PERFORMANCE AND PATRONAGE
Introduction to Part 1—
Performance and Patronage
Our study of Banaras begins here by looking at a variety of performance genres enacted in the public spaces of that urban site. In many respects, collective activities in public spaces constitute the heart of shared urban cultural experience (see map 4). Analysis of such events thus enables us to examine more closely the relationship between the interests of the lower classes and castes and those of the intermediary "corporations" of power-holding elite in Banaras. Moreover, these activities form the intersection between the concerns and values of individuals (and expressions of the communities they accordingly construct) and the larger movements and events treated as "history." Thus Part 1 provides a logical connection point linking, functionally as well as analytically, the discussions that follow of the constituent identities of Banarsis (Part 2) and the larger Indian world within which Banaras fits (Part 3).
Analysis of these performance genres enables us to see how values are perpetuated to upper and lower castes, as well as to examine the incorporative aspects of collective activities. The significance of such activities for our purposes is suggested by a preliminary study conducted by Linda Hess, in which she analyzed with her informants several of the basic values inculcated through the performance of Tulsidas's Ramcharitmanas[*] in the Ramlila[*] . The extent to which cultural norms can be transmitted and shared in a society with large numbers of illiterate people is particularly important to keep in mind. As Hess has noted, if you are a resident of a north Indian town,
you don't have to be able to read to know Tulsidas. Your grandmother will tell you Ram's stories, your neighborhood will have a Ramlila that dramatizes the epic every year, a visiting vyas [specialist in Ramcharitmanas
discourse] will lecture with gusto, chanting verses and pouring forth commentary with a skill that combines a preacher's drama and fluency with a professor's urbanity and wit [see chapters 1 and 4]. Singers will perform beautiful Tulsi-bhajan s, lyric verses by the poet set to music in every imaginable style. Images of Ram, Sita, and Hanuman will live in your house, as familiar and unregarded as your uncles and cousins, yet at times brought forth for special veneration. If you do read, you are likely to be a reader of the Manas , whether occasionally or as a daily practice.
Indeed, the characters of the narrative are held up as exemplary models of appropriate behavior: Sita[*] for young girls, Ram[*] for boys. Moreover, as Hess notes, "Whatever your age or sex, you are likely to have an archetype in your head of social and political perfection—the perfect state ruled by the perfect leader—and that archetype will be called ramraj[*] " (Hess 1987:2–3).
Another important point made by Hess in this essay relates to the tension inherent in Tulsidas's original text as well as the performances that emanate from it. This tension connects what Hess calls "bhakti and orthodoxy." By bhakti she means the "grass-roots movement, protesting against religious formalism and priestly domination" that insisted "on the accessibility of God to everyone [and stressed] the importance of inner experience" in the Hindi region between the fifteenth and the seventeenth century. As Hess notes, this "leveling tendency" was accompanied also by the rise of vernacular literature (see chapter 6 for the implications of this pattern). By contrast, Tulsidas's writing also includes an "allegiance to the old Brahmanical social order," stressing hierarchical relationships, including the reverence to be paid to Brahmins, and recognition of the lowliness of Shudras (such as Ahirs, the subject groups of chapters 3 and 4), and the subservience of women. As Hess notes, "these two sides of Tulsidas—egalitarian and hierarchical, liberal and conservative—can be traced in intricate and sometimes baffling detail throughout the Ramcharitmanas " (Hess 1987:172).
While the two elements in contention are clearly present in the text, it does appear (from Hess's and Lutgendorf's work) that a "tilt" in the interpretation emerged as bhakti changed from a countercultural phenomenon to one underpinning general devotional religion. This tilt made bhakti more consistent with orthodoxy (thus de-emphasizing social equality of women and untouchables). The historical timing of the tilt in interpretation of Tulsidas's text seems especially significant when placed next to the emergence of the triumvirate of power holders in Banaras who espoused Hindu high culture. Their patronage of Manas[*] activities—from Ramlila[*] to the katha[*] discussed by Lutgendorf—becomes explicable particularly when seen not only as an auspicious act of charity, but also as an investment in a form of didactic instruction for the lower-caste residents of the city dominated by these power holders.
The collective activities expressing these values tended to be of three types: public performances, collective ceremonies, and collective protests. If arranged in order according to degree of direct participation by the public, the first type would be public performances , by which we mean such activities as street theatre, musical performances, even the recitation and exegesis of religious texts available for "consumption" by the general public. These form the subject matter of this part. As the following essays make clear, audiences for these public performances were not passive: as consumers, they shaped the style and value content of street theatre (chapter 2); they interacted with the speaker (chapter 1); they functioned as final arbiters in deciding who had "won" a musical contest (chapter 3). Participants thus played an active role in shaping these public-space performances, and we therefore may characterize such activities as "collective."
At the workshop, contributors discussed other genres that, like those analyzed here, fit within this first category. Perhaps most influential was the form of public debate that emerged around the advent of Western missionaries. Evolving from informal confrontations—often staged on street corners, pitching those who preached the gospel against local defenders of South Asian sects and belief systems—these became highly ritualized, well-publicized formal performances by charismatic spokesmen for each religious tradition (Christian, Hindu [usually Arya Samaji[*] ], Muslim). Analyses of these confrontations suggest not only that it was important that all religions be represented, but that each speaker paid virtually no attention to the others, directing his remarks not at a general audience but at his own supporters. As a consequence, each participant could assert that he had "won." In the process, the genre became an important elaboration of a formally constituted mode of conflict, in which participants followed commonly accepted rules and castigated the "Other" located outside a religiously constructed community, through a rhetoric of abuse that was shared as well.
Collective ceremony , the second type of public activity, is the genre in which collective experience is the most regular, sustained, and repetitive. As such, it tends to set the patterns, and often the symbolic rhetoric or vocabulary, for all public activities. Processions, especially,
presented forms of collective ceremony that brought together in public spaces a congeries of people who may have mobilized on the basis of very different kinds of identities, particularly those of muhalla[*] , caste, and occupation, or voluntary associational ties. Once assembled, however, the liminality of participating in shared public ceremonials created a temporary, shared identity or sense of community. Moreover, by extension, the very space in which these ceremonials occurred took on sacredness and thus gained important new connotations. The dynamic was captured by an observer of Agra's Juljhulni festival (honoring Krishna) in the late 1880s:
When the chief street is reached all is changed: the aspect of the houses with roofs, windows and balconies crowded with spectators, animates the worshippers, the throng in the streets becomes denser, the enthusiasm increases, the shouts of the multitude round the car are answered by the crowds on the houses, and as amidst the triumphant clamour of voices the great mass of human beings passes up the street, the organizers of the festival feel that their god has been honored, and that their management has been a success.
The third type, collective protest , resembles ceremonial actions in many important respects. Once again, people were generally mobilized on the basis of some shared origin, occupation, or neighborhood. Their actions underscored, through their choice of targets, the issues that had prompted their unease. Such actions also enacted symbolic statements expressing a perception of shared values. Moreover, the construction of identity that resulted from such action was one that frequently defined the actors together, against an "Other." At the same time, the use of public space constituted an important statement about their centrality in urban life.
Keeping in mind this broader context of collective action in public spaces, then, the following three chapters examine several different kinds of performance genres. While their audiences ranged from middle to lower classes, and their patterns of development differed to some extent, taken together they provide a clearer picture than we have had
hitherto of the nature of public performance and of the relationship between these and larger historical movements.
Seen against the backdrops provided by Parts 2 and 3, these three essays also suggest the outlines of a historical process of great import; it will be useful to provide a brief sketch of the process here. An initial expansion of collective activities in public spaces can be documented for urban north India in the late nineteenth century (see Freitag 1989; N. Kumar 1984). Particularly for performance genres, this increased activity reflected both the involvement of a wide range of urban dwellers and shifts in patronage supporting that expansion. The pattern of changing patronage is explored in more detail below.
As chapter 2 suggests, however, the very success of these expanded activities led, in turn, to increasing uneasiness among the "corporation" of leaders in Banaras about the nature of many of the activities occurring in the city's public spaces. Eventually, for reasons suggested below, this led to a separation between activities sponsored and attended by the educated elite and those of the lower classes/castes. This process, begun as early as the 1880s, culminated in the late 1920s and early 1930s. Reformism—possessing both religious and "secular" attributes—played a key role in this separation. In view of the separation, it is particularly interesting to find that at least since the 1950s another period of expansion has been under way, one that has affected the activities examined in Part 2, including annual temple shringar s[*] , the proliferation of neighborhood shrines, and the expansion of neighborhood-sponsored versions of public ceremonials (see chapter 4). Although this process may have developed apace, if separately, for both middle- and lower-class activities, most of the evidence presented in this volume relates to the expansion of activities supported by the lower classes. More evidence is needed, but it may be that this process actually documents a movement only among lower-class groups, in which they are staking out cultural power in a world discretely their own.
Audience and Patrons
The key to understanding this collective activity in public spaces, particularly that of performance genres, has been the changing nature of patronage. Originally such patronage fell within the purview and privilege of the royal courts and those involved in courtly culture. Related to the shifts traced below, during the eighteenth century merchants began "purchasing the perquisites of kingship and local lordship," including that of patronage (Bayly 1983:194–95). Not until the 1850s did mercantile patronage in other parts of U.P. completely replace courtly consumption; and, as we have seen, this pattern was mitigated in Ba-
naras by the continued presence of the courtly culture fostered by the Maharaja of Banaras.
Nevertheless, one result of the process, even in Banaras, was an increase in activities expressing what we have called "Hindu merchant" values in public venues—activities that were perceived by their sponsors as reflecting orthodox religious beliefs, and that included such examples as Manas[*] recitation and exegesis (katha[*] ), or Ramlila[*] performances. Through a kind of ripple effect, however, even these orthodox efforts indirectly patronized activities more popular in appeal: biraha[*] performers were incorporated into annual renewal ceremonies for temples (shringar s[*] ); street theatre formed a prelude or followed Ramlila enactments; the originator of the biraha style even performed at katha events. When we speak of urban culture as it was expressed through collective activities in public spaces, then, we are referring to a culture that encompassed overlapping (though not identical) values, world views, venues, and occasions for both literate elite and lower-class patrons.
The impact of the expansion of print technology may also have figured importantly in this cultural overlap. Both Hansen and Lutgendorf note the influence of printed versions of their subject matter: Hansen suggests that street performances whetted the appetite of viewers, who would then purchase printed copies of the plays they had witnessed. In turn, we may assume, the existence of such printed copies could have encouraged local troupes to perform these same versions and thus perpetuate the messages contained therein. Lutgendorf, too, sees the accessibility of the printed Ramcharitmanas[*] as important in making katha a popular audience activity. (For further implications of the expansion of print technology, see also chapter 6 on linguistic definition.) Perhaps the most important aspect of the interplay between oral performance and these new, easily accessible printed versions, has been explicated by Roger Chartier:
Cultural consumption, whether popular or not, is at the same time a form of production, which creates ways of using that cannot be limited to the intentions of those who produce. This perspective gives a central place to the "art of doing" and "doing with," as Michel de Certeau wrote, and it gives cultural consumption a new status—it is not longer seen as passive or dependent and submissive but as creative, and it sometimes resists suggested or imposed models. [See the discussion in the introduction to Part 2 on the Ahir interpretation of Tulsidas.] (Chartier 1984:234)
Thus the expansion of patronage, from the courtier to the merchant, carried with it implications for a further expansion, from the merchant to the lower-class members of the audience.
This second wave of expansion of public-venue activities, which we have dated in these essays to the 1920s and 1930s, can be traced primarily to the influence of reformism. Motivated by Hindu merchant values, a vernacularly literate elite (supported by the merchant "corporation") worked simultaneously to purify public performances and to withdraw from those they deemed inappropriate (see N. Kumar 1984; chapter 7 in this volume). This self-conscious redesign of urban ceremonial life had a profound impact. In some cases it led to a sanitizing of popular festivals. The Nakkatayya festival staged by the Chaitganj muhalla[*] in Banaras provides an important case in point: focused around the Ramayana story in which the nose of a demoness is cut off, the Nakkatayya, by including a procession representing the forces of the demoness, had become a festival of reversal. Participants dressed and behaved in ways that, in all other contexts of urban life, would have been deemed unacceptable. This license to rowdiness doubtless contributed to the wide appeal of the festival, until the reformers purged it of its more "offensive" elements and, at least temporarily, substituted nationalist motifs for those deemed unacceptable (N. Kumar 1984:267 et seq.). Other festivals simply disappeared, either through periodic cancellations (see chapter 7) or through permanent withdrawal of elite patronage.
While some public ceremonials continue to be shared events (the Ramnagar Ramlila[*] being the most celebrated example), the impact of the reformist impulse led, once more, to a shift of the burden of patronage, this time to the lower classes themselves. In this case, the very organizational forms responsible for sustaining the public expressions of lower-class culture gained new significance. That is, the structures supporting leisure and work patterns—such as occupational chaudhari s[*] (headmen), muhalla organization and akhara s[*] —also have taken on the tasks related to organizing collective ceremonials. It is they who often canvass for small contributions, they who organize each unit that goes to make up a citywide procession. Closer to the audience as well as to participants, these structures are able to respond much more directly to lower-class values and enthusiasms. (During the workshop discussion, contributors noted recent innovations in staging—for instance, the incorporation of strings of electric lights to adorn street-corner performance pavilions, and the public use of VCRs, often in lieu of live performances.)
The nature of neighborhood in providing an organizational base will be discussed in greater detail in Part 2. Another important structure, the timing of the emergence of akhara s, as a significant form of sustenance and patronage for popular activities, fits the process of shifting patronage described above. This shift has been documented especially
for classical music and medicine: "The great scholars and artists, particularly those of Delhi, had depended on patronage from the royal court and from nobles associated with it. With the end of this patronage they adopted new strategies to sustain themselves. . . . In the second half of the nineteenth century, at exactly the same time and for the same reasons that the gharanas of musicians became important, physicians focused more centrally on their origins and their past" (B. Metcalf 1986:301). By encompassing new organizational forms within the structure expressed in familial terms and the teacher-disciple relationship, akhara s[*] could lay claim to a legitimacy for what would otherwise have been perceived as striking innovation. Further exploration of the significance of akhara[*] organization will be pursued in Part 2. It is worth noting here, however, that akhara organization, while not limited to lower-class activities, nevertheless provided an alternative mode for organizing activities frequently supported by the lower classes. It also provided an alternative avenue of mobility and form of patron-client bond between such participants and the leaders of the akhara s.
This examination of performance genres suggests one final point: the integral role played by competition in the structuring and presentation of these various activities. A "conflict mode" of expression forms the central dynamic underlying the methods of mobilization, processes of identity formation, and constructions of community that provided form and substance to collective activities. Hansen and Marcus both suggest the ways in which competition among akhara s animated the performers and shaped the rhetoric by which they appealed to the gods for assistance as they did artistic "battle."
Perhaps most important, competition functioned to bring the audience, as participants, into the confrontation—both to pronounce the "winners" and to express symbolically their positions in the competition through the very act of attendance. Thus popular patronage became a conscious, public act taken in a competitive context to further one's own, chosen group against an "Other." Workshop participants felt that the extent to which this formulation of relationships affected perceptions can be gauged by the adversarial relationship expressed in the "court scene" vignette that opens chapter 6. Since, in other literary contexts contemporaneous with that scene, Urdu and Hindi were not seen as so profoundly antithetical, the "conflict mode" that developed
in urban cultural activities helps to explain this style of exchange between representatives of such constructed communities.
While competition provided the basic motivating force underlying these public performances, we should not lose sight of the fact that all players—including the audience—nevertheless shared much in common. Their very understanding of the rules by which competition should be expressed is not the least of these shared perceptions. (This may also help delineate the ways in which Hindu power-holders and Muslim lower-class groups participated in the same cultural world, since their understandings of the signification and organizational modes would have overlapped.)
That public performances expressed shared concepts thus makes all the more significant the increasing separation of middle- and lower-class culture, which ultimately developed by the 1930s. These implications are examined in greater detail in Part 3. For the moment, we turn to the performances themselves for what they can tell us about the constituent elements of urban culture, the connections between middle-and lower-class activities, the nature of voluntary social organization, and the significance of these for larger historical events.
Ram's[*] Story in Shiva's City:
Public Arenas and Private Patronage
Infinite is the Lord, endless his story.
All good people in diverse ways tell and listen to it.
The captivating deeds of Ramchandra
Cannot be sung even in ten million aeons!
RAMCHARITMANAS[*] , 1.140.5,6
The setting is a mandap[*] , a brightly canopied enclosure for festive observances, erected in a small square in the heart of Banaras (see fig. 2). The ground within is spread with cotton rugs on which hundreds of people are seated, men and women on opposite sides of a central aisle. At the far end of the enclosure stands a lofty dais draped with rich brocades, on which an oversized book, covered with flowers, is enshrined on an ornate stand. A dignified looking man, immaculately clad in a crisply pleated dhoti and silk kurta[*] , reverences and then mounts the dais, whereupon he is garlanded by another man. Closing his eyes, he composes himself in a brief meditation and then begins murmuring an invocation. He salutes Shiva, primal guru of the world and special patron of this city, Valmiki, the first singer of Ram's deeds, and Tulsidas, who brought the divine song into the language of ordinary people; he also venerates his own teacher, and Hanuman, the beneficent patron of all retellers of the Ramayan[*] . Finally he opens his eyes and begins to chant: "Sita-Ram, Hail Sita-Ram!" The crowd takes it up after him, beginning many rounds of antiphonal exchange, until the speaker senses that the proper atmosphere of devotion has been created. Then at last he begins to speak, reciting from the book that lies before him, though he never opens its petal-strewn cover. The listeners know that he has no need to read from this book, for he has studied it so deeply and internalized it so completely that he has it, as they say, "in the throat" —he has himself become its living voice. Now he invites his listeners to enter the special world of this book, an entry that may be made at any point, since the whole story is a divine revelation charged with the pro-
foundest significance. Selecting a single line, the speaker begins to muse and expand upon it; to "play" with it as a classical Indian musician might play upon a raga. But here the improvisations consist not of musical tones but of words and ideas, images and anecdotes, folk sayings, scriptural injunctions, and snatches of song from great devotional poets, all interspersed with numerous chanted quotations from the book itself. The speaker has no single theme, constructs no systematic argument; instead he evokes a succession of moods and invites his audience to savor them. His purpose is less to analyze than to celebrate, and when a fresh insight occurs to him he "digresses" to explore it.
As he performs he engages his audience in numerous ways: making a particularly striking point, he turns to certain listeners near the front of the crowd to solicit their approval and is rewarded by exclamations of delight; chanting a well-known verse from the book, he stops midway and motions for listeners to supply the last few words, evoking a rhythmic and enthusiastic response. A particularly poignant anecdote brings tears to many eyes, but these give way in the next moment to hearty laughter over an earthy recasting of the story and its divine characters. Narrating dialogue, the speaker assumes the various parts and acts them expertly, with vivid facial expressions and gestures.
The speaker's verbal tapestry envelopes the crowd for nearly an
hour, and then with expert timing he ends it with a resounding benediction: "Hail Sita's bridegroom, Ramchandra!" just as a priest appears before the dais bearing a brass lamp, which he waves in worship before the book. The listeners rise to sing a hymn in its praise, and when this concludes many come forward to place an offering on the book, to touch the speaker's feet reverently, and to receive from him a blessing of prasad[*] in the form of sacred tulsi[*] leaves from a sprig that has been resting on the book.
Performances resembling the one just described have been an important part of life in Banaras for many centuries. They are hardly unique to that city, of course, for similar forms of oral exegesis, perhaps differing in certain details or based on other texts, are found throughout much of India. But Banaras has a special connection with the "book" in the present example, the Hindi epic Ramcharitmanas[*] —commonly called the Manas[*] , or simply the Ramayan[*] (since most Hindi speakers have no direct knowledge of the older Sanskrit work by this name) and generally acknowledged as the most popular text of north Indian Hinduism—for it was in this city that Gosvami Tulsidas (1532–1623) was said to have completed his epic and to have personally initiated its public performance through katha[*] (oral exegesis) and lila[*] (dramatic enactment). During the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries the religious and political elite of Banaras enthusiastically cultivated these traditions, establishing patterns of Manas patronage and performance that were emulated in other areas of northern India. While the annual cycle of Ramlila[*] plays has been the subject of a number of studies, the rhetorical art of katha , which occurs throughout the year, has received little scholarly notice, perhaps in part because its performances are less conventionally "theatrical." Yet such programs are held in virtually every neighborhood of Banaras, and a number of largescale ones have in recent years become important events for the whole city. This chapter will outline the development of this performance tradition, giving particular emphasis to the cultural and political context of its patronage.
