-V.S. Ramakrishna, Kushalnagar

(Translated from the collection of articles in Kodavattakk, published by Kodava Samaj, Ponnampet, on the occasion of the 125th Birth Anniversary of Haradas Appacha Kavi, 1994)


It can rightly be said that Haradas Appacha Kavi, the great poet of Kodagu gained enlightenment due to his life of absolute devotion. During his tenure in Bhagamandala as a temple dministrator, he was engaged in devotional duties, worship of goddess Kavery, bathing in the holy waters of Kavery, and donating alms to the poor.  It is believed that he always had the bountiful blessings of both Mother Kavery and sage Agastya.

Mother Kavery fed her favourite child Appacha, her sacred breast milk thereby giving him the gift of writing skills and sacred knowledge. Thus he became well known as ‘Adi-Kavi’ or the first poet of Kodagu. He went on to enrich Kodagu’s culture and literature, traditions and values, standing strong, like an unshakeable anchor. Because of this, today, the people of Kodagu lovingly refer to him as ‘Shakespeare of Kodagu’, and ‘Kodagu’s Kalidasa’.

Uniqueness of the Kavi:

Not only was the Kavi spiritually inclined himself, but through his plays also made it a point to spread the light of devotion and worship in all directions wherever he went. He equipped himself adequately with the knowledge of the ancient epics and puranas. He was highly influenced by the lifestyle of the ancient sages and saints. Thus, having taken his inspiration from the puranas, he created his plays, that too in Kodavattakk, a difficult feat that no one had ever undertaken before. His plays are enjoyed not only by Kodavas but also by anyone who has a strong inclination towards literature.

It is said that devotees would feel overwhelmingly immersed in pure Bhakti listening to his songs, which he himself composed. The Kavi wrote his first play “Yayati Rajanda Nataka’ or ‘King Yayati’ in 1908. That same year he wrote ‘Savitri Nataka’ and ‘Subramanya Nataka’. In 1916 the Nataka Mandali was established that toured not only through Kodagu but also through neighbouring taluks of Periyapattana and Hunsur under the guidance of the Kavi.

In 1918 the Kavi resigned his job and decided to dedicate his life towards his passion: theatre, arts and  literature. That same year he composed the ‘Kavery nataka’.  Thereafter the Company toured through  Puttur and Mangalore. In 1936, the Kavi who had dedicated his life to culture, tradition and theatre, also composed his autobiography.

A great person with divine talent, Apacha completed his mission on earth successfully and joined the heavenly abode on 21st November 1944.

Theatre Arts:

What are the essential tools to successfully create theatre?  Plot, actors, costume, make-up, stage, electricity, lighting, curtains etc. Musical instruments and a team of expert musicians, green room, audience area, are the important factors. With limited resources, the poet used these multiple factors effectively in order to get his act up on the stage successfully.

Those days the Kavi did not have access to luxurious lighting systems as we have today. A gas lamp was the only solution. The actors had to don crowns, armor, and other ornaments as per the requirement of the characters in the play. Even for the female characters they had to procure Saris, and ornaments from accommodative neighbours and friends. Thus, the Kavi became an expert at organizing and putting up plays on stage.

Kavery Nataka:

The plot ofthe Kavery Nataka is from the Kavery purana. In the days when Lord Vishnu donned the Avatar of Mohini,Adishkati donned the avatar of Lopamudre the daughter of Brahma. Later she was known as Kaveri, the adopted daughter of sage Kavera who was performing a strong penance at the Brahmagiri hill at that time.Sage Agastya happened to see Kaveri, and was spellbound by her beauty, married Kavery (and kept her safe in his sacred urn), but one day she cleverly slipped out of his kamandalu and continued her journey tobring prosperity to the land and its people.

The Kavery Nataka is an excellent example of Appacha Kavi’s talent in his use of words and vocabulary. The rhythmic intonations and alliterations and metre in the Kannada verses have been adopted artistically in the Kodavattakk language by Appacha.

For e.g.

Kamaleye Kapile Kalyaaniye
Kumudaa devi kauberi Kaveryye
Vimaleye vishweshwariye
Brhramaraambike polath ee jagathna sugath
(O Goddess, bring prosperity to this world!)

