Nauka Charitram is one of the three geya nataka-s or musical
plays written by Tyagaraja, for which the music also was composed by him. First
published in 1870, it is in chaste Telugu. An one-act play, it
is classified as yakshagana by some critics. It is also referred to variously
as a sangeeta nataka, keertanapadya roopaka, praakrta nataka and an opera.
Tyagaraja himself called it simply a katha.
Nauka Charitram consists of 21 daruvu-s, interspersed with 51 prose passages; 47 poems in metre; and a Sanskrit verse. [Daruvu is the Telugu word for dhruva. Bharata has mentioned five dhruva-s in Natya Sastra). There is enough evidence to show that Tyagaraja, in creating this work, was influenced by a Marathi work of the same name written by one Anandatanaya (1650- 1707). The Marathi work has been given two other names in manuscripts, namely, Nauka Nirupanam and Nauka Nayanam. However, the influence is limited to the content, On the other hand, it is clear Tyagaraja was so inspired by Melattur Venkatarama Sastry's Bhagavata Mela dance-dramas in regard to structure, that he labelled all the 21 compositions in his Nauka Charitram as daruvu-s. It is equally interesting to find that he has assigned specific raga-s to all the poems and prose passages in his work, as is the case in the Bhagavata Mela nataka-s. Though we do not find the commonly used pravesika daruvu in this work, we find different kinds of other daruvu-s.
Nauka Charitram is an excellent piece of literature. Tyagaraja has written it in strict accordance with the rules of prosody and poetics. He has started the work with invocations, a dedication and a phalasruti. The first six poems are all kandam-s, a metre used frequently in both the Bhagavata Mela and Kuchipudi dance-dramas. [A kandam, read like a poem in the first two lines and then sung rhythmically in the last two lines, is called a kandaartham, which is again a frequently used item in both these traditions of dancedrama). Interestingly Tyagaraja has composed all the six kandam-s in Nata raga, adhering to the tradition expressed in the aphorism 'Adi Nata, antya Surati'.
The first four of the six poems voice salutations to Vinayaka, Saraswati, Guru and good poets; the fifth dedicates the work to Sree Rama; and the sixth describes the phalasruti.
Normally a single phalasruti is found at the end of any work, but Nauka Charitram has two— one in the beginning, to wit in the sixth poem which is in Telugu, and the other at the end in Sanskrit. In the Telugu poem set to Nata, Tyagaraja says that whoever reads the work will be blessed with long life, follow the good path, and have good progeny and wealth. In the Sankrit verse, set to Surati, he says:
Tyagaraja kritaam punya kathaam saadhu manoharaam .Ye srunvanti naraah lokey teshaam Krishnah praseedati.
That is: those human beings who listen to the holy, good and
captivating story written by Tyagaraja, will be blessed by Krishna.
While the earlier phalasruti promises mundane benefits, the latter one invokes the blessings of Lord Krishna. This suggests that Tyagaraja expected a difference in the before and after states of mind of the readers. After these preliminaries, Tyagaraja gives a summary of the story followed by the actual presentation of the story itself. The story line of the play is as follows: One day some women of the cowherd community take a boat ride with Krishna on the river Yamuna. As they cavort with him, they become overly conscious of their beauty and exhibit arrogance and pride. To teach them a lesson Krishna creates a storm as well as a hole in the bottom of the boat. 1998 Panicking, the gopi-s plead with Krishna to save them and surrender to him. At this, Krishna rescues them.
This seemingly simple story of a boat excursion has a parallel theme of deep import, for Nauka Charitram is an allegorical tale: Human beings suffer on account of ignorance and illusion, for their vision is blinded by ego; but, when they surrender to the Lord, they are rescued from the ocean of samsara.
Prof. P. Sambamoorthy, a pioneering scholar, first published Tyagaraja's Nauka Charitram in 1939, with the original Telugu text, accompanied by transliteration and meaning in Tamil, and notation, again in Tamil. It was reprinted with slight additions in 1962 and again in 1984. We find variations in the notation given in other publications, as well as in the manuscripts available, but it is Sambamoorthy's version that is widely followed. The best source available today is also the latest: Y. Bhagavati's doctoral dissertation on the work published in 1995 by the Sarvani Sangeetha Sabha, Chennai. It is an exhaustive book dealing with almost every aspect of Nauka Charitram, and highly commendable, although it has a few minor mistakes.
MR. B.V.S.S. MANI