Origins of the Tradition
While the term katha is often understood to mean simply "a story," this translation tends to overly nominalize a word that retains a strong sense
of its verb root. In India a "story" is, first and foremost, something that is told , and the Sanskrit root kath , from which the noun is derived, means "to converse with, tell, relate, narrate, speak about, explain" (Monier-Williams 1899:247). Katha[*] might thus better be translated a "telling" or "narration"; it signifies a performance and suggests a milieu. To tell a story means that there must necessarily be someone to hear it, and in Hindu performance traditions the role of the "hearer" (shrota[*] ) is generally a participatory rather than a passive one.
The roots of katha[*] -style performance lie in ancient Brahminical traditions of teacher-disciple dialectic and oral exposition upon existing sacred text; a milieu that can be glimpsed, for example, in the teaching dialogues of the Upanishads and in the terse structure of the sutra, which often presupposes the presence of a living expounder. The development of storytelling as a form of mass entertainment, however, was first reflected in the Sanskrit epics, the traditional narrator of which was the Suta[*] , originally a charioteer and royal herald (Rocher 1985:2.1.2). While the Suta's social status appears to have been relatively low, at least in the eyes of Brahmin legalists, the "tales of wonder" with which he entertained priests and kings during breaks in sacrificial cycles came in time to be seen as powerful religious narratives, which could even claim a sanctity on a par with that of the Vedas themselves. Significantly the Mahabharata[*] provides evidence of the growing involvement of Brahmins with the epic, as its memorizers, performers, and elucidators (e.g., Mahabharata 1.1.50).
The role of the oral mediator of sacred text increased in importance with the emergence of devotional cults advocating the worship of Vishnu[*] and Shiva and offering hope of salvation to faithful devotees regardless of sex or social status. The message of this new religious movement was set in the form of the "old story" (Purana), and while its language was still the Sanskrit of the twice-born elite, its intended audience explicitly included the lower classes, women, and Shudras. To reach this largely illiterate audience, the Puranas ceaselessly advertised the merits of their own recitation and exposition, and even offered detailed directions for the staging of such performances (Bonazzoli 1983:254–80). The performer was called by a variety of names: pauranika[*] (puranic specialist), puranajna[*] ("knower" of the Puranas), vyakhyatri[*] (expounder), and vyas[*] . The latter term, denoting one who "separates" or "divides," recalls the archetypal expounder Veda-Vyas, who "divided" the one Veda into four in order to make it more readily comprehensible to the men of this Dark Age, and who was also credited with the authorship of the Mahabharata and of many of the
Puranas themselves. The puranic vyas[*] was viewed as a spiritual descendant or even temporary incarnation of Veda-Vyas (himself an avatar of Vishnu[*] ) and was privileged to speak from a vyas-pith[*] : a "seat" of honor and authority in the assembly of devotees.
This assembly too had a special designation: satsang or sant-samaj[*] —"fellowship with the good." Although such congregational expression of religious feeling must have become common quite early in the puranic period, the establishment of Muslim hegemony in northern India in the late twelfth century helped create conditions favorable to the spread of this tradition. Unlike the Vaishnava royal cults of an earlier period, devotional expression through satsang required no elaborate superstructure of temples and images that could become targets for the iconoclasm of the new rulers, and storytellers and expounders were often wandering mendicants whose activities were difficult to regulate. Moreover, the bhakti message of devotional egalitarianism made a strong appeal to those of low status and served to counter the social appeal of Islam; this factor may have encouraged the patronage of wealthy twice-born Hindus who were alarmed at the conversion of lowcaste and untouchable groups. A related development was the composition of new "scriptures" in regional languages, in order to carry a devotional message—and any appended social messages—to the widest possible audience, regardless of whether it had access to the Sanskritic education of the religious elite.
The importance of oral exposition of scripture during the sixteenth century is amply attested by the Manas[*] itself, for Tulsidas's epic, set as a series of dialogues between gods, sages, and immortal devotees, invariably characterizes itself as a katha[*] , "born, like Lakshmi, from the ocean of the saints' assembly" (Ramcharitmanas[*] 1.31.10), and it constantly admonishes its audience to "sing," "narrate," and "reverently listen to" its verses. The hagiographic tradition depicts Tulsidas himself as a kathavachak[*] ("teller" of katha ), and the poet's frequent references to himself as a "singer" of Ram's[*] praises seem to accord well with the traditional image. It is noteworthy, however, that while the Manas appears to have rapidly acquired a singular and far-flung reputation among
Vaishnava devotees and among sadhus of the Ramanandi[*] order, it does not seem to have initially won the allegiance of the religious and political elite of Banaras. Although the legends of the epic's miraculous triumph over Brahminical opposition may lack historical veracity, the process which they implicitly suggest was undoubtedly a real one: the slow and grudging acceptance by the religious elite of an epic composed in "rustic speech" and cherished by the uneducated classes and by the casteless mendicants of what was, at the time, one of the most heterodox of religious orders (Burghart 1978:124).
The Rise of Elite Patronage
The historical developments that were to lead to present-day styles of Manas[*] performance can be most clearly traced from the eighteenth century onward. The great political event of that period in northern India was the collapse of Mughal hegemony over much of the region. The rapid erosion of centralized authority which followed the death of Aurangzeb in 1707 facilitated the rise, especially in the eastern and southern Ganges valley, of a number of regional kingdoms, some of which were again under Hindu rulers.
In 1740, when Balwant Singh, the son of an ambitious local tax-farmer, assumed the title Raja of Banaras, he did so as a client of the Nawab of Awadh, who was still the paramount political power in the region, and who in turn still displayed a nominal allegiance to the weak Mughal regime at Delhi. As Bernard Cohn has pointed out, the Banaras ruler was essentially a "middle man" within a complex system in which authority was parceled out at many levels and in which the division of power was constantly being renegotiated.
The Raja's obligations to the Nawabs were the regular payment of revenue and provision of troops when requested. The Raja of Banaras at every opportunity tried to avoid fulfillment of these obligations; and on several occasions the Nawab sent troops to try to bring his subordinate to terms, if not to capture and kill him. On these occasions, Balwant Singh would retreat with his treasure and army to the jungles of Mirzapur. After a time the Nawab, distracted by similar behavior in other parts of his
state or by his intervention in imperial politics, would compromise with Balwant Singh and withdraw, at which time Balwant Singh would resume his control of the zamindari. . . . A balancing of relative weakness appears to have been central to the functioning of the system. The Nawab could not afford the complete chaos which would result from the crushing of the Raja. (Cohn 1962:315)
If the Nawab was dependent upon the Raja because no one else was capable of guaranteeing the collection of revenue in the region (even if relatively little of it actually reached the Nawab's treasury), the Raja was in a similar relationship of dependency upon and intermittent conflict with his subordinates: numerous petty rajas, jagirdars, and talukdars who likewise controlled revenue and troops and were the primary intermediaries between the Raja and the peasants (Cohn 1962:316–17).
That the Nawab of Awadh was Muslim and the Raja of Banaras, Hindu, may at times have given an ideological edge to Balwant Singh's ambitions, though we should recall that some of the Raja's most intractable enemies were Hindu petty chieftains and that the Shi'a Nawabs were often highly catholic in religious matters. What was at issue was less a matter of communal identity than of royal legitimation, for this was precisely what the Nawabs initially provided to the Banaras rulers: a legitimation that ultimately derived from the increasingly transparent premise of Mughal dominion. The Monas Rajputs of Bhadohi, for example, who were staunch rivals of Balwant Singh, held their land under an imperial grant from Shahjahan, and even after defeating them the Raja could not annex their territory until he had received the permission of the Nawab, the nominal Mughal representative in the region.
Power the Raja had, but he needed authority as well. Even though the Rajas'goal in relation to the Nawabs was a consistent one of independence, they could not afford to ignore the ground rules and had to continue to seek the sanction, even if it was ex post facto , of their superordinates, the Nawabs. (Cohn 1962:315)
The glories of the Indo-Persian cultural synthesis had long exerted a powerful influence upon the tastes of the Hindu elite in north India, but by the mid-eighteenth century the Mughal legacy must have seemed increasingly bankrupt. Delhi itself was devastatingly looted in 1739 by a Persian adventurer who carried off the legendary throne of Shahjahan. Urdu poets like Mir, who fled east to Awadh, sang of the downfall of the capital, its deserted streets and ruined bazaars (Russell and Islam 1968:19–20, 259–60). Within the century the reigning motif
of Indo-Persian culture would become one of decline and lamentation over lost glory—a theme of little appeal to ambitious kings in search of positive and victorious symbols.
I suggest that the Banaras rulers' growing involvement, in the latter part of the eighteenth century, with the Ram[*] tradition—a preoccupation which they shared with other petty Hindu kings in the region—reflected among other things their need to cultivate an explicitly Hindu symbol of royal legitimacy, and thus to achieve ideological as well as political independence from the Nawabs. In seeking to revive a Vaishnava ideal of divine kingship and harmonious but hierarchical social order, they turned not to the figure of Krishna (whose legend had, during preceding centuries of Muslim ascendancy, come to be almost exclusively focused upon a pastoral and erotic myth), but to that of Ram, whose myth had retained a strong martial, imperial, and sociopolitical dimension, expressed most clearly in the vision of Ramraj[*] , or the golden age of Ram's universal rule, and in the hero's role as exemplar of maryada[*] , a term that implied both personal dignity and social propriety. Moreover the Ram tradition's emphasis on social and political hierarchy, and on the properly deferential behavior of subjects and subordinates, could serve as chastening examples to the Rajas' rebellious underlings. That all these ideals had found expression in a brilliant vernacular epic which had already won a vast following throughout the region only enhanced the ideological utility of the tradition. Accordingly, it was to Ram and to the Manas[*] that the Rajas turned for a validating model of religiopolitical authority. The resulting trend toward elite patronage of the epic turned many courts of the period into centers of Manas performance and scholarship. Not surprisingly, the prospect of generous royal patronage had the effect of awakening greater interest in the Hindi epic among Brahmins, who began increasingly to claim the privilege of authoritatively expounding its verses.
A further motive for the Banaras kings' patronage of the Ram tradition may have been their desire to maintain amicable relations with the economically and militarily powerful Ramanandi[*] order (Burghart 1978:126, 130; Thiel-Horstmann 1985). A mobile population that was difficult to monitor, these mendicants or sadhus often traveled in armed bands, served as mercenaries in royal armies, and controlled the trade in certain commodities (Cohn 1964:175–82); given the unstable conditions of the period, aspiring kings may well have been concerned to remain on favorable terms with them. The Banaras kingdom was in relatively close proximity to three important Ramanandi centers: Chitrakut in the southwest, Janakpur in the northeast, and Ayodhya in the
northwest. It was in part through conspicuous patronage of the Ramanandis[*] —especially at the time of the Ramlila[*] festival, when thousands of sadhus were invited to set up camp in the royal city and were fed at the Raja's expense—that the Banaras rulers succeeded in turning their upstart capital, on the "impure" eastern bank of the Ganges, into a major center of pilgrimage, a move that must have conferred positive economic benefits even while it served to advertise their prestige and piety.
The troubled reign of Chait Singh (1770–1781), whose succession to the throne was disputed by the Nawab and who was eventually deposed by the British, nevertheless saw the commencement of an ambitious building project: an enormous temple with a one-hundred-foot spire visible for miles around, flanked by a vast tank and an expansive walled garden containing several small pavilions. The temple's iconography shows a deliberate blending of Vaishnava and Shaiva motifs, and its construction may be interpreted as a major ideological statement on the part of the fledgling dynasty, which was concerned with its status in the eyes of the conservative Shaiva Brahmins across the river. Possibly intended as the principal temple of a new royal capital, the structure eventually acquired the name Sumeru, after the mythical world-mountain, and came to be utilized as one of the settings for the royal Ramlila pageant.
The greatest flowering of Manas[*] patronage at the Banaras court began during the reign of Balwant Singh's grandson, Udit Narayan Singh (1796–1835). By his time, real political power in the region had passed to the East India Company, but this fact only reminds us that the symbols used to legitimate authority can serve equally well to compensate for its loss. Moreover, the imposition of de facto British rule brought a respite from the military rivalries which had preoccupied earlier kings, and freed Odita Narayan to devote his time and energy to Manas patronage, to which he was in any case strongly inclined. During his long reign, Manas manuscripts were assiduously collected and copied at the court, and the most eminent ramayani s[*] (experts on the epic) were invited to expound before the Maharaja, or present ingenious resolutions to shanka s[*] ("doubts" or problems) concerning the text. The king encouraged some of these scholars to produce written
tika s[*] ("commentaries"), which would preserve their profound interpretations. One of those who enjoyed Udit Narayan's patronage, Raghunath Das "Sindhi," wrote that the Raja in fact sponsored three tika s, only one of which, Raghunath's own Manas-dipika[*] ("Lamp of the Manas[*] "), was in written form. The other two "commentaries" were a magnificently illuminated manuscript of the epic, and the local Ramlila[*] itself, which was expanded into a month-long pageant, and for which Udit Narayan transformed his capital (now dubbed Ramnagar—"Ram's city") into a vast outdoor set (Avasthi 1979:57).
The fact that "commentary" was understood to refer to more than merely written works was characteristic of the Manas tradition, and even the textual tika s produced during this period were usually derivative of the oral performance milieu. Such works often developed from the kharra[*] , or "rough notes," made by expounders in the margins of their Manas manuscripts to serve as reminders to themselves in performance. Some were deliberately enigmatic, such as Manas-mayank[*] ("Moon of the Manas "), composed by Shivlal Pathak (c. 1756–1820), a protégé of Raja Gopal Saran Singh of Dumrao and a frequent guest at Ramnagar. Pathak's "commentary" was in the form of kut[*] , or "riddling" verses, and depended upon his own verbal explanations; the key to understanding it is said to have been lost at his death (Sharan 1938:912). Indeed some of the most famous ramayani s[*] are said to have refused all requests to "reduce" their interpretations to writing. The legendary Ramgulam Dvivedi of Mirzapur (fl. c. 1800–1830) was believed to have obtained his extraordinary oratorical gifts and profound insights into the epic as a boon from Hanuman, who expressly forbade him ever to compose a written tika[*] (B. P. Singh 1957:429).
Anjaninandan Sharan, a scholarly sadhu of Ayodhya who wrote a brief but valuable history of the Manas-katha[*] tradition, has recorded a story concerning Ramgulam that is richly suggestive of the virtuosity and prestige of expounders during this period. It is said that the Maharaja of Rewa, Vishvanath Singh (1789–1854), a friend and contemporary of Udit, Narayan and himself the author of a commentary on Tulsi's song-cycle Vinay patrika[*] , once met Ramgulam during the Kumbh Mela festival at Allahabad. When the great ramayani[*] graciously offered to speak on any topic of the king's choosing, the Raja immediately quoted the first line of the famous nam[*]vandana[*] ("Praise of the Name") in the first canto of the Manas , stating that he had great curiosity concerning its meaning: "I venerate Ram[*] , the name of Raghubar, / the cause of fire, the sun, and the moon" (1.19.1). Ramgulam agreed to ex-
pound this verse on the following afternoon from 3:00 to 6:00 P.M . Then, according to Sharan,
[he] went on for twenty-two days, with ever new insights, expounding this one line; and whatever interpretation he would put forth on one day, he would demolish the next, saying it was not right. Finally on the twenty-third day the Raja, filled with humility, said, "You are indeed a fathomless ocean, and I am only a householder with all sorts of worries on my head. It is difficult for me to stay on here any longer. . . . " Then with much praise he requested leave to depart and returned to Rewa. (1938:921)
Mention must also be made of the sadhu known as Kashthajihva Swami ("wooden-tongued" swami, d. c. 1855), who was a younger contemporary of Raja Odita Narayan and the guru of his son. An accomplished poet with a unique style, he composed more than fifteen hundred songs, several hundred of which concern problems in the Manas[*] . He was closely involved in the development of the Ramnagar Ramlila[*] , the performance script of which still contains a number of his songs. At the Raja's request he wrote a short Manas commentary, Ramayan[*] paricharya[*] ("service of the Ramayan "), which the king then expanded with his own Parishishta[*] ("appendix"). These texts, however, like Shivlal Pathak's "riddling" verses, were written in an obscure style; to clarify them, Baba Hariharprasad, a nephew of the Raja, who had become a Ramanandi[*] ascetic, composed an additional commentary entitled Prakash[*] ("illumination"). The composite tika[*] with its grand title was published in 1896 and was held in high regard by expounders of the period.
The reign of Ishvariprasad Narayan Singh (1835–1889) has been called "the golden age of the Manas " (S. Chaube 1976, 3:121), for under his patronage the Ramnagar court became the preeminent seat of Manas patronage and scholarship. The king's legendary ramayani[*]sat-sang s were graced by the "nine jewels" of the court—the most eminent Manas scholars of the day, including Kashthajihva Swami, Munshi Chhakkan Lal (principal pupil of Ramgulam Dvivedi), and Vandan Pathak, who was famed for his ingenious and even playful interpretations. The king also sponsored a major revision of the royal Ramlila,
allegedly under the direction of the Banarsi writer Harishchandra, who modernized and expanded the dialogues and set the production in the form in which it was to gain all-India fame (Avasthi 1979:81–88).
Although I have emphasized royal sponsorship, it should be noted that Manas[*] patronage was not confined to the court, for the king's fascination with the epic was shared by the nobles and wealthy landowners of the area. According to Vibhuti Narayan Singh, the present titular Maharaja, rajas and zamindars during the nineteenth century "vied with one another" in their efforts to promote the epic, and intimate knowledge of the text was regarded as a mark of cultural sophistication as well as piety. The Manas acquired the status not merely of a sacred book but of a cultural epic; hundreds of its verses entered popular speech as aphorisms, and its stanzas were set to seasonal melodies like kajli[*] and chaiti[*] and performed by urban and rural folksingers. By 1880 F. S. Growse would observe that Tulsi's epic "is in everyone's hands, from the court to the cottage, and is read, or heard, and appreciated alike by every class of the Hindu community, whether high or low, rich or poor, young or old" (Growse 1887:lv). And while their Indologist colleagues devoted themselves to the study of the Sanskrit classics, British administrators and missionaries, out of expedience, studied the Manas . George Grierson was to recall: "Half a century ago, an old missionary said to me that no one could hope to understand the natives of Upper India till he had mastered every line that Tulsidas had written. I have since learned to know how right he was."
The Book in Print
Other developments during the nineteenth century significantly altered the pattern of Manas patronage and would in time affect even the structure of performances. One was the introduction of print technology, an innovation first sponsored by the British but quickly adopted by Indians. Among the first printed versions of the Manas was an 1810 edition published in Calcutta, the city in which, partly due to the presence and patronage of the East India Company's College of Fort William, popular publishing in Hindi as well as Bengali had its start. Thereafter a steadily increasing number of both lithographed and typeset editions documents the westward expansion of publishing, and especially the dramatic rise of Hindi publishing in Banaras beginning at about mid-
century. The greatest expansion in Manas[*] printing occurred after 1860, however; during the next two decades at least seventy different editions of the epic appeared from publishing houses large and small, representing virtually every moderate-sized urban center in north India. Especially notable are the Gurumukhi script editions which began appearing from Delhi and Lahore after 1870, versions with Bengali commentaries that were printed in Calcutta in the 1880s, and Marathi and Gujarati editions issued from Bombay and Ahmedabad beginning in the 1890s. Clearly the literate audience for the Manas was growing during the latter part of the century and was spreading far beyond the traditional heartland of the epic and of its Awadhi dialect. Notable too is the steadily increasing size of the editions: whereas those published prior to 1870 had averaged four to five hundred pages and offered only the epic text, those issued in succeeding decades more typically ran to a thousand pages and included prose tika s[*] , glossaries of archaic words, ritual instructions, mahatmya s[*] (eulogies of the text), explanations of mythological allusions, and biographies of Tulsidas—all designed to serve the interests of a literate but geographically and culturally heterogeneous audience. The authors of the commentaries offered in these expanded editions were, like the editors of the earlier generation of unannotated texts, traditional scholars known for their oral exposition of the epic; the reputations of such famous ramayani s[*] as Raghunath Das of Banaras and Jvalaprasad Mishra of Moradabad were greatly enhanced by their association with such popular editions as those of Naval Kishor Press of Lucknow and Shri Venkateshvar Steam Press of Bombay (cf. numerous editions of Das 1873 and Mishra 1906).