Having adapted the Carnatic classical style to the Kodavattakk language, he not only scripted odavattakk songs but also trained his actors to sing in ragas like Kalyani, Ketara, durbaa Kharhara Priya, HindustaniMukhari etc. For example, the verses in his plays were introduced thus: Ketara raag – sung like the popular song- ‘Ambike suga maad ee jagakk’.

His dramatic entourage consisted of primary characters like Narayana, Mohini, Brahma, Lopamudre (Kavery), Agastya etc which ensured an entertaining show. There were also secondary characters such as King’s messengers, Mantri, Devasharma, Brahmins, Indra and Sujyoti.  Also present are characters like Kembatti (low-class man), Chitragupta, Yama etc.

In a humorous scene, a Tulu Brahmin speaks in Tulu, a Kannada Brahmin speaks in Kannada and a Tamil Brahmin speaks in Tamil. This play with five acts will not only entertain, but provide the viewer, listener and reader of the play with an immense insight into the true potential of Appacha Kavi’s literary talent. The uniqueness of his plays is that the sutradhaara and the nati (devi/actress) will first introduce the plot of the story before the beginning of the play.

Sri Subramanya Nataka:

In the Purana, once when Sri Subramanya Swamy (Kumara Swamy) was sitting in his abode at Kailasa, the heavenly messenger Narada comes to him with a proposition to take an avatar on Earth. Kumaraswamy descends to Earth and finds Sura Sena, a beautiful woman, deep in penance. On learning of her desire to marry him, he assures her that if she is reborn as the daughter of Shivayogi, he will concede to marry her.

Thus, reborn as Lavali, Shivayogi’s daughter, she was adopted by King Dhanapti and raised in his palace. When she came of age, she learned from Narada that she is to be married to Subramanya.She undertook a severe penance to please him. Kumaraswamy appears as an old man in order to test her loyalty.Lavali rebukes the old man and resists all attempts by him to seduce her. Meanwhile, Lord Ganapati, in the form of a huge elephant, scares her. Unable to escape, and finding no other way, she ran to the old man for help. Realizing that the old man is indeed lord Subramanya, they have a grand gandharva wedding, and live happily on earth for several years before joining Lord Igguttappa at the Padi Igguttappa temple. This story also incorporates the story of Igguttappa and his brothers and his sister who came to Kodagu from Kerala.

The primary characters in this story are Subramanya (Kumaraswamy), Sura Sena (Lavali), Ganapati (Elephant God) and Narada. Secondary characters are Raja, Rani, Sakhi, Vyadha, and the messenger. There are also animal characters like Bearand Jackal as well as sages and saints (rishi muni parameshwara). Like Kavery Nataka, Subramanya Nataka too has beautiful examples of Apacha's musical prowess, rhythm and metre, dialogues, humor, sutradhara/nati(devi) etc.

Yayati Nataka

The plot for the Yayati Natakahas been adopted from the epic Mahabharata and provokes a deeper meaningful thought. Devayani is the daughter of the Shukracharya, the guru of the asuras.Sharmishta is the daughter of the asura king Vrishaparva. The two girls are good friends. One day they wandered to a well for a bath. After bath, Sharmishta mistakenly wears Devayani’s clothes lying by the side of the well. Devayani scolds Sharmsishta in anger and the latter retorts with more anger. In a fit of rage, SharmishtapushesDevayani into the well and goes away.

King Yayati on his way during a hunt hears Devayani’s tearful cries coming from the well. On seeing her he extends his left hand to help her out of the well. She grabs his hand with her right hand and emerges from the well. Because he gave her his left hand she insists that according to the ancient customs, he should wed her following the gandharva rituals. Yayati, quoting his Kshatriya descent, refuses to marry the daughter of a Brahmin. But Devayani remains stubborn on her stand that he must marry her.

Devayani informs her father about her desire and her predicament. She also calls Sharmishta’s father, theasura king Vrishaparva and threatens to curse him for the crime his daughter has committed. Vrishaprava agrees to give away his daughter to Devayani to serve as her dasi/maidservant.

