Journal of Arts & Ideas, no. 16 (Jan-Mar 1988) p. 33.


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Preparing for Krishna

QRustom Bharucha

To the silent, protesting voices

of hundreds of gurus, actors, dancers, musicians, make-up artists, greenroom attendants, who have shaped Krishnattam over the centuries,

but who remain unnamed, forgotten.

When you enter a mango orchard do you count the leaves, the twigs and the branches of the trees? Do you examine the colour of the fruits and compare their sizes? Or do you eat the mangoes?

Swami Vivekananda believed that it was more useful to eat the mangoes. 'Leave this counting of leaves and twigs and notetaking to others,' he advised in Bhakti Yoga. If you want to be a Bhakta, it is not at all necessary for you to know whether Krishna was bom in Mathura or in Vraja, what he was doing, or just the exact date on which he pronounced the teachings of the Gita. You only require iofeel the craving for the beautiful lessons of duty and love in the Gita. All the other particulars about it and its author are for the enjoyment of the learned. Let them have what they desire. Say 'Shantih, Shantih* to their learned controversies, and let us 'eat the mangoes'.

In this essay, I would like to do precisely that: I want to taste Krishnattam through my savouring of its performance in words. I want to share my experience of Krishna's play, not to reconstruct it for learned' purposes, but to reflect on the erotics of performance. By 'erotics' I mean the texture and grain of a performance,

This essay is based on a first-hand experience of Krishnattam at the Gumvayur temple in Kerala between March-April 1987. Throughout my trip, my research was guided by a dear friend and mentor, Sri LS. Rajagopalan, who introduced me to the unpublished English translation of Krishnagithi by the late Sri V. Subramaniam lyer. It was through Sri RajagopaWs interpretive abilities that I had access to some original sources both through texts and meetings with traditional scholars like Pandit K.P. Narayan Pisharoti.

In Cumvayur, I was guided by Sri P.C.C. Elayath, the superintendent of the Krishnattam troupe, who made it possible for me to see both the performances and the performers. I was particularly privileged to question the gurus on matters relating to their tradition. To all these guides and friends, I offer my deepest gratitude, not only for their generous hospitality but for their loving insights that brought me doser to Krishna.


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