The advent of mass printing eliminated the expensive and time-consuming process of scribal manuscript copying and made literature available to the middle classes. One consequence of this development was the fact that literate persons acquired the potential for a kind of participation in sacred literature that had formerly been the domain of a specialist elite. Books could be "read" of course, for private enjoyment and edification, but equally important, sacred books could now also be recited by nonspecialists. The meritorious activity of daily path[*] (recitation), rooted in the ancient belief in the spiritual efficacy of the sacred word, was greatly facilitated by the ready availability of revered texts. By the end of the nineteeth century, many bazaar editions of the Manas had begun to be annotated according to regular schemes of nine- and thirty-day recitation (navah[ *]parayan[*] and mas[*]parayan ) and in-
cluded directions for accompanying rituals as well as descriptions of the spiritual and material benefits to be expected thereform. Daily Manas[*] recitation became part of the household ritual of countless pious families, and one result was an audience that was both more knowledgeable with respect to the text and more discriminating with respect to oral exposition. The resolution of "doubts" (shanka s[*] ) concerning Manas passages became an important duty of expounders, some of whom published shankavali s[*] (collections of common textual problems with their "solutions"); these were among the tools utilized in the training of aspiring ramayani s[*] .
Two related developments also need mention here. The first, of special relevance to the Banaras region, was the rise of the Hindi language movement during the late nineteenth and the early twentieth century (see chapter 6). Although most advocates of Hindi and of Devanagari script favored the use of the Khari[*] Boli[*] dialect for prose purposes, the increasing association of Hindi with Hindu communal identity led to renewed interest in bhakti poetry among the university-educated elite, and to the founding of the Nagari[*] Pracharini[*] Sabha[*] in 1893, an organization for the promotion of Hindi, which soon undertook the preparation of a "critical edition" of the Manas (Dvivedi 1903).
The second and contemporaneous development was the rise of what came to be known as the Sanatan[*] Dharm movement—the self-identification of mainstream, socially conservative Hindus as adherents of an "eternal religion." During the second half of the nineteenth century, popular Hindu beliefs and practices came under increasing criticism both from Christian missionaries and from reform movements like the Arya Samaj[*] and the Brahmo Samaj. There was a strong element of reaction in the Sanatani[*] stance, and a tendency for self-definition in largely negative terms: that is, those who were not Aryas or Brahmos, Christians or Westernizers, who did not advocate widow remarriage, initiation of untouchables, abandonment of image-worship, and so forth. But one of the more positive identifications to which traditionalists could point was faith in the Manas , the most accessible of scriptures and mainstream text par excellence—a bhakti work that still preached reverence for cows and Brahmins, claimed to be in accord with a comfortably undefined "Veda," offered a satisfying synthesis of Vaishnavism and Shaivism, and in the minds of many devotees, stood at one and the same time for fervent devotional egalitarianism, the
maintenance of the social status quo, and even a kind of nationalism in that it countered the British colonial ethos with an idealized vision of a powerful and harmonious Hindu state. Sanatani[*] leaders, whose rhetoric was increasingly colored both by anti-British and by anti-Muslim sentiments, came to view the Hindi epic as an inspired response to a Dark Age particularly characterized by "foreign" domination of India.
Undoubtedly the most prominent Sanatani spokesman in the early twentieth century was the Allahabad Brahmin Madanmohan Malaviya, who led the campaign for the establishment of a Hindu University in Banaras (Bayly 1975:215–17). A tireless advocate of cow protection and Devanagiri script, Malaviya also issued a call for Manas[*]prachar[*] —the promulgation of Tulsi's epic:
Blessed are they who read or listen to Gosvami Tulsidas-ji's Manas-Ramayan[*] . . . . But even more blessed are those people who print beautiful and inexpensive editions of the Manas and place them in the hands of the very poorest people, thus doing them priceless service. . . . At present Manas-katha[*] is going on in many towns and villages. But wherever it is not, it should begin, and its holy teachings should be ever more widely promulgated. (Poddar 1938a:52).
One milestone for the Sanatani movement in the 1920s was the founding of the Gita Press of Gorakhpur, publisher of the influential monthly Kalyan[*] (Auspiciousness). The Press answered Malaviya's call by churning out low-priced Manas editions of every size and description, sponsored contests to test children's knowledge of Manas verses, encouraged mass recitation programs, and frequently published written exegesis by eminent ramayani s[*] like Jayramdas "Din" and Vijayanand Tripathi.
Tripathi deserves special mention, for he was the leading Manas expounder in Banaras during the mid-twentieth century. The son of a wealthy landlord, he had no need to seek outside patronage for his katha[*] , and performed daily on the broad stone terrace of his house in the Bhadaini neighborhood, not far from Tulsidas's own house at Assi Ghat. His enthusiastic listeners are said to have included both Malaviya and Bankeram Mishra, the mahant (hereditary proprietor) of the powerful Sankat[*] Mochan Temple. Tripathi was much influenced by the conservative Dasnami[*] ascetic Swami Karpatri, whose monthly magazine
Sanmarg[*] (The True Path) he edited from 1936 to 1942, and his admirers liked to emphasize that his Manas[*] interpretations were strictly in accord with vedic and shastraic precept and with the varnashram[ *] system of social hierarchy. His three-volume Vijaya[*]tika[*] on the epic was under-written by Seth Lakshminarayan Poddar, a wealthy merchant, and published by Motilal Banarsidass in 1955. Tripathi died soon afterward, but his influence continues to be felt through his many disciples, several of whom are presently among the leading Manas expounders in the city.
Changing Styles of Performance
Even from the limited data available it is possible to make certain generalizations about the style and technique of Manas exposition during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The predominant mode of performance during this period was the sequential narration in daily
installments of part or all of the Manas[*] . The special time for such katha[*] was late afternoon, from about 4:00 P.M . until the time of sandhya-puja[*] at twilight. The venue of the performance was usually a public place, such as a temple courtyard, a ghat, or the open veranda of a prosperous home. The speaker, who was usually called a kathavachak[*] or ramayani[*] , recited from a manuscript or a printed text, though of course his performance was not strictly confined to the words before him; he could elaborate upon or digress from any line of the text, and the extent and ingenuity of his improvisation was limited only by his knowledge and training. That even early-nineteenth-century performances could feature very extended exposition of single lines is suggested by the story of Ramgulam's twenty-two-day tour de force; however, systematic exposition of a single prasang (episode), kand[*] (canto), or when possible, of the complete epic seems to have been the more usual practice.
Many expounders had their own characteristic interpretive approaches for which they were famous. Baijnath Kurmi (c. 1833–1885), a literary connoisseur and a rasik bhakta (a practitioner of the mysticoerotic path of devotion to Sita-Ram), utilized the terminology of Sanskrit poetic and aesthetic theory, while the Kayasth[*] expounder Sant Unmani (c. 1830–1898), author of the commentary Manas tattva vivaran[*] (Explanation of the Essence of the Manas ), interpreted the epic from the standpoint of yoga doctrine, and his katha is said to have had special appeal for practitioners of hatha yoga (Sharan 1938:913, 918).
The economic rewards for such nitya , or "continuous" katha , were generally modest. An expounder would usually be engaged by a patron—a landlord or the mahant of a temple—who provided nominal support in the form of meals and accommodation and became the official shrota[*] , or "listener," and beneficiary of the katha , though the performances would also be open to the general public. In addition to the patron's support, the performer received the offerings in cash and kind which audience members made during the ceremonial worship at the close of each day's program. Performers were often hired on a long-term basis—for example, for an exposition of the complete epic, which might require two or more years. The ultimate completion of such an extended performance would be the occasion for a special celebration sponsored by the principal patron, who would then bestow a generous gift on the kathavachak . However, many illustrious performers are said to have had little interest in financial gain, and when, as sometimes happened, wealthy patrons rewarded their performances with
lavish gifts, they chose to offer the money for pious purposes such as the feeding of sadhus.
Daily katha[*] tended to focus closely on the narrative, and the performer might even choose to confine himself, in the praman s[*] , or "proofs," he cited for his interpretations, entirely to the Manas[*] itself, or to the other eleven works of Tulsidas, which acquired a kind of canonical status for the tradition. A common technique was to discuss each significant word in a verse in terms of its usage elsewhere in the epic. A gifted practitioner of this approach would delight his listeners by quoting line after line in which a given word was used, showing the different shades of meaning Tulsidas gave it in various contexts, and creating a sort of "oral concordance." The appeal of such exegesis for an audience that knew the Manas intimately and accepted it as the highest religious authority is suggested by the following comments made by a contemporary katha -goer at Sankat[*] Mochan Temple, where sequential exposition of the epic is still presented each afternoon:
When a man comes to hear katha on the Manas , he wants all the praman s to be from that, because that is what he knows. What is the use for him if the kathavachak[*] shows off his knowledge by quoting from here and there? It will only confuse him. In the old days they used to use the Manas only, with maybe the Vinay patrika[*] —enough! Now they like to quote this and that, Vedas and shastras.
The erudite quoting of "this and that," especially of authoritative Sanskrit texts, was a technique particularly associated with Ramkumar Mishra (c. 1850–1920), the leading expounder in Banaras at the beginning of this century, and it seems to have reflected a conscious concern among performers and audiences to demonstrate that the teachings of the Manas were in accord with—approving of and "proven" by—the Sanskritic "great tradition." A pupil of the Kayasth expounder Chhakkan Lal and a favorite of Maharaja Prabhu Narayan Singh (1889–1931), Ramkumar has been credited with developing "the brilliant and fascinating (modern) style of katha performance" (Jhingaran 1976:20). So great was his fame and so pressing the demand to hear him that Ramkumar began to travel about and give katha in various places, staying only a short time in each. An annual performance series
in Banaras became a celebrated event, attracting crowds so great that the organizers were forced to make arrangements whereby people could reserve space in advance, to ensure getting a place to sit. A two-month exposition of the whole of Sundarkand[*] (the fifth canto of the Manas[*] ) in the courtyard of Ayodhya's largest temple was said to have been such a success that other expounders in the city—a traditional center for daily katha[*] —found themselves without audiences for the duration (Sharan 1938:926–27).
In time regular "circuits" developed, frequented by other traveling expounders, who likewise began to give shorter programs. This in turn affected the economic aspects of the art; since performers were no longer maintained by an individual patron or community on a long-term basis, they began to accept set fees for their performances. The patrons of this kind of katha were drawn less from the landed aristocracy than from urban commercial classes; indeed, one observer has termed the new style "Baniya (mercantile) katha ." The underlying causes of this shift in patronage were the economic and political developments of the latter half of the nineteenth century, which precipitated the decline of the rajas and zamindars and the rise of urban mercantile communities such as the Marwaris. Like the petty Rajputs and Bhumihars of the preceding century, the "new men" of the urban corporations found themselves in possession of wealth but in need of status, a dilemma which they resolved, in part, through conspicuous patronage of religious traditions.
Under mercantile patronage, katha performances began to be held later in the evening—after 9:00 P.M ., when the bazaars and wholesale markets closed. The leisurely and informal daily katha of the late afternoon, in which the performer was assured of a regular audience and a steady if modest income, was replaced by a more elaborate form of performance, held on a few consecutive nights before large crowds, requiring more complicated arrangements such as mandap s[*] and lights, and at which the performer's talent might be rewarded with a considerable sum of money. Since the expounder—who was increasingly honored with the exalted title vyas[*] —typically had only a single hour in which to display his talents, he abandoned systematic narration in favor of extended improvisation on very small segments of the text. The chosen excerpt became the basis for a dazzling display of rhetoric and erudition, backed up by citations of numerous Sanskrit works—a practice sure to win approval from the new class of connoisseurs. Such presentations, for which the performer typically prepared extensive notes in
advance, began to resemble academic lectures or speeches, although, like narrative katha[ *] , they were still delivered extempore and were liberally interspersed with verses from the epic, which were usually sung or chanted. Storytelling survived largely in the form of anecdotes, and the term pravachan —"eloquent speech"—became the preferred label for such performances, rather than the more "story"-oriented term, katha .
A subsequent and related development was the sammelan , or "festival": a large-scale, usually urban performance, which gave audiences the opportunity to hear, in one location, a selection of the most renowned Manas[*] interpreters of the day. The first such festival in Banaras was the Sarvabhauma Ramayan[*] Sammelan (universal Ramayan festival) organized in the mid-1920s under the auspices of the Sankat[*] Mochan Temple, a shrine to Hanuman reputedly established by Tulsidas himself but which in fact rose to prominence only in this century. Additional financial backing came from Munnilal Agraval, a prominent Marwari businessman. The festival began on the evening following the full moon of Chaitra (the traditional birthday of Hanuman) and continued for three nights, with a series of vyas es[*] featured at each program. In addition to Banarsi expounders, well-known out-of-town performers were invited, their travel and lodging expenses were met, and they were given a cash dakshina[*] —the term applied to a gift to a Brahmin preceptor. The Sankat Mochan festival became an annual event, and its prestige made it an important platform for aspiring vyas es. To be invited to perform there and to make a favorable impression on the discriminating Banaras audience could represent a major break-through into a successful performance career, and some performers today still fondly recall their "debuts" there.
The same combination of Sanatani[*] leadership and mercantile financing that supported this festival was to lead in time to the mounting of even more elaborate programs, the prototype of which was the Shri[*] Ramcharitmanas[*] Navahna[*] Parayan[*] Mahayajna[*] (Great Sacrifice of The Nine-Day Recitation of Shri Ramcharitmanas ) organized in the mid-1950s at Gyan[*] Vapi[*] , in the heart of the city. The instigation for this festival came from Swami Karpatri, who had become a celebrated figure because of his vociferous denunciation of the "secular" policies of the Congress government and his founding of a political party that promised to bring back "the rule of Ram" (Weiner 1957:170–74). Financial backing came from the Marwari[*] Seva[*] Sangh, a charitable trust organized by prosperous and socially conservative merchants.
The special innovation of this annual festival was that it was organized around a nine-day ritualized recitation of the entire Manas[*] , conducted on the model of a vedic mahayajna[*] ("great sacrifice"). An auspicious hundred-and-eight Brahmins, identically clad in ochre robes, sat in long rows in a huge mandap[*] , surrounded by a circumambulatory track, and mechanically chanted the Manas for five hours each morning (see fig. 5), their voices echoing throughout much of downtown Banaras over a network of some three hundred loudspeakers. Other features included a diorama of opulently costumed clay images of Manas characters, special performances to commemorate important events such as Ram's[*] wedding and enthronement, and a climactic procession to the city's main ghat to immerse the images. The public responded warmly, and merchant families vied with one another to engage in the meritorious activity of offering refreshments and gifts to the Brahmins—each donor's name being trumpeted over the public-address sys-
tem. As in a vedic yajña , the "breaks" in the sacrifice (in this case, the evenings from 7:00 P.M . on) were devoted to storytelling, that is, katha[*] . Lesser-known or aspiring vyas es[*] were invited to speak during the early part of the evening when the crowd was still assembling, to be followed later each night by three featured performers. In certain respects, the Gyan[*] Vapi[*] festival and its many spinoffs (by 1983 more than a dozen such annual programs were being held in Banaras) have come to resemble classical concerts or Urdu mushaira s (poetry recitation festivals). As at these performances, a strict protocol is observed, with the most highly respected performers invariably appearing last, and prominent connoisseurs often not arriving until just before the most famous vyas[ *] takes his place on the dais. Dress is traditional and often opulent, the atmosphere is formal, and there is frequently an element of tension and competition among performers, especially younger ones who are still establishing their reputations. In 1982 and 1983, the Gyan Vapi and Sankat[*] Mochan festivals each paid on the order of Rs. 250 per evening to featured performers, apart from travel and lodging expenses. This is a comparatively modest dakshina[*] for a successful vyas , but these festivals compensate by the prestige and exposure they offer, and so performers are willing to accept lower fees than they might command elsewhere.
One controversial development of recent years has been the advent of women performers, a number of whom have gained considerable renown (Upadhyay 1984:16–17). Several kathavachika s[*] were trained by the Banarsi expounder Sant Chhote-ji (himself a pupil of Vijayanand Tripathi) and have begun to make careers for themselves despite the continuing opposition of some conservative males who argue that women lack the adhikar[*] (spiritual "authority") to expound the epic. Women have probably always made up an important component of the katha audience, and a recent article in a popular Hindi magazine notes:
The ironic thing is . . . that there will often be a preponderance of women among the listeners. So those who are opposed [to women expounders] are clearly saying, "Yes, of course you can listen to katha , you can recite the Manas[*] too; but you can never sit on the dais and give katha !" (Jhingaran 1976:23)
Another trend, which has developed largely since the 1960s, is the increasing vogue among wealthy patrons for private performances, often in the patrons' homes or business institutions. The sponsors of this
new form of "aristocratic" patronage include, appropriately enough, many of the "princes" of Indian industry, most notably the Birla family of Marwari industrialists, who manufacture everything from fabrics to heavy machinery and have also been conspicuous in the construction and endowment of temples and dharmshalas. The Banarsi expounder Ramkinkar Upadhyay, who is widely acclaimed as the greatest contemporary vyas[ *] , has enjoyed Birla patronage for roughly two decades, and each spring at the time of Ram[*] Navami[*] (the festival of Ram's birth), he performs for nine evenings in the huge garden of "Birla Temple" ("Lakshmi-Narayan Temple"), a marble-and-masonry colossus about a kilometer west of Connaught Place, the commercial heart of New Delhi. The prosperous looking crowd includes thousands of office workers, many of whom bring cassette recorders to tape the discourse. Just before he takes his seat on an elaborate canopied dais that resembles one of the aerial chariots seen in religious art, Ramkinkar is garlanded by the patron and official shrota[*] of the performance, the head of the Birla family and chief executive of its vast corporate empire, who is dressed for the occasion in the dhoti and kurta[*] of a pious householder.
Such munificent patronage has considerably upped the financial ante in the world of katha[*] , giving rise to the oft-heard complaints that contemporary performers "sell" their art, or that they have "turned it into a business" (Jhingaran 1976:21). But while there is a tendency among aficionados to idealize the great performers of the past for their alleged noncovetousness, many expounders readily concede that katha is indeed a profession and speak willingly and even proudly of the fees they are able to command. An ordinary vyas —a local expounder who rarely or never receives invitations from "outside" (an important criterion of success in Banaras performance circles)—may receive as little as Rs. 11 or Rs. 21 for an hour's program, but not more than Rs. 100. Some daily kathavachak s[*] still perform on a monthly stipend of only a few hundred rupees, supplemented by listeners' offerings. The middle range of performers consists of those who receive Rs. 100–300 for a performance; a considerable number of well-known vyas es[*] fall into this category, and if they perform regularly, as many of them do, their incomes may be substantial. However, the hourly fees of the highest
ranking or "All-India" expounders (so called because of their frequent invitations to perform in such distant cities as Bombay and Calcutta) are considerably higher. Shrinath Mishra of Banaras, the principal pupil of Vijayanand Tripathi, has a normal minimum fee of Rs. 500 per hour, and often receives upwards of Rs. 1,000. Ramkinkar Upadhyay is said to receive in the range of Rs. 1,500–3,000 for each talk. Given such financial incentives, the reported proliferation of performers in recent years seems understandable.
One of the most significant effects of the new style of entrepreneurial backing of Manas[ *]katha[*] has been to shift the geographical center of the art away from smaller centers like Banaras, where the springs of courtly patronage have long been dry, to such urban industrial centers as Bombay, Delhi, Kanpur, and Calcutta, where the wealthiest patrons now reside. This trend is lamented by some Banarsi aficionados, for while the city remains a major center for katha and a training ground of performers, the most renowned exponents of the Banaras-based "Tulsi lineage" (the parampara[*] , or "tradition," which traces itself back, through Vijayanand Tripathi and Ramkumar Mishra, to Ramgulam Dvivedi and ultimately to Tulsidas himself) can rarely be heard in the city these days, and indeed seldom appear even at public sammelan s, as most of their busy schedules are taken up with performances in the homes and institutions of their wealthy patrons. Expert vyas es[*] , like virtuosi of music and dance, tend to go where they are best rewarded, and when they leave, their art departs with them. This fact serves to underscore the observation that Manas katha is much more than impersonal "commentary" upon a written text: it is an individual performance art that unfolds within a specific milieu.