One fine day, when Sharmishta was serving Devayani, King Yayati happens to come that way. Though he married Devayani out of fear for her father’s curse, Yayati’s gaze was fixed on beautiful Sharmishta. Without Devayani’s knowledge, he marries Sharmishta and manages to keep his two wives apart. As years passed by, Sharmishta gave birth to three sons and Devayani to two.

Learning about the second marriage, Shukracharya, enraged at Yayati’s act of adultery curses him with instant old age! The only antidote to the curse granted to him was if one of his sons would take on his old age, Yayati could continue to be young. When none of his other sons came forward, his youngest son Puru decided to help his father. And by doing so, he instantly became an old man. Yayati, ecstatic with his new found youth, roamed the world with his two wives enjoying all the worldly pleasures and satisfying all his desires and finally returned home. Puru regained his youth once again. Crowning Puru as King, Yayati decided to go into Vanaprasthashram taking his two wives with him.

This story being so mystical lends itself a Shakespearean aura to it.

Sub plots: Appacha Kavi’s plays are littered with several humorous sub plots that make the plays very entertaining. The character of the messenger, unable to look after his 16 sons is struggling at work. Kallappa (one who drinks ‘Kall’/ toddy), Bangyappa (one who smokes bangi ? ) and Jawan (peone) Hussain Khan are seated at the office. A farmer comes to the office and they ask him to pay tax. The farmer requests more ‘time’ (in English). The officer in charge, shouting menacingly quotes “that cess” (in English) and “this cess” (in English) and demands more money for ‘time’ extension. Not only that, he ‘orders’(in English) that on occasion of his daughter’s wedding, the farmer bring him special rice for the pattas(Brahmins), vegetables, liquor etc. Similarly the story of Kumbalachari Brahmin is also very interesting.

In one scene, Sharmishta’s Sakhi says, ‘During our times, the girls in the family would seek the blessings of the elders by touching their feet. Today, these fashionable women, hold hands with boys and shake their hands; Oh the modern ways of the women today! This Sharmishta too, has taken to the modern ways! She gives out ‘handshakes’ (in English) saying “How are you getting on dear?” She even does “goodmaani” (colloquial pronunciation of good morning).’ This shows the mixing of puranas with modernity.

Like the other plays, this play too has all the artistic elements like musical interludes, poetry-drama-acting etc.

Savitri Nataka

When the daughter of Madra King Ashwapati comes of age, she decides that she will find her groom herself. Thus Savitri finds Satyavan in the forest. King Dyumatsena of Salva Kingdom, blind, and having lost his kingdom and possessions in battle, retires to the forest in exile. Savitri takes a liking for Satyavan, Dyumatsena’s only son, and expresses her desire to marry him. Belonging to different castes, Satyavan at first refuses her offer, but with Savitri’s insistence, he agrees to marry her.

But, Narada warns them that Satyavan is destined to die in a year’s time. Not heeding the divine messenger’s words, they get married with the consent of their parents and live happily, serving their elderly parents. One day, Satyavan and Savitri go to the forest.

Suddenly, Yama, the God of death appears in his mighty form and captures Satyavan using his rope.  Satyavan breathes his last. As Yama retires, Savitri follows him. No amount of persuasion would make Savitri turn back. Yama even shouted at her at the top of his voice, yet Savitri did not fret. Impressed by her devotion and love to her husband, Yama grants her three boons.  Her wishes were 1. Her father in law gets his eyesight back 2. Regain all their lost land 3. That her father begets sons and 4. That she too begets sons.

Yama, says“Astu” and grants her all her wishes and thereby gets trapped by his own words. Satyavan comes back to life. Thus Savitri with her pativrata devotion and true love brings her dead husband back to life.

The kodiyaal present during the banana tree cutting ceremony at a kodava wedding, the village people, ummachi, nonachi, tabli, aruva, mangalakaara, all characters from a normal kodava village, are depicted here. Just like in the other plays, sutradhara, nati, poems with rhythmic metre, songs in Kodavattakk, acting, music etc have been very beautifully peformed.

Appacha Kavi’s devotional song: Raag Ketara. Ambike suga maad ee jagakk

(To be sung like: Paadakekkalu mangalam ||Chandrachooda Vinutheramaa)

Kaaveramme, O Goddess, O mother, Please protect us
Protect me, lead me unto the right path, O goddess, O mother!