilians.
Just as India needs a collective mindset beyond jāti and varṇa, one can say that we need literature and culture that transcends language. Through Varadacharya’s plays, Tamil-Kannada friendship developed and strengthened.
To be concluded...
This is the first part of a two-part English translation of the nineteenth chapter of D V Gundappa’s Jnapakachitrashaale – Vol. 2 – Kalopasakaru. Thanks to Śatāvadhāni Dr. R Ganesh reviewing the translation. Thanks to Arjun Bharadwaj for his help with the footnotes. Edited by Hari Ravikumar.
 The story of Prahlāda, a great devotee of Viṣṇu.
 Triumph of Manmatha, the deity of love.
 The story of Sāraṅgadhara, son of Raja Raja Narendra.
 The story of Śakuntala and Duṣyanta.
 This was once a popular park in South Bangalore.
 An old and traditional residential colony in South Bangalore.
 A ‘choultry’ is a resting house for pilgrims and travellers. It is known variously as ‘catra,’ ‘satram,’ or ‘dharmaśālā.’ These resting places typically offered place to sit, rooms for stay, food, and water; often financed by a charitable institutions, the services were either free or at a nominal cost.
 Busy neighbourhood in Central Bangalore with several narrow lanes, particularly known as a commercial area.
 Rao Bahadur ‘Lokasevasakta’ B K Garudacharya was the first municipal chairman of Bangalore and one of the founding members of Mysore Bank. He was a great philanthropist who established the Tulasithota Prasanna Krishnaswamy Temple and a free hostel in the temple premises.