The art of Manas exposition is rooted in ancient Hindu traditions of oral mediation of sacred text, but it has undergone significant change during the past two centuries and is continuing to develop and change today. It is an extensive and multiform tradition, and much that has been said about it here has necessarily been in the nature of generalization, to which, in many cases, exceptions might be cited. If I have spoken of elite patronage of katha , I could point out that there are still vyas es who neither solicit nor desire lavish fees and who narrate the
epic in the humblest of settings. I have emphasized the stimulating effect of royal patronage, yet there were expounders even in the eighteenth century who, it is said, gave no importance to kings, because they recognized only one monarch: Ramchandra of Ayodhya.
Now I must hazard one more generalization and invoke the oft-used concept of "Sanskritization"—the acquisition or confirmation of status through an appeal to established standards of orthodoxy—which I suggest has been a process central to the evolution of the Manas[*] tradition. When Tulsidas boldly undertook the fashioning of a religious epic in the language of ordinary people, he presented himself as only a fourth-hand transmitter of a divine katha[*] first uttered by Shiva to Parvati, and he was careful to point out its fundamental consistency with authoritative Sanskrit scriptures. An epic which, in the charming hagiographic allegory of its attempted "suppression" by the Brahmins of Banaras at the bottom of a pile of sacred texts, irresistibly "rose up" from folk popularity to command elite recognition, the Manas became, by the eighteenth century, the text of choice for the upwardly mobile and nouveau arrivé: the vehicle of legitimation for an upstart dynasty of Bhumihar tax collectors, the solace of rising mercantile communities, and the refuge of captains of industry seeking religious merit and good public relations. On a more modest scale, it continues to serve smaller institutions in similar fashion: thus the "All-India" Manas Sammelans mounted by tiny neighborhood temples bidding for a wider clientele—oddly enough, even goddess shrines (where one might expect some more appropriate text, such as the Devi[*]bhagavatam[*] ), because "the Manas is sure to bring in a crowd!"
Even with the exodus of some of its most illustrious performers, katha remains a flourishing business in Banaras, and despite the predictable nostalgia for the past ("Back in those days you heard the real katha !"), successful contemporary performers concede that their status and fees have never been higher. People still flock to katha festivals, and middle-class devotees now exchange Ramkinkar cassettes with the same enthusiasm with which they trade film videos. Yet there is another dimension to "Sanskritization," which could affect the future of the tradition: the tendency of a new elite to reinterpret a popular tradition and attempt to make it, narrowly, its own. The example of the Ramanandi[*] sadhus may be pertinent: for several centuries they were one of the most liberal religious orders in India, accepting women, untouchables, and Muslims into their fold; but when, in the early eighteenth century,
they became desirous of royal patronage, they had to adapt themselves to a different set of rules: restrict entry to twice-born males, apply caste-based commensality practices to communal meals, and appoint only Brahmins as their mahant s (Burghart 1978:133–34; Thiel-Horstmann 1985:5).
The very existence of a brilliant Hindi Ramayan[*] —however "orthoprax" in its teachings—has remained so vexatious to some pandits that there have been repeated attempts to fabricate line-by-line Sanskrit versions and put them forth as the original "divine" Manas[*] , which Tulsidas had merely translated into vulgar speech—a "Sanskritization" so literal as perhaps to seem laughable, except that it is so doggedly implacable. Now that Tulsi's language has come to be significantly at variance with the dominant spoken dialect, the tendency to "Sanskritize" his text takes on new meaning, and in the yajña s of Swami Karpatri and his followers perhaps more than simply words are being "sacrificed." For such ceremonies, the Gita Press prints instructions (in Sanskrit!) on the correct way to go about reciting the Manas , and the assembled Brahmins go through the concocted rituals with customary expertise. The chanting of an epic which in other contexts has served as a cultural link between upper and lower classes is here transformed into a specialist activity and spectator sport, and the text, now venerated as mantra, rumbles out of three hundred loudspeakers as a kind of auspicious Muzak. In such exercises, the cultural epic that won recognition as the "Fifth Veda"—the proverbial Hindu euphemism for the scripture one actually knows and loves—seems to run the risk of becoming more like one of the original four, "recited more, but enjoyed less," as one of my informants wryly remarked. The same man complained of Swami Karpatri, "He has made our Manas into a religious book—something people chant in the morning, after a bath. But in my family we used to sing it together at bedtime, for pleasure."
ments may be related to another process: the withdrawal of the new college-educated elite from what it perceives as "backward" or "rustic" entertainment forms such as Manas[*] folk singing and Ramlila[*] pageants (N. Kumar 1984:289). Although the epic continues to retain religious status for this elite, its performance forms are increasingly "refined" to limit personal participation, or are physically removed from the public arena. Thus in its newest transformation, the lively art of katha[*] —which has flourished for centuries on the streets and squares of Banaras and has offered at times a platform for social and political commentary —seems to be becoming a sort of pious chamber music of the nouveau riche. But while this development may have significance for the future, it cannot obscure the present vitality and popularity of public katha , which continues to draw enthusiastic audiences and to remain a highly visible and (thanks to amplification) audible part of everyday life in Banaras.
The Birth of Hindi Drama in Banaras, 1868–1885
The construction of the modern literary history of India has been informed by an elitism comparable to that identified by the Subaltern school of historians in regard to Indian nationalism. Like nationalism, modern Indian literature, particularly in its origins, has been conceived as "the sum of the activities and ideas by which the Indian elite responded to the institutions, opportunities, resources, etc. generated by colonialism" (Guha 1982:2). The birth of Hindi drama in nineteenth-century Banaras affords a compelling example. In the received view, modern drama originated with Bharatendu Harishchandra, "father" of modern Hindi literature, in response to the introduction of European models and the rediscovery of a Sanskrit dramatic tradition (itself a "response" to the activities of foreign Indologists). The preexisting theatre traditions of the region are seen to have had no bearing on the nature of this event, and they have been excised from literary history.
Writing on the development of modern Hindi literature, Shri-krishna Lal declared an "absence of Hindi dramas" before Bharatendu (Lal 1965:181). Following Somnath Gupta, and before him the influential critics Shyam Sundar Das and Ramchandra Shukla, he posited reasons for this assumed absence, ranging from Muslim rulers' opposition to the dominance of bhakti poetry. Folk theatre forms, while acknowledged at least by Lal and Gupta, were not seen to have contributed to the growth of drama, being inherently "undramatic" (anatakiya[*] ). Extant Braj Bhasha dramas from the eighteenth century and earlier were regarded as poems only. These discussions make clear[*]
the wide acceptance of certain criteria of drama. A genuine dramatic text should be divided into acts and scenes, use different speech levels, and indicate entrances and exits (rules of Sanskrit drama); it should describe scenery and scene changes, develop complex characters, and build to climax (conventions of European stage); and it should not be predominantly poetic or musical or contain a self-referring narrator (as in Indian folk drama). These rules, as will become clear, were formalized by Bharatendu Harishchandra himself and were inherited together with Bharatendu's published canon of dramatic works, thus securing the "absence" of pre-Bharatendu drama and transforming it into a "problem." In the process, the popular theatre of the time was denied, lost to the pages of literary history, to the point where it is common to read, "Before Bharatendu, Hindi drama had no tradition of its own" (B. Shukla 1972:150).
My purpose in this chapter is twofold. If the value of studying popular culture, as Carlo Ginzburg suggests, lies in removing some of the silence imposed upon the nonelite groups by history, then, first, I would hope to give voice to the thriving, vital presence of popular theatre in Banaras at the time of Bharatendu's "invention" of modern drama. I have used the evidence of recently discovered play texts published in Banaras, together with historical accounts of travelers, administrators, and local informants, supplemented by my own fieldwork on present-day folk theatre, to document the popular secular theatre traditions of Banaras in about 1880. Second, I would propose that Bharatendu's drama constituted an articulated, intentioned rejection of these popular traditions. The confrontation between Bharatendu's concept of a new elite theatre and the indigenous theatre is expressed in his theoretical writings on drama, and these, together with secondary biographical and historical data, constitute the sources for the second part of the chapter.
Popular Theatre in Late-Nineteenth-Century Banaras
Theatre was an important component of popular culture in nineteenth-century Banaras. Sacred spectacles like the annual Ramlila[*] native to Banaras or the seasonal Raslilas[*] of the rasdhari s[*] from Vrindavan were interwoven into the fabric of public religious life. The secular varieties of entertainment were probably just as numerous. These ranged in complexity from the street shows of solo disguise artists (bahurupiya s[*] ), acrobats, and animal trainers, to the elaborately staged musicals of the Parsi theatrical companies. Most of the forms found in
Banaras were common to the region extending from the Punjab to Bihar. A shared system of cultural codes and symbols, including the lingua franca Hindustani, its specific meters and song genres, a common body of folktales, and a single musical system, enabled the actors, musicians, and dancers to communicate easily throughout this region. The personnel associated with popular entertainment were primarily professionals who led an itinerant existence, touring within a geographical range that varied with their fame and access to patronage.
While certain unifying characteristics existed within this multiplicity of forms, I focus the present discussion on two varieties of theatre that can be definitively documented in late-nineteenth-century Banaras. The first is the folk theatre tradition known in this period as Svang[*] or Sang[*] (lit., "mime"). Svang is a musical form of theatre (often described as "operatic"), featuring full-throated male singers, loud, arousing drumming on the naggara[*] (kettledrums), and dancing by female impersonators. The tradition seems to have originated in the Punjab in the early nineteenth century, developing from recitations of ballads and oral epics. It then spread to Delhi, Meerut, and Banaras, where fledgling Devanagari printing presses reproduced its handwritten, illustrated librettos, known as Sangits[*] , from the 1860s on.
In about 1890 the Svang tradition was developed by certain folk poets of Hathras, who introduced a greater variety of themes, meters, and musical features into the plays. Further changes took place in Kanpur under the influence of the Parsi theatre, so that two distinctive styles (hathrasi[ *] and kanpuri[*] ) are now recognized. At some time in the early twentieth century, Svang came to be known as Nautanki[*] , after a fairytale princess, Nautanki Shahzadi[*] ; her story was a favorite in the theatre. In a state of decline since the 1940s, Nautanki shows are still found occasionally in the countryside as well as in the poorer neighborhoods of the cities, although its stories and tunes now imitate Bombay films rather than old ballads.
Specifics of the nineteenth-century Svang tradition can be ascertained in part by examining the Sangits in the India Office Library and the British Museum in London (Blumhardt 1893, 1902). Unlike much folklore, consigned to the oblivion of oral tradition, Svang dialogues were copied down, probably for the actors' convenience, and circulated in manuscript form. Beginning in 1860 or earlier, these handwritten manuscripts were lithographically printed, and typeset versions appeared in the 1890s. Sangits in pamphlet form can still be purchased from publishers' warehouses or on the street. The quantity of pub-
Eight Svang[*] plays (Sangits) published in Banaras between 1868 and 1885 are preserved in the British Museum. All except one are named for their heroes. Five of them concern famous devotees (Prahlad[*], Gopichand[*]Bhartari[*], Raja[*]Harichandra , and two versions of Dhuruji[*] ), while one is a fragment concerning a king reclaiming his throne (Raghuvir[*]Singh ), and two are romances (RajaKarak[*] and Rani[*]Nautanki[*] ). Four were published in Banaras (Kashi) by Munshi Ambe Prasad, three by Munshi Shadi Lal, and one by Lala Ghasiram, and the dates of publication range from 1875 to 1883. Except for the 1875 Dhuru[ *]Lila[*] and Sangit[*]Rani Nautankika[*] , all of the texts had been published previously, in Delhi, Meerut, Agra, or Lucknow.
Two of these Sangits, Gopichand Bhartari and Prahlad , had a long publishing history, with at least twenty-seven editions of Gopichand appearing between 1866 and 1893, and sixteen of Prahlad . The Sangit version of Gopichand even came to the attention of linguist George A. Grierson. "There is no legend more popular throughout the whole of Northern India," he wrote, "than those [sic ] of Bharthari and his nephew Gopi Chand. . . . A Hindi version of the legend can be bought for a few pice in any up-country bazar" (Grierson 1885:35).
In five out of eight of these plays, the name and particulars of the author are mentioned within the text. The famous Prahlad and Gopichand plays were both written by Lakshman Singh, alternatively styled Lachhman Das, but little is known of him. The author of Raghuvir Singh was Hardev Sahay; he also wrote Sangit Siya[*]Svayamvara[*]ka and coauthored Sangit Rup[*]Basant with Lakshman Singh. In the text he describes himself as a Brahmin (vipra ) and a pandit, and he appears to be the same Hardev Sahay who ran the Jnan Sagar Press in Meerut. Khushi Ram, the author of RaniNautanki , describes himself as a Brahmin from Faraknagar in Gurgaon district. Jiya Lal, the author of RajaHarichandra as well as of Raja Mordhvaj , provides the fullest self-introduction:
I am head of the guards, a Jain scribe by caste.
In the world my name, Jiya Lal, is famous.
My name Jiya Lal is famous, my hometown is Faraknagar.
In Chaproli I received this story already made.
(Jiya Lal 1877:51)
Internal evidence helps us to assign the texts to a single genre. All except one contain the word Sangit[*] in the title, while the terms sang[*] , svang[*] , sangit[*] , or sangit bhasha[*] ("musical play in the vernacular") are also present in many of the invocations and colophons. Two of the plays refer to themselves as lila[*] , and each of these, significantly, is focused on a saintly personage, in these cases Dhuru and Gopichand. Such dramas may have developed in imitation of the lila s[*] of Krishna and Ram[*] , pointing to an earlier stage when Svang[*] was indistinguishable from popular religious theatre. However, these saint legends were more likely connected with oral recitations by ascetics and mendicant groups. The Gopichand story, which concerns the conversion of a king to the path of Guru Gorakhnath, was one of the legends popularized by the Kanphata or Nath Yogis, who wandered all over north India. Other legends associated with this sect are Guga (Zahir Pir), Puran Bhagat, Raja Rasalu, Hir-Ranjha, and Rani Pingla (Briggs 1938:183–241). It is noteworthy that Svang versions of all these Nath stories exist in the old Sangit collections.
The Banaras Sangits[*] can be distinguished from legends, tales, and other types of dramatic texts by their poetic meters. The characteristic meters at this time are doha[*] (a couplet, line length 24 matra s[*] ), kara[*] (a quatrain, line length 24 matra s), and chaubola[*]chalta[*] (a quatrain, line length 28 matra s). Songs in various ragini s[*] (modes or tunes) are also interspersed. These meters are specified in the text in full or abbreviated form (do . for doha, chau . for chaubola ). The alternation of speakers is marked by headings, such as "reply of the queen to the king" (javab[*]rani[*]ka[*] raja[*]se ). These meters and printing conventions continue in the twentieth-century Sangit texts.
The connection of the Banaras Sangits to more recent texts is also illustrated by their subsequent publishing history. Lakshman Singh's Gopichand[*] Bharthari[*] , for example, continued to be reprinted well into the twentieth century. A chapbook printed in modern type recently came to my attention in a Jaipur bazaar. On examination, the text turned out to be identical to the nineteenth-century version by Lakshman Singh, except for orthographic changes introduced to conform to current printing practices.
That Sangit texts were published in Banaras in the 1880s suggests that performing Svang troupes had toured the area and established a
reputation for popularity. This in turn created a demand for the texts of their plays to be circulated in print (see fig. 6). Such a process was explained in an "Announcement" on the back cover of a Sangit[*] published from Kanpur in 1897:
Let it be known to all good men that the entertainment (tamasha[*] ) of the troupe from Hathras has been shown in various places in Kanpur, and many gentlemen have gathered for it and all their minds have been pleased. Seeing the desire of these good men, we have published the same entertainment . . . so that whenever they read it, they will obtain happiness and remember us. (Chiranjilal-Natharam 1897)
The publication of a play text subsequent to its performance is also confirmed by present-day practice (Pritchett 1983:47). Unfortunately, no details of Svang[*] performances in nineteenth-century Banaras appear to have survived. For information on the performative circumstances we must rely instead on accounts from other parts of northern India.
One source is Richard Carnac Temple, a British administrator who collected an impressive body of folklore from the Punjab in the late 1870s and early 1880s. His three-volume Legends of the Panjab contains texts of four Svangs[*] performed in Ambala district in 1881 and 1883: Guru[*]Gugga[*], Shila[*]Dai[*], Gopichand[*] , and Raja[*]Nal . All of these were composed by a poet named Bansi Lal. In the preface to volume 3, Temple also lists a number of unpublished manuscripts in his collection, which include familiar Svang titles like Harichand, Amar Singh, Raja Karag[*], Dayaram[*]Gujar[*] , and Rani[*]Nautanki[*] .
Temple was exposed to the Svang tradition while attending the Holi festival at Jagadhri. He later called the actors in private and had a scribe copy down their verses as they recited. He also prevailed upon Svang performers to give him their private manuscripts (Temple 1884, 1:ix). Temple's Svang singers were Brahmins, of a higher status than other types of bards, and some of them were literate. They engaged in playacting as a profession (Temple notes they are "called in—on payment always"), but Temple gives no information on their backgrounds or features of their performance. His remark that the Svang "is not strictly a play according to our ideas" seems to refer to the third-person commentary provided by the rangachar[*] (stage director) and by the characters themselves, and also to the absence of European conventions of scene divisions, curtains, and scenery (Temple 1884, 1:243). The metrical structure and other stylistic features of Temple's Svangs link them clearly with the Sangits[*] published in Delhi, Meerut, and Banaras in the same period.
Another account, from farther to the west in Rajasthan, is John Robson's Selection of Khyals or Marwari Plays (1866). (The term Khyal[*] was used in this period as a generic term for north Indian folk drama,
although nowadays Khyal[*] signifies a Rajasthani form and its language is Marwari or other Rajasthani dialects.) Robson, like Temple, describes a performance situation associated with the festival of Holi.
In the principal cities and towns of that country, during the weeks following the Holi, crowds assemble night after night around elevated spots of ground or chabutra s[*] , which supply a ready-made stage, and on which rude attempts at scenery are erected, and the players continue acting and singing accompanied by an orchestra of tom toms, on till late at night, or early in the morning, and for weeks and months afterwards, the favourite refrains and passages may be heard sung in the streets and markets. (Robson 1866:vi–vii)
Robson refers to a large body of Khyals[*] ("hundreds"), a history going back to 1750, and the low reputation of the form (Robson 1866:v–vi).
Descriptions of a performance of the drama Prahlad[*] and the contents of a playbill of the "opera" Puran[*]Bhagat from Lahore in the late nineteenth century are contained in J. C. Oman's Cults, Customs, and Superstitions of India. Prahlad was sponsored by a "successful tradesman, who hoped to acquire some religious merit by having a moral drama produced for the benefit of his fellow-townsmen" (Oman 1908:195). Accounts of a number of other north Indian dramas, including Prahlad, Hir[*]Ranjha[*] , Bin[*]Badshahzadi[*] , and Svangs[*] from the Punjab, such as Gopichand[*], Puran Bhagat , and Hakikat[*]Rai[*] , are found in William Ridgeway, The Dramas and Dramatic Dances of Non-European Races , which documents a slightly later period (Ridgeway 1915:181–99). The existence of Svang[*]akhara s[*] in Saharanpur in 1910 is mentioned by Ramgharib Chaube in the Indian Antiquary (R. Chaube 1910:32). These reports do not satisfy our curiosity about the composition of Svang troupes, the size and nature of the audience, caste of the patron, the costumes, makeup, stage appurtenances, presence of musicians and dancers, and countless other aspects of performance. However, they do establish the link between the Banaras Sangits[*] and a Svang theatre of considerable popularity, stretching from Punjab and Rajasthan to eastern U.P. in the late nineteenth century.
The manuscripts available indicate a transition from a simpler format, involving dramatic recitation of legends by two main characters, to a more complex structure involving a larger number of actors and more frequent turns of plot. Subject matter was gradually moving away from stories concerning saintly figures (Gopichand, Prahlad ) to romances (Rani[*]Nautanki[*] , Raja[*]Karak[*] ), shifting from otherworldly values to an emphasis on victory in love and war. The metrical varieties were becoming more sophisticated, suggesting a more complex musical repertoire and an evolving performing style. The later plays show
Assuming that the Svang[*] performance ethos changed little between the nineteenth and the twentieth century, we can infer its general character from more recent observation of the Svang and Nautanki[*] stage. Then as now, the performance venue was probably a public space accessible to many classes of people, such as a fairgrounds, crossroads, or market. Large crowds would gather, and social behavior reflected the spontaneity and looseness associated with impromptu open-air entertainment. When private shows were commissioned, it was often in connection with a marriage or feast-day where an ebullient atmosphere prevailed. The reference in both Temple and Robson to Svang festivals at the time of Holi, the spring bacchanalia, implies an affinity between seasonal rites of reversal and popular theatre.
In the techniques of theatrical presentation, an informality and openness characterized Svang. Stage arrangements might include the erection of a makeshift platform where necessary or the use of an available porch or chabutra[*] . The employment of props, scenery, and stage devices was minimal, in part dictated by the itinerant lifestyle of the troupe. Plays had a loose, variable structure based on episodes, and a leisurely pace of presentation with little dramatic tension; performances lasted late into the night or until morning. During the performance the audience (and the actors) were free to eat, drink, smoke, chat, or be still (Gargi 1966:37).
Another important aspect of Svang was its competitive, exhibitionistic impulse, a likely by-product of the akhara[*] system. The akhara (lit., arena, gymnasium) was then and remains the organizational unit for many types of folk music and drama in northern India. Performers are linked by their allegiance to a guru or ustad[*] to a particular akhara , whose compositions are passed on to them; akhara members form the primary personnel of the troupe. The various akhara s[*] are in a perpetual state of competition with one another, which is acted out in each public appearance. The performance event is structured as a dangal , a
tournament or contest between rival akhara s[*] , with the object of outdoing the opponent and obtaining "victory."
The akhara[*] system entered the Svang[*] tradition through the institution of Turra-Kalagi[*] , a dialogic poetic genre traceable to eighteenth-century Maharashtra. In it, rival groups designated Turra[*] (representing the Shaivites) and Kalagi[*] (Shaktas) directed questions and answers to each other on metaphysical themes, using the song type known as lavani[*] (or khyal[*] ) (Tulpule 1979:440). Later these troupes traveled northward, following the Maratha armies, and expanded their performances to include narrative material, giving rise to the folk drama forms Manch[*] in Madhya Pradesh, Khyal[*] in Rajasthan, and Svang in U.P. (see fig. 7). By 1890, Svang texts abound with references to the dangal situation. Most common is the invocation to the goddess to descend upon the poet and protect his honor by inspiring him during the poetic combat. This competitive ethos resulted in a high degree of interaction between performers and audience, with an atmosphere of enthusiasm and partisanship akin to a sporting event. The dangal mode provided an alternative aesthetic structure to that of the Aristotelian plot, binding the performance event in a different tension.
Svang shows, like most other public events that lacked an explicit religious function, were most likely off limits to women in the nineteenth century. Women did not participate as actresses on the Svang/Nautanki[*] stage until about 1920; before that all female roles were enacted by men. The fact that Svang shows occurred in public space ensured that the audience would be primarily men. Women had comparatively less freedom to leave the home, because of parda[*] restrictions, and in lower-class families less leisure to do so, because of economic responsibilities. Upper-caste folk in general were admonished to avoid such entertainments; these were considered unsuitable, especially for those who were "by nature" morally weaker—for example, women and boys. Indications are that in the nineteenth century as in the twentieth, the popular stage was dominated by the "male gaze." Fulfillment of male fantasy and desire were among its main attractions, as they are in the popular cinema in India today.
This introduces perhaps the most often noted feature of Svang, its allegedly "low," "lewd" character, which provoked exclamations of
Come sit in my throat, goddess, and sing 3,600 ragas.
. . . Protect the honor of your servant.
Drink the blood of the wicked.
Be gracious to me now,
Uphold my respect today in the assembly.
contempt from the foreign observer or high-caste Indian informant. Was the nineteenth-century Svang[*] indeed obscene? The Banaras Sangit[*] texts, on the contrary, point to a highly moral universe, where good deeds and truthfulness are rewarded by the gods (Raja[*]Harishchandra ), where kings yearn to become saints (Gopichand[*]Bharthari[*] ), where even children are capable of exemplary devotion (Prahlad[ *], Dhuru[*] ). When such instructive tales were posed in the common tongue, in an unbounded, exhibitionistic, male-oriented milieu, however, the message, at least for the elite observer, was reversed. (The allegations of obscenity were not made by the lower-caste spectators, or at least we have no record of their views.)
The opprobrium of the elite, I suggest, had less to do with the obscene gestures, the display of the female body, and the unruly crowd—all convenient pretexts—and more to do with the wider significance of the theatre in the cultural system. Parallel to festivals like Holi, Svang provided an arena for staging symbolic inversions of the power structure of the society at large. These inversions took place on stage, in the debunking of authority coded in the routines of clowns and transvestites. Motives of mistaken or lost identity and disguise were very common, playing on the inversion of hierarchically ordered categories such as male-female, parent-child, master-servant. Virtually every text in our period reveals a significant element of status reversal—for example, king becomes an ascetic (Gopichand, Raghuvir[*]Singh ), king becomes an untouchable (Harishchandra ), child becomes a preacher to adults (Prahlad, Dhuru ). The text that set the fashion for future development in the genre, Rani[*]Nautanki[*] , contains multiple incidents of cross-dressing and transformation of gender identity, both from male to female and from female to male.
Inversions were also manifest offstage, in crowd behavior expressive of loss of control and the absence of authority, ranging from noisiness, crude language, and drunkenness to actual physical violence. Such inversions were not written into the script, and they were not necessary to any given performance, but they were communicated in the larger text of the theatre: in the use of unbounded public space, in the open-ended time frame, in the competitive situation, in the absence of a controlling figure of authority, in the gathering together of spectators from all castes and classes. This was not a theatre of protest, and resistance to oppression was rarely an implicit or explicit message here.
Nonetheless, the very existence of such an arena outside of the direct control of the elite constituted a negation of their authority, and it was therefore perceived as a threat and condemned.
In the nineteenth century Svang[*] served all levels of society, and it would probably be fallacious to imagine its audience as composed entirely of lower castes and classes. Brahmins and high-caste poets were active in writing Svang texts, and the widespread publishing of these texts suggests a sizable literate readership, who may well have included members of elite groups. The distinction between "popular" and "elite" that has been made so far is thus a somewhat idealized one; indeed, greater or lesser participation in "popular" entertainments by "elites" is observable throughout the period. However, in relation to the Parsi theatre we are about to describe, and even more so in relation to Bharatendu's theatre, Svang manifested an overwhelmingly popular character. It was available to the laborers, artisans, and peasants and was part of their cultural universe, and it reflected their tastes, dreams, and beliefs. Svang maintained its position distant from elite appropriation, and elite disapproval ironically ensured its survival.
In contrast, the Parsi theatre appealed to a relatively sophisticated, urban middle-class audience. The so-called Parsi stage of the second half of the nineteenth century was a broad-based commercial theatre whose appeal and influence extended far beyond the ethnic group for which it was named. It developed in about 1850 from Parsi-organized amateur groups in Bombay, like the Elphinstone Club, which were active in presenting English and Indian drama classics. Soon full-fledged professional companies were being floated by Parsi businessmen who were themselves theatre buffs. Many of the leading actors, also Parsis, held shares in these companies, and several of them went on to form their own companies. Khurshedji Balliwala founded the Victoria Theatrical Company in Delhi in 1877, and Khawasji Khatau, the "Irving of India," established the rival Alfred Theatrical Company in the same year. Dozens of companies sprang up across the subcontinent, attaching the phrase "of Bombay" to their names to associate themselves with this prestigious new theatre. Muslims, Anglo-Indians, and a certain number of Hindus joined the companies, but the organizational reins remained largely in Parsi hands.
In a short time the demand for Parsi theatre fare spread to all parts of India. The major companies routinely toured between Bombay, Lahore, Karachi, Peshawar, Delhi and the Gangetic plain, Calcutta, and
Madras. The Parsi stage had a major impact on the emerging vernacular theatres in south as well as north India. Although Gujarati was the first language of the Parsi theatre, by the 1870s the large companies had adopted the practice of hiring Muslim munshi s[*] (scribes) as part of their permanent staff, and Urdu became the principal language of the stage. In the early twentieth century, Talib, Betab, Radheyshyam, and others began writing plays in Hindi for the Parsi companies. The Parsi theatre was never a bastion of linguistic purity, and to entertain the widest cross section of society it favored the Hindustani forms of speech which were the most readily understood.
Much of the initial inspiration for the Parsi stage came from British-sponsored dramatic efforts in their colony. English-style playhouses were erected in Bombay and Calcutta in the late eighteenth century, and the native elite was invited to attend from time to time. Later the Parsi companies played in the same halls and took over the material culture of European theatre: the proscenium arch with its backdrop and curtains, Western furniture and other props, costumes, and a variety of mechanical devices for staging special effects. Artists from Europe were commissioned to paint the scenery, and the latest in "elaborate appliances" were regularly ordered from England, so as to achieve "the wonderful stage effects of storms, seas or rivers in commotion, castles, sieges, steamers, aerial movements and the like" (Yajnik 1933:113; Yusuf Ali 1917:95–96). The British example was also followed in matters of advertising and scheduling. Playbills boasting the latest Saturday evening performance were distributed throughout the city, and in the auditorium, spectators perused the "opera book" or program containing the lyrics of the latest songs (Yajnik 1933:111–15).
However, in several important respects, aside from language, the Parsi theatre revealed its Indian character: it employed Indian subject matter, and it included a great deal of music and dance. The first Indian-produced dramatic performance in Bombay is said to have been a Hindustani version of Raja[*]Gopichandra[*] written by Vishnudas Bhave. Hindu epic heroes and heroines—Harishchandra, Prahlad, Nala and Damayanti, Savitri, and Shakuntala—were extremely common on the Parsi stage, as were characters from the stock Islamic romances: Shirin Farhad, Laila Majnun, Benazir Badremunir, Gul Bakavali. The Parsi theatre's sizable repertoire of mythological and legendary plays drew upon the same stratum of north Indian popular culture that produced the nineteenth-century Svangs[*] . Of course Shakespeare was also very popular, usually dressed up in Indian guise, and some English comedies were adapted as well (Yajnik 1933:125–216; Yusuf Ali 1917:90).
The music and dance of Parsi theatre, while difficult to document, appear to have been liberal in measure and hybrid in manner. The
"orchestra" often consisted of harmonium and tabla, played by accompanists who, sitting in the wings or pit, "also in many cases do duty as prompters" (Yusuf Ali 1917:96). The musical style has been described variously: "tuned to the traditional modes (Ragas)" and "in the chaste classical style," by Narayana (1981:40), but consisting of "slipshod Parsi and semi-European tunes," by Yajnik (1933:115). Partial manuscripts of two plays, Jahangir[*]Shah[*]aur Gauhar of unknown authorship and Raunaq's Benazir[ *]Badremunir[*] , do contain the names of classical and semiclassical ragas, such as Bhairavi[*] , Sorath[*] , Desh, Pilu[*] , Kalingra[*] , and Kalyan[*] , at the headings of the thumri s[*] , ghazal s, and other songs. An initial phrase is given in quotes, the opening line from an already wellknown song, as an indication of the tune to be followed (S. Gupta 1981:Appendix 2, 40–50). In actual practice, this classical basis may have been considerably undermined in favor of novelty and catchiness.
When women were admitted to the Parsi stage in about 1880, an innovation commonly credited to Balliwala, they were recruited primarily from the ranks of professional singers and dancers. Their crowd-pleasing tactics were a big draw, and solo dancers "were rewarded by the audience with currency notes and coins amidst shouts of 'Encore' " (Narayana 1981:40–41). The better-known actresses, Khurshed, Mehtab, and Mary Fenton, achieved their fame at least partly on the basis of genuine talent. Boy actors gifted with sweet voices, good looks, and physical graces were also employed by many professional companies to play the heroines' roles and perform dance items, and "boy companies" became a popular item in certain regions (Yajnik 1933:109–10).
An idea of the literary style of the plays can be obtained from the available scripts, which show that a typical scene in a Parsi stage play consisted of a variety of songs and verses (in forms such as thumri[*] , ghazal, lavani[*], sher, musaddas , mukhammas[*] , savaiya[*] , or simply gana[*] ) interconnected by prose dialogues. In the early plays even the dialogues were composed in rhymed metrical lines, and they were spoken with great emphasis to project the actor's voice to the back of the hall. Later, prose became predominant, although rhyme at the end of sentences was retained. In such stylistic matters, as well as in story content and music and dance, a great deal of mutual influence is visible between the north Indian folk theatre forms such as Svang[*] and the Parsi theatre in this period.
The first Parsi touring company to reach Banaras was the Victoria Natak[*] Mandali[*] , which performed in 1875 (Anand 1978:54). After this, it can be assumed that visits by the Parsi companies became a regular part of the local entertainment scene. Several prominent playwrights of the Parsi theatre were from Banaras, including Raunaq, who published
Educated opinion in Banaras was uniformly disparaging toward the Parsi theatre. At a performance of Shakuntala[*] , several members of Bharatendu Harishchandra's party walked out of the theatre when Dushyant swaggered onto the stage, singing and dancing lasciviously (S. Mishra 1974:789). The Hindi journalist Mahavir Prasad Dwivedi warned novice playwrights against the quick path to fame afforded by "writing such trash" and reprimanded errant theatregoers: "Those who go to see Indara Sabha and Gulabakavali etc. presented by Parsi Theatrical Companies should think about their own good" (Narayana 1981:48).
Although the elite saw in the Parsi theatre vulgarity, sensationalism, and lack of aesthetic standards, the humbler sections of society thrilled to the mystique of English company names like the Corinthian, the Victoria, and the New Alfred. The allure was augmented by the sumptuous fittings of the Parsi stage, replete with elaborate painted scenery, fine costumes, exotic Anglo-Indian actresses, and tricks of stagecraft. Such shows may have been commonplace in the numerous theatre houses of the big cities, but in the provincial towns the spectacles no doubt overawed the populace. No wonder then that the Bombay companies were eagerly sought as the purveyors of all that was current and stylish in theatre practice—and were emulated and imitated wherever they performed. This was especially true in the cities of Uttar Pradesh like Banaras.
Despite its more elaborate organization and urbanized clientele, the Parsi theatre provided essentially the same stimulus to the reversal of social rules as did the simpler Svang[*] stage. Here too the crowd reveled in the public display of eroticism, in the extremes of pathos and melodrama, in the latest gimmicks and spectacles. Because of its closeness to middle-class popular taste, the Parsi theatre posed an even greater threat to elite standards of propriety than did the Svang folk theatre. Here too the prevailing social codes seemed, however temporarily, to be turned upside down. What the Parsi theatre provoked by way of reaction—an elite theatre predicated on values of control, order, and refinement—will now be examined in the career of Bharatendu Harishchandra, its chief exponent.
Bharatendu Harishchandra and the Elite Hindi Theatre
Bharatendu Harishchandra was born in 1850, the eldest son in a wealthy and socially prominent Agarwal family in Banaras. Since the days of Shah Jahan his forefathers had been associated with various ruling families of northern India as moneylenders and bankers. Bharatendu's great-great-grandfather, Amichand (Omichand), amassed a large fortune in Bengal in the eighteenth century, acting as an intermediary between the British East India Company and the Nawabs at Murshidabad, but he was double-crossed by Clive and ultimately lost everything (Dodwell 1929, 5:141–51). After this debacle, his son Fateh Chand migrated to Banaras in 1759 and became financier to the Maharaja of Banaras while also continuing the friendly ties with the British which had proved his father's undoing. By the time of Bharatendu's grandfather Harsh Chand, the family had again become extremely wealthy. The Maharaja's treasury was kept in the vaults of Harsh Chand, and he led a life of ostentation, parading about the streets with large numbers of bodyguards and a martial band in attendance. Bharatendu's father, Gopal Chandra, protected the valuables of the British Residency during the unstable times in 1857 (Gopal 1972:4–10).
Bharatendu's literary talents and role as cultural patron appear to have been inherited from his father, who composed a number of poetic and dramatic works, including what some call the first modern drama in Hindi, Nahushnatak[*] . In Bharatendu's generation the joint family continued its close ties with the Maharaja of Banaras, but their role as moneylenders eroded as Bharatendu squandered his fortune on literary and cultural activities as well as more hedonistic pursuits, such as the maintenance of his two mistresses, Madhavi and Mallika, and a harem of nautch girls. In his lifetime he was famous for emulating his namesake, King Harishchandra of the Markandeya[*]purana[*] , who was so generous that he gave away his kingdom and sold his wife and son into slavery in fulfillment of a vow. Possessing little inclination for generating income or saving it, Bharatendu had no trouble devising ways of spending, and the lifestyle of the rakish, extravagant nobleman sat easily with him. He was a perfect representative of the wealthy Vaishya
class in Banaras in the 1860s, filling the place vacated by the Mughals and the Nawabs of Lucknow at the pinnacle of a feudal society where cultural consumption, in the form of patronage of music, poetry, and other arts, was simultaneously duty, occupation, and obsession.
Bharatendu's leadership in the literary field was a product of his own prolific energy, as well as of his fortuitous situation in the social hierarchy. His early education included training in Sanskrit, Hindi, Persian, Urdu, and English, and he was also fluent in Bengali in consequence of family ties to that region. He began composing poetry at a young age, and in his brief life-span of thirty-five years he produced many volumes of verse (almost all in Braj Bhasha), as well as eighteen plays and innumerable essays, which laid the foundation for a modern Hindi prose style. His activities in journalism involved the publication of two magazines, Kavi vachan sudha[*] and Harishchandra chandrika[*] , which spread his social, political, and literary programs to a new reading public. His network of friends and admirers extended beyond the upper echelons of Banaras society to Kanpur, Allahabad, and other northern cities, and these followers were his primary audience; several of them carried on his work in journalism and drama for a number of years after his death.
His reputation as "father of modern Hindi" was also based on his propagation of a language style that eventually became the accepted standard in the twentieth century. This too was not unrelated to his social position. By virtue of not being a Brahmin, he was able to urge the adoption of a vernacular medium in place of Sanskrit. In the power structure of the time, the pandits were in fact dependent upon patrons like Bharatendu for their maintenance. (In 1870 Bharatendu organized the Banaras pandits to pay homage to the Duke of Edinburgh, and in return for publishing their poems and earning them honoraria, he received their lasting blessings and gratitude; Gopal 1972:37–42.) He appears to have been beyond the influence of their orthodoxy, at least in linguistic matters. However, as a devout Vaishnava he also opposed the infusion of Urdu expressions into Hindi, which was characteristic of the prose of Raja Shiv Prasad Singh. Shiv Prasad, who had taught Bharatendu English as a young man, became his lifelong rival, not only on the language issue but in the arena of favors distributed by the British and the Maharaja of Banaras.
This introduces the question of Bharatendu's relationship to both the British political presence in India and their social, educational, and cultural values. Bharatendu made manifest his loyalty to the British
Crown on a number of occasions, as when he played host to the visiting Duke of Edinburgh in 1870, publicly expressed his grief at the assassination of Lord Mayo in 1871, submitted poems to the Prince of Wales during his visit in 1875, celebrated the birthday of Queen Victoria each year, or commemorated in poetry her victory in Egypt in 1882. Bharatendu used the time-honored genre of panegyric verse to express an attitude that he shared with many of the people of India, who in his own words, "have a kind of superstitious reverence for their Sovereign, so much so that they regard their Sovereign but next in reverence to God only" (Gopal 1972:181). This attitude was not disinterested but was part and parcel of a feudal code of obligations that bound the subject and the sovereign to each other. Bharatendu, like his ancestors before him, undoubtedly expected a return on his loyalty to the ruling power, and after the Duke of Edinburgh's visit he was indeed rewarded by being appointed Municipal Commissioner and Honorary Magistrate at the unusually young age of twenty. Furthermore, the proffering of allegiance to the Crown was a technique of demonstrating his superior status in Indian society, a form of competition with local nobles such as Raja Shiv Prasad.
Yet Bharatendu was given to satirizing the pomp and ceremony of British rule, especially when his rivals were the objects of British attention, as in the darbar held in Banaras in 1870 ("Levi[*] pran[*] levi[*] ," V. Das 1953:938–40; Gopal 1972:102–5). He frequently tangled with local British officials and was under some sort of ban in 1880, apparently as a result of offensive editorials he had written (Gopal 1972:145). Later in his career his writings focused more frequently on the economic ruin of India, especially the outflow of cash for manufactured goods, as a result of British policies. He supported the Swadeshi movement and held that the imitation of English fashion and social behavior would lead to moral decadence as well as economic ruin for India. Despite his unsystematic and rather inconsistent political views, Indian historians have generally described him as a nationalist and social reformer, forerunner of the generation of leaders who founded the Indian National Congress (Verma 1974:377–87).
As could be expected from his education and socioeconomic class, Bharatendu's intellectual outlook was much influenced by his exposure
to several great literary traditions. His knowledge of Sanskrit classics (especially of the dramatic literature), coupled with his familiarity with English literature, helped produce the characteristic stance of the Indian Renaissance man—an urge at once to reclaim the past, reform the present, and progress into the future. Bharatendu was also close to intellectual currents in Bengal and derived many of his ideas and knowledge of Sanskrit and English literary works from Bengali writers.
However, his education was not confined to these "high" sources. Bharatendu was a "bi-cultural" man, to use Peter Burke's phrase (Burke 1978:28). That is, he had access to a second Indian tradition of folk and popular culture in addition to the great traditions he had formally studied. He was well versed in the oral traditions of Hindi and Urdu poetry, and he composed in several genres typically associated with Banaras, such as kajali[*] and holi[*] . He is said to have sat in company with lavani[*] singers on the pavement and learned their compositions, and his own lavani s[*] were published as well (Gopal 1972:28). During festivals like the Burhwa Mangal, the riverboat festival patronized by his family, popular forms of music, dance, and poetry prevailed. Bharatendu's acquaintance with many forms of popular theatre is also apparent from his writings on drama, as we shall soon see.
But while Bharatendu participated in the popular cultural traditions of Banaras and no doubt derived relish from the activity, he seems never to have examined this cultural stream consciously or considered its role in society, except in one unusual essay. In "Jatiya[*] sangit[*] " he recommends the dissemination of published booklets of folk songs written on themes of social reform as a technique of rural uplift, much as twentieth-century development planners use traditional media in the service of modernization (Das 1953:935–38). For Bharatendu, as for the European Renaissance man, the popular side of the culture was always available for recreation and amusement. Where serious thought or literary productivity were required, however, he turned to the high literary traditions. This attitude had a great deal to do with the shape that Bharatendu's activity in the theatre eventually took.
From early on, Bharatendu embarked on the enterprise of creating a Hindi theatre movement in Banaras. His father had composed "the first [Hindi] drama of literary scope in the modern period" in 1859, but
there is no record of any performance of his Nahush natak[*] (McGregor 1972:92). The first drama to be presented on stage was Shital Prasad Tripathi's Janaki[*]mangal , which was put on at the Banaras Theatre (also known as the purana[*]nachghar[*] ) in 1868. The performance was sponsored by the Maharaja of Banaras, and Bharatendu himself made his acting debut as Lakshman in this play. News of this performance was reported in the London-based Indian Mail and Monthly Register , and the item gives an idea of the ambience of the event:
Benaras, April 4 . . . . Last night a Hindi drama named "Janki Mangal" was acted by natives in the Assembly Rooms, by the order of his Highness the Maharaj of Benaras. Our enlightened Maharaja who generally takes an interest in all the [sic ] concerns the improvement of his countrymen, was present on the occasion, he was accompanied by Kunwar Sahib and his staff. The principle [sic ] European and native citizens were invited to witness the performances. A few ladies and many military and civil officers were present, and many rich folks of the city. (Saksena 1977:128)
Bharatendu's own dramatic compositions date from the same year, with the publication of his Vidyasundar[*] . As with most of his early plays, this was a translation, from Bengali. After writing several such plays and then freer adaptations of classic tales from Sanskrit, such as Mudrarakshas[*] , he began writing original dramas by the mid-1870s. Of his best-known plays, some employ totally contemporary settings, such as Bharat[*]durdasha[*] (1880), his commentary upon the calamities that have befallen the Indian nation, and some treat historical themes highlighting India's past glory, such as Nildevi[*] (1881). Bharatendu attempted a number of styles, from romance to farce, and he used the generic classifications of Sanskrit drama to label his plays—for example, bhan[ *] , prahasan , natika[ *] , gitirupak[*] , and so forth.
It is not known precisely how many of Bharatendu's plays were performed in his lifetime or, with a few exceptions, where and under what circumstances these performances took place. However, there is
abundant proof that Bharatendu was actively involved in at least three aspects of theatre aside from his role as playwright: acting, organizing dramatic societies, and writing drama criticism. His biographers describe a flamboyant and exhibitionistic streak in his temperament, and he is said to have been fond of dressing up (Saksena 1977:138–39). After his youthful performance in Janaki[*]mangal , records show that he played the role of the madman in his own drama Nildevi[*] , and also performed in Satya Harishchandra and Nildevi at Ballia with great histrionic skill (Taneja 1976:17; Anand 1978:60, description of his "overacting" by Gahmari).
Bharatendu expended considerable effort toward spreading his theatre movement among the educated elite. His organizational talents and probably his financial resources were instrumental in the founding of theatrical societies and literary clubs not only in Banaras but in other nearby cities. For example, Bharatendu was director of the Hindu National Theatre (Natak[*] Samaj[*] ) of Banaras, which consisted of a group of Bengali and Hindi speakers who met at Dashashvamedh Ghat, and it was for this society that Harishchandra wrote Andher nagari[*] . He also organized the Kavita[*] Varddhini[*] Sabha[*] , which staged play performances at his own residence, and he founded the Penny Reading Club in Banaras, which engaged in regular play-reading and skit performances among its activities. In Allahabad, Bharatendu helped form the Arya[*] Natya[*] Sabha, and a number of performances took place in the Railway Theatre. In Kanpur he inspired Protap Narayan Mishra to organize the Bharatendu[*] Mandal[*] ; five dramas written by Bharatendu had been staged under its auspices by 1885. Similarly, Lucknow too had a theatre hall, the Vidyant[*] Natyashala[*] . Patna had its own Natak Mandali[*] , as did Ballia, Muzaffarpur, and Agra (Taneja 1976:17–18; Anand 1978:54–55; McGregor 1974:92–93; Shivprasad Mishra 1974: 25–26).
These societies were sustained by a group of Bharatendu's disciples, who, like him, were at once amateur playwrights, actors, and organizers. Bharatendu's literary and personal influence was clearly marked on men such as Ambika Datt Vyas, Kishorilal Goswami, and Radhakrishna Das in Banaras, Pratap Narayan Mishra in Kanpur, Kashinath Khatri in Agra, Balkrishna Bhatt in Allahabad, and Keshavram Bhatt in Bihar. Within this circle they produced each other's plays, performed for each other, and criticized each others' performances in their journals, supported by members of the local elite who had the leisure and interest to engage in amateur theatre. Performances were
held occasionally in members' residences or in the few auditoriums that existed. Many plays of the period were never performed on stage, although some of them have been used in play readings (McGregor 1974:93). In addition to the performances mentioned above, Bharatendu's own plays were performed at his residence and in the court of the Maharaja of Banaras (Anand 1978:54).
Another context for the dramas of Bharatendu and his colleagues was the boys' school. Bharatendu's preface to Satya Harishchandra indicates that it was written with the moral instruction of boys in mind. "My friend Babu Baleshwar Prasad, B.A., has asked me to write a play suitable for the education of boys, since the dramas which I have written in shringar[*]ras [the erotic mood] are appropriate for adults but of no benefit to boys. At his request, I have composed this drama named Satya Harishchandra " (Mishra 1974:251). Similar plays compiled as school texts, to be read rather than acted, include Kashinath Khattri's Tin[*]manohar aitihasik[*]rupak[*] (1884) (McGregor 1974:93, 96). The popularity of dramatics both as an academic subject and as an extracurricular activity (no doubt inspired by British schoolmasters) is also confirmed by the early stages of modern theatre in Bengal and Bombay, where school and college clubs provided the first forum for plays in the vernacular.
The picture of Bharatendu and his theatre which emerges thus far contrasts sharply with the composite portrait of popular theatre drawn earlier in this essay. Far from being a "theatre of the common man," as some Hindi critics have claimed, this was an amateur theatre created by and for the leisured elite. The private space of the late-nineteenth-century drawing room was its distinctive setting, a closed environment that enjoined upon the spectators a refined, controlled mode of behavior. Access was limited to the socially privileged few, the private-club members and their friends. The frequent presence of British officers and their wives is another potent indicator of the degree of decorum and constraint that was observed.
Furthermore, Bharatendu's theatre was still dependent upon the patronage of the court for its legitimation in the eyes of Banaras society, and courtly codes of conduct were naturally carried into the theatre milieu. The Maharaja of Banaras, Ishvariprasad Narayan Singh (1835–1889), was involved in many cultural ventures, but he was especially keen on the revival of the drama, as is testified to by his assistance to Bharatendu and his engaging a court poet to work specifically on be-
half of the theatre (Saksena 1977:140). On the model of his king, Bharatendu's charismatic leadership provided the backbone to the dramatic societies he founded. Through the figures of authority central to these occasions, the theatre event derived its primary significance to its audience—as an opportunity for the display and affirmation of social status.
That this elite theatre was being promoted in reaction to the popular theatre prevailing in Banaras becomes clear when we turn to Bharatendu's critical writings. The practice of drama criticism was yet another dimension of Bharatendu's zeal for theatre, and reviews of productions were regular features in the pages of his journals, such as Harishchandra's Magazine . From these sources, we find that Bharatendu had witnessed performances of the Parsi theatre groups and found them not at all to his taste. The Victoria Natak[*] Mandali's[*] performance of Shakuntala[*] in Banaras in 1875 drew from him the comment that the players were "turning the knife at the neck of Kalidasa." Later he saw a Parsi production of Gulbakavali[*] , "but unfortunately nothing occurred as I had hoped" (Taneja 1976:26–27). Similar denunciations issued from Balkrishna Bhatt's pen: "Nowadays the dance of prostitutes is considered a civilized form of entertainment." The Parsi theatre was "the sure ruin of the Hindu caste and nation," or in the words of Premghan, "equal to the arrival of Kal[*] (Death)" (Anand 1978:58–59). Still, Bhatt noted, at least the civilized members of society had the sense to avoid these shows: "When the spectacle is cheap, more rakes and loafers from the city congregate than do nobles and cultured people" (Taneja 1976:27).
It is not certain that Bharatendu saw any performance of the Urdu musical, the Indarsabha[ *] , although the popularity of that drama was so well established that he could hardly have escaped it. Bharatendu published a parody of the Indarsabha in the July 1879 issue of Harishchandra chandrika[*] , under the title Bandarsabha[ *] (Assembly of the Monkeys). In the introduction to this piece he comments, "The Indarsabha is a type of drama in Urdu, or the semblance of a drama, and this Bandarsabha is in turn a semblance of it" (Mishra 1974:729). The imitation of the style of the Indarsabha here reveals a familiarity with the work, possibly through reading of the text, but perhaps also through seeing it on stage. In any case, the parody makes clear Bharatendu's rejection of the Indarsabha as a suitable model for his theatre.
Other references to popular theatre forms are scattered throughout Bharatendu's writings. One particular mention of the folk traditions of Bhand[*] and Bhagat appears in his opening verses written to accompany Shrinivas Das's play Randhir[*] Premmohini[*] . Here he alludes to the former traditions of drama in the country as "full of stupidity," which has in-
creased with the spread of troupes of "bhand s[*] , bhagatiya s[*] , and ganika s[*] " (jesters, actors, and courtesans). It is to rectify this deplorable situation that the present play was composed "full of all virtues" (Taneja 1976:104).
Bharatendu's rejection of popular traditions is most clearly stated, however, in his treatise "Natak[*] ," written in 1883. The purpose of this essay is to redeem theatre as a respectable pursuit of the educated elite, a goal which Bharatendu considered essential to his campaign to establish a viable Hindi stage. The text alternates between defining typologies of dramatic species and constituent elements in the style of Sanskrit shastra[*] , sketching miniature histories of Indian and Western drama, and making emotional appeals to the readers to shed their prejudices. "Natak" constitutes an illuminating discourse on the status of theatre at the time and the impetus for its reform, and it is to an analysis of this text that we now turn.
Bharatendu's essay is explicitly directed at an elite readership, a group he repeatedly refers to as the sabhyashishtagan[*] , sabhya meaning "civilized," and shishta[*] , "cultured" or "courteous." Underlying the essay is the assumption of the aversion of this class to the theatre. As Bharatendu notes, "Nowadays people have no enthusiasm for the practice and study of drama, but on the contrary consider it mean and low and flee from it" (Mishra 1974:777). "Natak" is thus an apologia, a defense of drama and the theatre, which seeks to win over the audience and turn its hostility into admiration and support. Bharatendu's initial tactic is to disarm his audience by conceding the justice of their point of view. He begins the essay by defining the work natak[*] (drama) as "the action of nat s[*] ," thus associating the art with the debased caste of professional actors, acrobats, jugglers, and popular performers. After further defining drama as drishyakavya[*] , loosely "poetry for the eyes," he proceeds to divide it into three types. The first is kavyamishra[*] , "mixed with poetry," about which nothing further is said. The second is shuddh kautuk , "pure entertainment," which is described as "all types of shows, such as puppet and toy shows, mime acts, juggling, dialogues during horse shows, imitation of ghosts and spirits, and other civilized entertainments." This category is clearly ranked above the third, bhrasht[*] , or "depraved," types of drama. Here the list is extensive and includes almost every type of popular theatre known at the time: Bhand[*] Indarsabha[*] , Ras[*] , Yatra[*] , Lila[*] , Jhanki[*] , etc.," as well as "Parsi drama and Maharashtrian plays, etc." The basis of the depravity of these forms is obscure; Bharatendu says only that "there is no theatricality (natakatva[*] ) left in them," and in the case of Parsi and Maharashtrian plays, he comments that they are "lacking in poetry" (kavyahin[*] ) (Mishra 1974: 749–50).
Thus from the outset Bharatendu dissociates his concept of theatre from the very forms that had popular appeal in his day, confirming the distaste with which the "civilized" class views these arts. He then proceeds to establish the legitimacy of elite drama, in contradistinction to the debased forms that have been dismissed, by linking it with the most prestigious sources of authority: the classical Sanskrit dramatists and theorists, on the one hand (Bharata and Kalidasa in particular), and the European playwrights and men of the theatre, on the other, from the Greeks and Shakespeare down to the Sahebs in the cantonment. He includes a lengthy exposition of the categories and terminology of Sanskrit drama, not so much as a framework for analysis of current plays, I suspect, as proof of the sophistication of the ancient tradition. In a similar vein, the essay closes with a description of Western theatre that is nothing more than a list of playwrights and periods, again serving to demonstrate the historical depth and respectability of the drama. In discussing his own recommendations for the "new" theatre, Bharat endu too attempts to establish legitimacy through shastraic precedent. Thus he traces the use of curtains and scene divisions to Sanskrit dramatic practice, although the popularity of these elements in his day came directly from European and Parsi theatre conventions.
Although Bharatendu originally defined natak[*] as the province of nat s[*] , much of the essay is devoted to disproving that assertion. He repeatedly refers to the fame of drama in ancient times, when it was patronized by royalty and acted in their palaces (Mishra 1974:754). "These dramas were not always performed by professional actors (nat[*]log ). Aryan princes and princesses also learned them." He cites a lengthy example from the Mahabharata[*] which tells of a drama put on by the Yadav[*] princes Pradyumna and Samba (Mishra 1974:776). Later he joins to this the English example. "And if performing dramas were a bad thing, why have the English, those pinnacles of civilized wisdom, made such efforts on its behalf, and why do prominent officers every day put on costumes and perform in their large auditoriums?" (Mishra 1974:778). He regrets that "people adept at acting are considered ordinary drum-beating nat s and are hated" (Mishra 1974:777). These negative attitudes, to Bharatendu, simply indicate a defective upbringing (kusamskar[*] ), based on ignorance of the illustrious history of drama in India and the West.
An important element of Bharatendu's revision concerns the aims of drama. Alongside the traditional rasa s, shringar[*] (eroticism), and hasya[*] (humor), and the conventional motive of kautuk (surprise), he joins samaj[*]samskar[*] (social reform) and deshvatsalta[*] (love of country) as suitable ends to be aroused by a play (Mishra 1974:754). The latter two aims operate with special force in the present period, when every play must have a moral or an educational purpose. If such a purpose is lacking, the cultured class will not respect the work (Mishra 1974:773). This moral purpose must be especially apparent at the conclusion of a drama; the evil characters must be punished and the good rewarded (Mishra 1974:774). Drama ought properly to be ras rupi[*] updesh , instruction in the form of aesthetic delight. When it is such, it has tremendous power to reform society, because of the irresistible force of the educational message made pleasant through entertainment. Bharatendu predicts a moral renaissance from the propagation of plays:
Just as men addicted to prostitutes come to hate their behavior by seeing actors dressed as men addicted to prostitutes, . . . so are drunkards made to experience their sorry situation by those impersonating drunkards, and in the same way gamblers, liars, debtors, those who oppose their brothers, misers, spendthrifts, harsh speakers and fools will become conscious simply by the depiction of their sorry plight . . . and, becoming cautious by virtue of this pleasant form of instruction, will avoid these evils. (Mishra 1974:777–78)
The unique facility of drama as an instrument of social reform was a cornerstone of belief shared among the playwrights of Bharatendu's day (Taneja 1976:16). It was the trump card in Bharatendu's case against the opponents of theatre; to obstruct the progress of drama meant to stand in the way of the moral regeneration of the nation.
The emphasis on the didactic purposes of drama led Bharatendu to modify the rules inherited from Sanskrit theory. For example, he restricted the types of heroines in the "new" drama to svakiya[*] women only, that is, women who are loyal to their husbands. There was no place on his stage for a parakiya[*] , a woman who belongs to another. So too the use of music was circumscribed, and of course the arousing dance displays of the popular theatre were curtailed. Bharatendu also recommended a reduced role for the vidushaka[ *] , the clown whose mocking of authority is almost a universal in Indian theatre. Hand in hand with these changes, Bharatendu espoused certain realistic conventions that had previously been absent from the Indian theatre, except for the recent Parsi stage. He emphasized the unities of time and place and advocated the use of painted backdrops and stage props to represent the changing settings of acts and scenes. The Sanskrit and folk dramatic practice of establishing the place or time by verbal reference was
scorned. He stressed the literal correspondence of costumes to the state of the characters at the time of the action—for example, rags for King Harishchandra when he is working on the burning ghat. He also allowed for the mixing of moods, or rasa s, a rigid taboo in classical Indian theatre, especially in the case of plays with tragic endings.
The prescriptions of Bharatendu's treatise, written at the end of his life after the composition of his dramas, are not uniformly followed in his own dramatic works. Elements of various folk theatre traditions are visible in some of his texts, pointing to a still incomplete bifurcation of drama into "popular" and "elite." However, the kind of theatre experience that was in the process of formation was fundamentally different in structure and function from the earlier popular theatre. Bharatendu's theatre was moving in a clear direction: away from the openended, improvisational, stylized, multivalent theatre of the Svang[*] and Parsi stage, and toward a controlled, unambiguous, realistic, morally edifying model of theatre. Not only was the social milieu of theatre now pervaded by values of civility and refinement; the means and ends of theatrical representation were purged to eliminate all that was vulgar. Theatre was henceforth an unabashed arena of instruction, whether its actual locus was the schoolhouse or the parlor.
To students of modern Indian literature, the large dose of didacticism and moral idealism that accompanied Bharatendu's theatre program comes as no great surprise. The same infusion of reformist sentiments, coupled with a rigorous purging of eroticism, fantasy, and humor, accompanied the development of other literary genres, such as poetry and fiction, as they crossed the boundary into modernity. Bharatendu's larger corpus illustrates the split. It contains the sober, message-laden "modern" dramas, as well as volumes of flippant, sensuous lyric poetry that adhere to the traditional type. What was "modern" in literature had less to do with turning one's view toward "real life" (the heroes and heroines of Bharatendu's plays were still the ideal princes and princesses of yore) than toward affixing a conscious purpose to the literary work, making the work subservient to the larger task of the betterment of "society." What writers like Bharatendu
meant by "society" is another topic; it still referred primarily to the sabhyashishtagan[*] , the elite.
The reformist spirit that permeated Bharatendu's theatre in Banaras and spread from there may have been a result of growing Arya Samaj[*] influence. Dayanand Saraswati first visited Banaras in 1869, and as early as 1870 his addresses stirred Bharatendu to compose pamphlets deriding "the naked Dayanand of unknown caste" (Gopal 1972:32). Bharatendu initially rejected Dayanand's claims to religious authority and, as a Vallabhite, refuted his denunciation of idol worship and sanatana[*] practices. However, Dayanand later became a contributor to Harishchandra's Magazine , and the edge of their quarrel seems to have worn off. Many of Dayanand's positions on child marriage, widows, temperance, and education were probably acceptable to Bharatendu. Even though Dayanand made few converts at the time, the impetus to self-purification in Hindu society permeated educated circles in Banaras in consequence of his continued preaching. The same species of influence emanated from Bengal in the form of the Brahmo Samaj; Bharatendu may have come into contact with it indirectly through Bengali authors who had imbibed its teachings.
The reform of the more exuberant and potentally licentious aspects of popular culture was a certain component of Arya Samaj philosophy. The Aryas condemned the singing of "indecent songs" on ceremonial and festival occasions, and they introduced a purified form of the Holi festival which excluded all spontaneous merriment and focused upon the Vedic havan ritual. They also abolished the performances of dancing girls at Arya Samaj marriage ceremonies (Jones 1976:95, 99). According to the Vatuks, "The movement's founder, Dayanand, was quite explicit in his writings about the evils of dramatic performances" (Vatuk and Vatuk 1967:48). Proselytizing efforts by the Arya Samaj in Haryana in recent years have included denunciation of the local folk drama form Sang[*] (another descendant of ninteenth-century Svang[*] ) and concerted efforts to replace it with the more salutary songs of Arya Samaj bhajanmandali s[*] .
By way of comparison, we may refer briefly to the tremendous opposition toward the popular theatre voiced by Plato, the Christian Fathers, the Puritans, and any number of other reformist movements throughout Western history. The "antitheatrical prejudice," as Jonas Barish puts it, is a universal phenomenon, singularly oblivious to transformations of culture, time, and place (Barish 1981:4). As Barish shows, the most vehement attacks against the corrupting influence of theatre have tended to occur when the theatre was at a height of popularity. From this it is reasonable to infer that Bharatendu's denunciation of the Indarsabha[*] , Lila[*] , Tamasha[*] , and so forth, as bhrasht[*] occurred
not because they were almost extinct, as has been generally thought, but precisely because there was an intense degree of public devotion to these spectacles. Swept along by the puritanical fervor of the Arya Samaj[*] , Bharatendu fortunately did not call for a complete ban on playacting, as the English Puritans did. However, he embarked on a course that served to disengage the modern Hindi theatre from its very roots in the traditions of the people.
By establishing far from the disorderly crowd a theatre that voiced the refined tastes and reformist ideology of the elite, Bharatendu in fact did little except widen the divide between popular and elite culture. The effect on the popular stage was negligible. The Parsi theatre was the dominant form of urban entertainment across north India until the advent of talking cinema, while the folk theatre of Svang[*] developed into two prominent styles in Hathras and Kanpur and gradually absorbed the salient features of both Parsi theatre and popular films. But for modern Hindi drama the results were crippling. Divorced from contact with the living theatre of north India, the Hindi stage shriveled to inconsequence after Bharatendu's death. The dramatic societies became inactive, and no playwright of talent appeared on the scene until Jaishankar Prasad, whose plays, though considered the height of Hindi dramatic literature, were never performed on stage. "Closet drama" remained the norm, and the modern stage in this region, unlike that in Bengal and Maharashtra, failed to gain any sort of credibility until after Independence. The disengagement from popular theatre, which began with Bharatendu at the "birth of Hindi drama," was not reversed until the 1960s, when playwrights began experimenting with indigenous forms and drawing closer to the conventions of folk theatre once again.
Banaras Sangit[*] Texts (1868–1885) in the India Office Library and the British Museum
Sangit[ *]Gopichand[*] Bharthari[*] . Lakshman Singh [Lachhman Das]. Munshi Ambe Prasad, 1883. 32 pp. Other editions: Agra, 1867; Delhi, 1867; Agra, 1868; Delhi, 1868; Delhi, 1869; Agra, 1870; Delhi, 1870; Agra, 1871; Meerut, 1871; Delhi, 1873; Delhi, 1874; Lucknow, 1874; Delhi, 1875; Delhi, 1875 (Urdu); Lucknow, 1875 (Urdu); Delhi, 1876; Delhi, 1877; Calcutta, 1878; Delhi, 1878; Meerut, 1878; Delhi, 1879; Delhi, 1879 (Urdu).
Sangit Prahlad[*] . Lakshman Singh [Lachhman Das]. Munshi Ambe Prasad, 1882. 48 pp. Other editions: Delhi, 1866; Delhi, 1868; Agra, 1869; Delhi, 1869; Delhi, 1869 (Urdu); Delhi, 1870; Delhi, 1874; Delhi, 1875; Delhi, 1876; Delhi, 1877; Delhi, 1877 (Urdu); Delhi, 1878; Meerut, 1878; Delhi, 1879; Meerut, 1880.
Sangit Raghuvir[*]Singh . Hardev Sahay. Munshi Shadi Lal, 1882. 16 pp. Other editions: Meerut, 1876; Meerut, 1877.
Sangit Raja Karak[*]ka . Author unknown. Munshi Shadi Lal, 1882. 32 pp. Other editions: Meerut, 1878.
The Rise of a Folk Music Genre:
Scott L. Marcus
Biraha is a folk music genre of the Bhojpuri region, a cultural and geographical entity comprising eastern Uttar Pradesh and western Bihar. From the writings of G. A. Grierson in the 1880s we know that biraha[*] existed as an isolated village genre in the nineteenth century (Grierson 1886). By the 1960s and 1970s, however, it had developed into the single most popular folk music genre of the region, thriving not only in village areas, but also in the cities of the region and, most prominently, in the city of Banaras.
Biraha 's development from relative obscurity to its present position of popularity has been accompanied by changes in virtually every aspect of the genre: song structure, performance context, the concept of ensemble, the use of musical instruments, economic circumstances, and so forth. In this chapter these and other points will be discussed in turn. Special attention will be given to those developments which facilitated the genre's success in the urban environment.
Biraha is an entertainment genre of the lower castes of the region, the common folk. As it exists today, the performing ensemble, consisting of a lead singer accompanied by musical instruments and a small chorus, performs narrative songs, each lasting about forty minutes.[*]
Performances usually feature two or more ensembles and include five to ten hours of continuous music. Each ensemble, of five to six people, positions itself on a raised platform; the main singer stands while the other members of the ensemble sit below him.
Biraha[*] is, for the most part, performed in two distinct contexts: in the villages, and in the city. Village performances occur during the wedding season (March to May); city performances occur during the temple festival season (September to early December). In both contexts the performances are free and open to anyone wishing to attend. Audiences range from 150 to 1,200 people. These performances are thus important examples of lower-class culture occurring in public arenas.
Song texts focus on a variety of topics. Songs not only continue a tradition of retelling and reinterpreting stories from the religious heritage, they also keep audiences up to date on significant current events. Songs telling stories of the heroes of the pre-1947 struggle for independence also play a major role.
Biraha 's popularity has resulted in a swelling of the numbers of performers. Today there are thousands of biraha[*] performers: dozens in Banaras proper and one or more ensembles in virtually every village. The most popular singers have achieved virtual "superstar" status, becoming "household names" throughout the region and acquiring substantial wealth.
Development of the Genre
In 1886 Grierson published forty-two examples of biraha song texts. At that time a song consisted of just two rhymed lines of text and lasted less than a minute in performance. No musical instruments were used. This genre existed solely as a village form and was prevalent among the Ahir (cowherds and milkmen) caste, who now prefer the term Yadav[*] . This genre still exists today with the same village and caste associations but is called khari[ *]biraha , probably to distinguish it from the new genre that developed over the last hundred years.
This is an example of a kharibiraha :
[Ravana cannot succeed in fighting Ram, who has Hanuman at his side, / (to Ravana:) Your golden Lanka will be mixed with the soil (i.e., destroyed), your pride will be broken.]
Oral history holds that the earliest stages of the "modern" biraha (as distinct from khari[*]biraha ) were the creation of one man, Bihari Lal Yadav, who lived from 1857 to 1926 (see fig. 8). Generally referred to as
Guru Bihari, he is universally recognized as the founder of biraha[*] . (Thus, we have the remarkable occurrence of a folk music genre with an acknowledged founding figure.)
The form that Bihari used for his own compositions included an unlimited number of rhymed lines: the genre had grown to allow for more content. Among the changes which Bihari is said to have effected were the invention of a new instrument and its introduction into biraha performance. This instrument, the kartal[*] , consists of two pairs of tapered metal rods, each approximately nine inches in length. The singer holds a pair in each hand, creating a high-pitched ringing sound by rhythmically hitting the two rods against each other (see fig. 8). This instrument is unique to biraha and is thus one of the more obvious identifying elements of the genre.
Bihari introduced his new genre into the urban environment when h e moved to the city of Banaras and began performing at city temple festivals, called shringar s[*] . At the time, the most prominent forms of entertainment at these festivals were kajali[*] (another regional folk genre), Indian classical music, and performances of courtesans, which included music and dance. Bihari began performing biraha at kajali functions. He came away from a number of these the acknowledged "winner" of the event: in kajali performances, two or more ensembles would perform at the same event, and there would be an element of competition between the ensembles. This element of competition was later incorporated into city performances of biraha . Thus biraha had its first successes in the urban environment.
As Bihari's fame spread (he gained renown as both singer and poet) he acquired a number of disciples (shishya s or chela s). When his disciples later attracted students of their own, separate lineages developed. These lineages are called akhara s[*] or, less commonly, gharana s[*] . Bihari had four main disciples and these in turn have their own students (see table 3.1). The various akhara s do not keep records of their members. The system relies on the social contact of the guru-chela relationship for its maintenance (generally, poets are the gurus, singers are the chela s). All acknowledge that the akhara[*] system in biraha began with Bihari.
These akhara s[*] play a major role in organizing the social and performance aspects of the tradition. For example, membership in one or another of the akhara s is mandatory for anyone wanting to become a professional biraha[*] singer. One reason for this is that biraha singers do not improvise their song texts; rather they obtain and memorize texts from poets who belong to one specific akhara[*] . The song texts are the property of that akhara . Thus it is only through membership in an akhara that a singer can obtain songs to sing.
The akhara phenomenon also plays a major role in determining who will perform when the performance is of the competitive, or dangal , variety. In dangal s the two competing biraha ensembles must be from different akhara s. Thus, it is not only the two singers who are competing but also the two akhara s. One's membership in an akhara is not an obscure piece of information; rather it is announced at the end of every song. All songs end with a section called the chap[*] (literally "stamp") in which the poet has composed lines that list the major figures in his specific akhara 's lineage. Thus the audience is constantly being reminded of the singer's akhara affiliation. This is a sample chap , written by Mangal Yadav, a poet and singer of the Ramman akhara :
[Swami (Bihari's guru), Bihari, Ramman, and Hori are followers of the dharma (i.e., are religious) / Hira Lal, Lakshmi, and the poet Mangal serve the temple daily . . .] ("Lakshmi" is Lakshmi Narayan, b. c. 1941, who, as the grandson of Ramman, is considered the present-day titular head, or khalifa[*] , of the Ramman akhara[*] .) Bihari's disciples and others who constitute the next generation of poets composed in a new structure, which included the addition of a periodic refrain called the teri[*] (the creation of which is attributed to Bihari himself). In time, the teri came to be considered the very essence of the biraha[*] form. Recognizable by its distinct poetic structure and melodic line, the teri , in content, is said to encapsulate the song's dominant statement and rasa (aesthetic quality).
Over a period of some thirty years (c. 1920–1950) three distinct formal structures evolved, all centering around the use of the teri line. All three can be said to be variants of the "traditional biraha structure," "biraha in its maturity." Once evolved, all three continued to exist side by side. Besides the teri , two other compositional features characterized the traditional biraha form in its maturity. These are the antara[*] (dophuliya[*] and caukara[*] varieties) and the uran[*] .
Experimentation Leading to the Modern Biraha[*] Structure
The three varieties of the "traditional biraha structure" consisted solely of teri , antara , and uran , and as such were pure "100 percent biraha " structures. In time, however, this purity of melodic and poetic structure became undesirable: poets and performers began to feel the need for greater variety. This variety was achieved when, from the later 1940s (and possibly earlier), poets began to substitute new forms and melodies for one or two of the units within the traditional biraha structure. Sometimes the antara s[*] were replaced by poetic forms such as chand , or sawaiya[*] . However, strict adherence to poetic forms was never a major aspect of biraha composition. Rather, poets would apply the art of parody to already existing melodies. (This is a process whereby the poet selects an existing song as a source for a new melody; he composes a new text on the chosen melody, using the song's original text to guide the phrasing.) The common term for these borrowed melodies is tarz (singular and plural). Occasionally the terms dhun and lay are also used.
For biraha[*] this new technique of parody had major consequences for the success of the genre. The singer could now keep the interest of his audience not only with the story line, but also by the use of various popular melodies. The technique came to be used in two ways. It was the perfect strategy for keeping up with the trend-oriented aspect of modern popular culture: if a new song were sweeping the city (from a film or on the radio or records), within a week or two biraha singers would be incorporating that song into their own. But parody could also be applied using traditional songs. Thus, the singer now had the ability to play up to the conflicting trends of "modernization" and rural and Bhojpuri pride. This could even be done within the same song by first quoting the latest Bombay film song and then introducing a village melody. This technique proved highly successful.
There is a large body of tarz available to the poet for use through the process of parody. Bombay is forever providing new film songs. (Films in India usually have five songs each. These songs are the object of a "Top 40" type of popularity.) There are also the melodies used by non-Bhojpuri music ensembles: qawwali[*], alha[*] , and Nautanki[*] . And there are the melodies of Bhojpuri folk music. Poets are proud to point out that Bhojpuri musical culture alone offers an unlimited source for melodies ("anant bhandar"). Bhojpuri musical culture has some twenty or more genres that are more or less melody-specific. Among these are songs associated with specific castes (for example: mallah[*]git[*] , boatmen songs; dhobi git , washermen songs, etc.), songs associated with specific rites of passage (sohar , birth songs; vivah[*]git , wedding songs, etc.), songs associated with specific seasons (kajali[*] , songs of the rainy season; phaguwa[*] or holi[*] , springtime songs) and a large number of other miscellaneous folk song genres (khemta[*] , kaharawa[*], chaparahiya[*], jhumar[*], purvi[*], lacari[*], bideshiya[*] , and others).
To increase the entertainment value of their performances, singers even began to sing a few lines of the borrowed melodies' original text before proceeding to sing the parodied lines. As far as the story of the biraha song was concerned, this was a complete digression, but the en-
tertainment value could not be denied; audiences loved it then and continue to do so now.
Beginning in the late 1940s, there followed a long period of experimentation. Poets tried all varieties of tarz in differing orders. By the late 1960s a new structure began to emerge. By about 1970 this new structure became standard for virtually all full-length biraha[ *] songs. This is still the case today. The most surprising aspect of this structure is that the formal elements of the traditional biraha (the teri[*] , caukara[*] and uran[*] ) have been reduced to minimal representation. Non-biraha melodies now outnumber the traditional biraha melodies! This has given rise to frequent statements that biraha no longer exists; it is now a composite genre best called simply lok git[*] , a "folk music." It is now common to hear someone say, "Yes, lok git is happening up the street," referring to a biraha performance. However, despite their own statements to this effect, the biraha community continues to call their genre biraha .
Poets and singers emphasize that the new structure is flexible; the requirements of a particular story line might necessitate a change in the structure. But there is an inviolable aspect of the above progression: the song as a whole must progress from naram to garam (literally "soft to hot"), that is, the level of excitement must build. There can be no slackening of the energy level in the middle of the song. The climax should come at the end (before the final uran ). Accordingly, tarz are judged for the quality of energy that they evoke. The beginning and ending progression are stable features of virtually every full-length song because of the "naram to garam" effect that they help create.
Biraha[*] as a Profession
During the period when the above changes in song structure were taking place, there were also major developments in the performing ensemble. During Bihari's time, there was no concept of a fixed ensemble. A singer would bring one or two companions to serve as a chorus, or he might ask one or two people from the audience to sing with him. All three people would play the kartal[*] (see fig. 8).
When biraha poets began to experiment with the traditional structure of the biraha song, the resulting complexity necessitated that the chorus members be specialists. Uninitiated singers were no longer able to sit in casually as chorus members. Thus, a new entity emerged, the parti[*] (the English word "party"), consisting of a lead singer and usually two steady chorus singers (teribharnewale[*] or terikahnewale[*] ).
At about the same time, changes in the genre's instrumentarium expanded the ensemble's size. In the late 1940s a few singers experimented with adding a dholak[*] player to the ensemble (a dholak is a barrel drum with skin heads stretched over the two open ends of the barrel).
Shortly thereafter, the harmonium was added (a portable keyboard instrument; the sound is produced by air from hand-pumped bellows passing through reeds). In time, both the dholak[*] and the harmonium gained wide acceptance. While it was still common in the 1970s to find village parties that did not include a harmonium player, by the 1980s the dholak and harmonium had become standard features of all biraha[*] ensembles. The standard biraha party today is a five- to six-man ensemble: a lead singer, a dholak player, a harmonium player, and two or three chorus singers. The latter provide rhythmic accompaniment by playing the kartal[*] and another idiophone called the jhanjh[*] . Recently a few parties have experimented by adding a flute player in some of their city performances. However, this is as yet an isolated phenomenon.
An important aspect of the modern-day party is an explicit hierarchy among the party members. While many comment that in Bihari's time the ensemble was an informal group of equals, today the lead singer is clearly the head of the ensemble. A party is known by the name of its lead singer alone (e.g., Hira Lal and Party). It is the lead singer who is hired to give a performance and it is he who is paid. He in turn pays his party members. The pay scale for the different members reflects their relative status. Today, the best-paid parties are paid for each performance: Rs. 40 for the harmonium player; Rs. 35 for the dholak player; Rs. 30 for the two chorus members. After paying out these fees and any travel expenses the lead singer keeps all remaining money. This often amounts to from five to ten times what he has paid his individual party members. Thus, it is only the lead singer who achieves substantial wealth and fame. It is not uncommon for the party members to comment on their second-class status.
The addition of musical instruments to the ensemble has been credited with instigating the change in the genre from avocation to vocation. Before the introduction of the dholak and harmonium, singers were invited only informally to sing at a given function. Remuneration, only in the form of inam[*] , was minimal. Older singers all point out that singing was then an avocation, an act of love ("Log shauk se gate[*] the.") With the introduction of the dholak and harmonium players, the situation had to change. The dholak and harmonium players were not members of the biraha community. Their skills were in demand among a number of other performance genres that coexisted in the area (especially qawwali[ *] and kajali[*] ). Thus, they had to be paid to assure their steady attendance and loyalty. This meant that the biraha party could
no longer be invited informally, but rather had to be hired for the occasion. The lead singer was now obliged to ask for preset fees. Initially these fees were small, but as the genre grew in popularity, so the fees increased accordingly. Today there are a number of lead singers who have become very wealthy from their performances, earning over Rs. 50,000 a year.
The Larger Social Context
Biraha[*] has traditionally been a genre of the Ahir and neighboring castes (Rajbhar[*] , Kurmi, Mallah[*] , etc.). These groups are from the lower end of the caste system. Common ranking (by members of the upper castes) places these groups at the top of the fourth (Shudra) varna (the fourfold ranking of the various castes: Brahmin, Kshatriya, Vaishya, and Shudra).
Performers and members of the biraha[*] audiences are usually from the lower castes. People from the upper castes consider it beneath their dignity to attend biraha performances; they do not consider biraha to be worthy of their attention. Recently, however, the lucrative aspect of biraha has attracted singers from all castes. Today some 20 percent of biraha singers are from outside the traditional group of castes. Everyone associated with the genre is proud to state that today there are singers from every caste. (One of the great figures in the history of the genre, Ram Sevak Singh, is a Thakur, i.e., of the Kshatriya varna . Among the top performers today are a Brahmin, a Thakur, a Harijan, and a Muslim.)
As was mentioned, biraha is performed in separate village and city contexts. In the rural areas, weddings occur during the spring months; it is here that biraha finds its village context. (The length and dates of the wedding season vary each year according to astrological considerations. In 1983 it lasted three months, from April to June. However, in 1984 it lasted only one month, from April 14 to May 14.) Marriages in this part of India are village exogamous. Weddings take place in the bride's village, at the bride's house. The groom, his male relatives, and a large number of their male guests all travel to the bride's village in a procession called the barat[*] . The barat arrives in the evening (6:00 to 9:00 P.M .) and leaves around 4:00 or 5:00 P.M . the following afternoon. The members of the barat set up camp in a field near the bride's house. Large tarps are spread out; a colorful tent is often erected for the occasion.Biraha performers are hired to entertain the groom's marriage-party members during their stay in the bride's village. There are two time periods when entertainment is considered necessary: two to three
hours (from 9 or 10:00 P.M .) on the first night, and some five to six hours (usually beginning around 10:00 A.M .) during the following day.
When biraha[*] existed only as khari[*]biraha and then later as the early stages of the modern biraha , the genre was performed at weddings in an informal manner only. (Khari[*]biraha is still performed in this fashion.) But as the expanded party came into being, biraha became part of the formal entertainment. Today, biraha is the featured entertainment at weddings of the Ahir and neighboring castes, that is, biraha 's constituent castes. (Biraha[*] singers from other castes perform regularly for their own castes' weddings.)
When biraha is performed at weddings, the person in charge of the entertainment is the groom's father (called the barat[*]malik[*] , the lord or master of the barat ). He or one of his sons, brothers, or helpers travels to the biraha singer's house and hires the latter to perform at the upcoming wedding. The barat malik can hire as many parties as he wants. If there is more than one biraha party (occasionally there are three, four, five, or more), the parties will take turns, each performing one song at a time.
The second major context for biraha performances is the city temple festival season. The festivals, called shringar s[*] , are held annually for each functioning Hindu temple and serve as festivals of rededication and redecoration. Residents of a temple's immediate neighborhood form a committee to organize the festivities. Besides arranging for fresh coats of paint and occasionally major and minor building renovations, the shringar[*] committee also organizes one, two, or three nights of religious and social functions. Many temples have a regular date for their shringar (reckoned by the Hindu calendar). The shringar season as a whole is said to start with Krishna Janmashtmi[*] (late August to early September) and run until early December.
Religious functions include a hawan pujan[*] (a ritual performed by Brahmin priests which centers around a sacrificial fire) and possibly a reading of the Ramayan[*] in its entirety (called Ramayana[*]path[*] ), or a communal session of bhajan singing led by a local kirtan[*]mandali[*] (an informal group of men who gather, usually weekly, to sing devotional songs), or both. For the social functions the shringar committee arranges one or more of the following forms of entertainment:
1. biraha ;
2. qawwali[*] (a Muslim musical genre, which is often adapted with Hindu themes for these occasions);
3. orchestra (a recent phenomenon in which a band performs imitations of hit film songs; these bands appeared in Banaras in c. 1978);
4. the showing of a film;
5. Indian classical music (chosen only rarely).
If the shringar[*] is to last more than one day, it is common to have two or more of the above, that is, one performance each evening.
As was mentioned above, when biraha[*] first entered the shringar circuit, kajali[*] was the most common form of folk music to be performed at these functions. Initially, biraha singers sang on the same programs with kajali singers. A number of biraha singers fared very well in these events. In time, some committees decided to hire only biraha parties. Armed in the 1950s with new instruments and the newly developing formal structure, which put a premium on the entertainments and sentimental values of its melodies, biraha began to take over performance opportunities from kajali . By the mid-1960s this had become a major trend, so that by the 1970s kajali (the shayari[*]kajali that was performed at shringar s[*] ) had virtually disappeared. The expression on everyone's lips today is "kajali tuti[*] ," kajali broke. Biraha[*] (and, to a lesser extent, the other forms listed above) has taken its place. Today, biraha is the dominant form of entertainment at Banarsi shringar s.
Once a shringar committee has decided on the type of entertainment it wants, one or more of the committee members will approach the performers of their choice and hire them for their shringar . The money needed for these functions is collected by door-to-door solicitation from the homes and businesses in the immediate neighborhood. Contributions (called canda[*] ) are usually Rs. 2, though some people and the larger neighborhood businesses might give Rs. 11, 21, or more.
The entertainment functions take place on the city street nearest the temple. They begin at 10:00 or 11:00 P.M . when normal city activities have come to a halt. Most functions are of sufficient size to warrant the closing of the street. The entertainment continues until after sunrise. In fact, the hustle and bustle of the morning activities (especially the street traffic) play a major role in bringing these functions to a close.
These events are free and open to everyone. Most of the people in the audience are residents and shopkeepers of the neighborhood.
Women, however, attend only in the morning as the events are coming to a close. A significant percentage of the audience are people who just happened upon the function while traveling to or from other engagements. There are also devoted fans who will travel across the city to hear their favorite singers. Audiences range from 150 people at some poorly attended functions to over 1,200. Attendance depends largely on the fame of the two lead singers.
These functions are advertised in three ways. Sign boards called list s[*] are hung by the sides of the road or are painted on any available wall space. Announcements of upcoming events are often published in the local Hindi newspaper, Aj[*] , on its third page. But the most effective source of advertisement is the loudspeakers that are placed up and down the street for one to two hundred yards on the morning of the first day of the shringar[*] . All of the shringar 's activities are broadcast over these loudspeakers, bringing the occasion to the attention of thousands (often tens of thousands) of people.
When biraha[*] is to be performed at these functions, two ensembles are hired. These performances are called dangal s, a word which emphasizes that the program is viewed as a competition between the two parties. Two stages are set up approximately a hundred feet apart. The audience sits between the stages either on large tarps that are spread on the street or (more rarely) on chairs that are provided. The audience first faces one party, which will sing two songs. Then the audience turns around and hears two songs from the other party. The two parties alternate in this fashion throughout the night. Each set of two songs usually lasts from one to one and a half hours.
The success of the entertainment functions within shringar s[*] can be attributed to a number of factors. Since the events are held in the name of religion, the committees usually have no trouble collecting the necessary funds. The functions themselves fit into the general mold of Banarsi festivals by incorporating the standard repertoire of lights, decorations, music, an open-air setting, and all-night activities (N. Kumar 1984:289, 291). The lights include long strings of mini-bulbs
("Christmas lights" in the United States). These are hung from poles along the side of the road. The resulting effect is that of curtains or a lengthy canopy, which helps to define and ornament the site for the event. Further decorations are provided by folk painters who are hired to paint on any available wall space in the immediate shringar[*] area.
The element of competition has also contributed to the success of these events. When performed at shringar s[*] , biraha[*] (and qawwali[*] ) features an aspect of competition between two lead singers (and their ensembles). A few shringar s have also sponsored programs of wrestling and forms of weight lifting (using jori[ *] , a pair of long, cone-shaped weights, and gada[*] , a club with a spherical mass at one end), with trophies being given to the winners of the various events. Members of the audience often comment that the aspect of competition is one of the major attractions of these musical and athletic events.
There is also an implicit sense of competition among the various neighborhoods as to which area has the best shringar . This has resulted in numerous two- and three-day shringar s and in the committees vying for the most famous performers. A few committees have recently sponsored two or three consecutive nights of biraha as a way of distinguishing their shringar from others in their vicinity.
Biraha 's[*] position of prominence at these festivals reflects, in part, the major change in the nature of shringar s that has occurred over the last fifty years. Nita Kumar (1984) reports the withdrawal of members of the upper classes from these and other public festivities. A new "morality" caused the upper classes to frown on culture in public forums. Classical music and the music and dance of courtesans, prominent on the streets of Banaras some forty to fifty years ago, both retreated to indoor, usually private settings. Banaras's classical musicians began following "a different set of expectations of the constitution of a 'proper' audience, of audience appreciation, and of the value of a professional artist. The 'public,' crowds, and open gatherings have become negative concepts now" (N. Kumar 1984:193). Shringar s[*] , with but a few exceptions, have been left to the domain of the lower classes.
With the withdrawal of the upper classes from the audiences, if not the financial support, of shringar s, these festivities became an important symbol of lower-class identity and a major forum for lower-class cul-
ture. "Shringar s[*] . . . are indicative of a 'lower class' identity, in that they serve to separate and define their participants. . . . The event is considered to be one belonging to the low classes, of the poor and uneducated" (see chapter 5 in this volume). Biraha[*] , a music of the lower classes, was embraced as the appropriate form of entertainment for these events.
Biraha , the Mass Media, and Stardom
Besides offering the potential for asserting lower-class identity, shringar s[*] were also vehicles for developing neighborhood pride. Today each neighborhood wants its own shringar[*] . This trend has been supported by major increases in the size and population of Banaras: surrounding rural areas are becoming urbanized; thus the number of neighborhoods is increasing. Also neighborhoods within the city are becoming subdivided, with each smaller division wanting its own festivals.
It is clear from the above that there are a number of performance contexts available to the performer. Fame and fortune are real possibilities. Besides the separate city and village seasons described above, there has also been, for the top singers, a third season. Since the early days of the modern-day biraha[ *] , the top performers have been called to Calcutta, Bombay, cities in Gujarat, and the like to give performances for laborers who are originally from U.P. and Bihar. These performances take place from December to February when winter's cold puts an end to all performances in eastern U.P. and Bihar. These programs are unusual for two reasons. First, many are "ticket programs," that is, one must buy a ticket in order to gain admission. Second, the performers are often paid as much as ten times what they earn for performances in the Banaras area (this being above travel expenses, which are provided separately). Thus, except for the monsoon season, the top biraha parties have performances throughout the year.
When the initially skeptical producers of commercial records became convinced of the lucrative aspect of producing regional folk musics, biraha and other Bhojpuri genres began to appear on records. For biraha this first happened in 1955. Since then a number of recording companies have produced records of biraha , initially on 78-rpm and now on
45-rpm. These recorded songs have been either three or six minutes in length.
Biraha[*] was first broadcast over the radio from All India Radio's Allahabad station in about 1960. Later the government built AIR Sarnath, the Banaras station. There are presently some eighty-five groups that perform folk music on AIR Sarnath's folk music show. Each day a different group's music is broadcast: six songs spread out over three different shows, at 1:50 P.M ., 5:15 P.M ., and 6:40 P.M . The songs, five minutes in length, are in any of some fifteen different folk genres. Biraha is one of these genres. A given group's music is usually broadcast four times a year. Musicians and poets refer to the short songs that they must prepare for radio or records as chote (small) lok git[*] or simply lok git to distinguish them from the longer songs that make up the bulk of their repertoire.
In the last eight years audio cassettes of biraha[*] have also appeared. With audio cassettes, recording of full-length songs is now possible, as the time limitations imposed by records and the radio are no longer a factor. Today cassette stores in Banaras offer dozens of cassettes of live biraha performances. (The lok git of radio and records are all studio recordings.) However, 99 percent of these cassettes are illegally produced. Microphones are set up, often near the loudspeakers that are a part of every live performance, without the knowledge or consent of the performers involved. The people who produce cassettes from these recordings establish no contact whatsoever with the performers themselves. Needless to say, performers are not paid for these recordings.
The relative ease and low cost with which cassette recordings can be made and duplicated has resulted in a major pirated-cassette industry. Within days after a legitimate cassette or record appears in the market, there are two, three, or four pirated copies of the new release available on various spurious labels. The duplicate cassettes all have different covers and designs, but they are identical to the original in content. Because of this pirated industry, all but two legitimate companies have been forced to stop producing commercial recordings of biraha .
In the last few years, a few biraha ensembles have performed on television. The shows are taped in Lucknow. In 1984 biraha appeared for the first time in a film ("Sonawa[*] ka Pinjara[*] "). Two ensembles performed, each presenting one short song. Television and film will undoubtedly play significant roles in the future of the genre. (In late 1984, Banaras received its own TV relay station; however, shows are not as yet produced locally.)
This variety of performance contexts has made biraha a compelling profession to which performers are attracted from a very young age. A child first enters the active biraha community of performers by casually
sitting in with the chorus members. This is allowed on an informal level: there is always room on the performers' chauki[*] (the platform on which the performers sit or stand) for such an individual. After a while the child will learn the format structure of the songs and the melodies that are used. Next he must memorize a few short songs. Children who show the desire and ability to master a few songs are occasionally given a chance to perform at the end of a biraha[*] program. (During the shringar[*] season, this would be at about 7:00 A.M . following a night of continuous music.) These children would use the party of one of the professional singers.
Over the past fifteen to twenty years, singing in school competitions has played a role in the training of new artists. Yearly competitions are held in October/November. The singing of folk songs is just one of the activities in competitions that also include marching and wrestling. Winners in each category progress from school-wide competitions to mandal[*] -wide, district-wide, regional, and then state and national competitions. One of the younger biraha singers who has gained considerable popularity recently had his training and gained recognition in these competitions.
When a singer wants to become a lead singer in his own right, he must do two things: he must organize his own party and he must decide which akhara[*] he wants to join. Once he has decided on a particular akhara , he arranges for a public ceremony to be performed (called sinni[*] ), during which he officially pledges his allegience to that akhara (he "sinni carhate[*] hai," raises up sinni ). At the same time, a member of that akhara (either the titular head of the akhara , called the khalifa[*] , or one of the akhara' s poets) publicly and officially accepts the singer into the akhara . Having performed this ritual, the new member is then given access to all the songs of this akhara .
One of the earlier stages on the road to fame is becoming a "radio artist." A singer and his party must sit for an audition, called a "voice test," before a panel of judges appointed by the radio station. These auditions happen four times a years. A group must pass this test for their music to be broadcast over the radio four times a year.
At a given function, singers and their parties usually perform only with other singers of equal age and status. As a young singer becomes popular and gains a following, his big break will come when one of the superstars agrees to sing "against" him (i.e., in the same program). This
becomes the young singer's "ticket to fame." Word spreads that he has sung against the famous "so and so." If he fared respectably in that performance, other singers of fame will soon agree to perform "against" him. Once the young singer has performed with the most popular singers, he has officially "arrived." The frequency with which he is asked to give performances will increase dramatically. He will enter a very substantial income bracket, leaving behind the poorer economic circumstances of the majority of his audience.
In the past, the most popular singers lived either in village areas or in the city. Recently, however, with the rise in the popularity of the genre and the development of "superstar" status for the top of performers, there is a new prerequisite for becoming a full-time professional singer: the singer must take up lodging in the city of Banaras, so that he is easily available for those wanting to hire the top artists. The result of this newly felt need is that all the main performers are now residents of the city of Banaras. Banaras has thus become the center for the genre.
Members of the biraha[*] community are unanimous in emphasizing that biraha is a product of Bhojpuri culture. It is village life that typifies this culture. Significantly, the genre had its roots in the villages: its earliest stage, khari[*]biraha , has existed solely as a rural genre. When poets began to introduce non-biraha melodies into the biraha form, they continued to rely heavily on traditional Bhojpuri songs. In interviews and even within the notes inserted into performances, poets and singers have stressed the traditional roots of many of the tarz: "There is an endless store of Bhojpuri tarz, tarz which our people have been singing for ages." Singers have introduced these melodies with pride: "This is a Bhojpuri tarz , a completely traditional tarz ." Furthermore, the kartal[*] , the instrument that most typifies the genre, is a product of village life: it closely resembles the iron rod that is the major functional element in the ploughs of the region. Members of the biraha community take pride in stressing the grass-roots elements of the genre. At the same time, many aspects of biraha 's development are the result of urban influences, such as the emphasis on film tunes as a source for new melodies and the introduction of the harmonium into the ensemble. (The harmonium is not traditionally found in the villages.)
Biraha[*] , increasingly, is an urban genre that can thus be seen as being informed by two opposing urges: the desire to stress the genre's rural and vernacular (Bhojpuri) roots; and the desire to adopt new features and new developments (new instruments, the latest film songs, or the latest developments in structure). In order to reconcile these two urges a song structure has developed which uses a number of different melodies, all within the same song. A single song can thus respond to both urges simultaneously: after presenting one or two traditional folk melodies, the singer can move on and introduce the latest film song.
The two opposing urges are further reconciled by the new Bhojpuri film industry: the latest film songs can now be Bhojpuri songs. Until recently, Bhojpuri films were a rarity; now they are quite common: in 1983 there were five or six newly released Bhojpuri films. Poets have remarked that they now seldom include the new Hindi film songs; new songs from the latest Bhojpuri films provide an ample supply of new melodies.
The urban influence can be seen as having affected more than just the content and structure of the songs: it can be argued that it was Banaras's urban environment which helped to break down the genre's social isolation. In the villages, it might well have remained restricted to the Ahir and neighboring castes. Performed on the streets of Banaras, the genre came to have a wider following. It became not so much a genre of a certain group of lower castes as the property of the lower classes in general. As such, biraha 's[*] fortune came to be linked with the rise of lower-class culture and the growth of the shringar[*] phenomenon that has taken place in Banaras over the last fifty years.
The success that biraha has experienced has been aided by forces both external and internal to the genre itself. For one, biraha appeared in Banaras at an advantageous point in time, when lower-class culture and its temple festivals were expanding. Equally important, singers and poets proved remarkably flexible in their understanding of what constituted the genre. Change was never shunned. Rather, the genre was shaped and reshaped over the years to keep it responsive to the interests of its audiences.
An Example of a Modern-Day Biraha
[This is an excerpt from a live performance. The song tells the story of a theft that occurred at the Vishwanath[*] temple in Banaras in January 1983. The lines in italic were sung; the rest were spoken (not s or the accepting of inam[*] ). The excerpt begins when the singer, having just finished singing the gazal , is accepting an inam ]:
O.K. my dear brothers, I've received a puraskar[*] of Rs. 6 and a garland of flowers from my brother, Debi Lal.
But the tarz has changed, my dear friends. This is a Bhojpuri tarz :
My Rs. 125,000 nose-ring fell in the middle of the bazaar .
O king, I've lost a lot in my young age .
Yes, this is the tarz , my dear friends, but the words of the song [the new text superimposed on this melody]:
The thief took Rs. 1,600,000 in gold in the dark of night.
The sinner desolated the Shiva temple in Kashi [Banaras] .
Four thefts had taken place, little was taken.
On the fourth of January in the early morning the thieves entered the temple .
The thieves got gold in the fifth theft .
The sinner desolated the Shiva temple in Kashi .
O.K., brothers, I've received a Rs. 2 puraskar[*] from the honorable Lal-ji Yadav. Thank you.
Pay attention, my dear friends. This was not the first theft. Before this there had already been four thefts at the Vishwanath temple [the most important temple in Banaras]. But in the previous four thefts, the thieves couldn't get their hands on a significant amount [of money]. If you'll remember this winter's weather, from the first of January  till the fifteenth, the weather was so bad that, forget about the night time, in the daytime darkness remained spread [over the city]. All day long it remained foggy. So what can be said about the night time? During that fiercely cold night, on the early morning of January fourth, the thieves entered the temple. When they tried to pull up the gold at the base of the Shiva lingam , they weren't able to do so. So the thieves began to hit their heads on the lingam ; calling out in appeal, they said, "O Bhole Nath [an epithet of Shiva], you are very merciful. It was with great difficulty that we've come here. Bhole Nath, please give us the gold." Shiva is so merciful that he closes his eyes and gives the thieves the gold! But the next day, the police officials [realize the situation and] become troubled. They go into the Shiva temple and begin to hit their foreheads [against the lingam ]. Appealing to Shiva, they say, "You are so merciful, O Bhole Nath, please help us catch the thieves." He gave the gold to the thieves, and now, it might take some time, but surely He'll turn over the thieves to the police.
Now comes a tarz from the Balliya-Chapara border [an area 170 km. northeast of Banaras on the U.P.–Bihar border, very much in the heartland of the Bhojpuri region]. Which tarz is this? A completely traditional tarz . This is a Bhojpuri tarz that people have been singing for ages. Which tarz is this?
O Ma, I went to wash my hair at Father's pond, when a sparrow took away my nose-ring and a crow took my necklace .
In this tarz the words of the song:
The gold wasn't coming into their hands so the sinners starting praying, the thieves asked "O Lord of the World [an epithet of Shiva] give us the gold ."
The merciful Shiva closed his eyes .
The thieves took the gold; the news spread .
Trying to get a lead they ran around; then the police officials asked, hitting their heads, "O Bhole Baba, give us the thieves."
Not only in India, but throughout the whole world, commotion spread. What commotion spread? This is set in the teri[*] :
The thieves desecrated Tripurari [an epithet of Shiva],
In every direction commotion spread that a major theft has taken place .
[The song goes on to describe the public outrage, the mass demonstrations that took place on the streets of Banaras, and the events that let up to the capture of the thieves and the recovery of the gold.]