Like intimate theatre, Talamaddale is an art form that collapses the distance between performer and spectator. Named after two instruments, the talamaddale performance is replete with cymbals and drums, recitation of compositions and a dialogue between the performers. The plot is borrowed from the puranas or epics. It exploits the oral power of the Yakshagana and its impact lies in the interpretative skills of the Arthadharis, the bearers of meaning, who don the role of different characters.
In Dakshina Kannada, this form is also called kuta, unlike aata which describes Yakshagana. Kuta refers to a crowd or an intimate gathering. The Arthadhari’s expertise does not come from formal education, but an awareness of shared knowledge. Talamaddale’s impact in the coastal Karavali region has shaped the popular imagination of the Ramayana and Mahabharata. this is not just an art form confined to one caste group, one finds Arthadharis even in the Muslim community. In fact, as an art form, it aims to bring in people belonging to diverse backgrounds. If Bhandaris play the music, people from different castes interpret the texts. However, in Uttara Kannada, this art form is widely practised by Havyakas.
Some scholars say that Talamaddale is a branch of Yakshagana that emphasizes its musical and vocal aspects. Others believe that it preceded Yakshagana, as a household practice of recitation and interpretation. Anantha Padmanabh Phatak, a renowned Talamaddale artist, points out the seasonal nature of the art form. There used to be as many as 180 performances till themonsoons began. A housebound art form, children were taught to recite the texts.
Though it is performed on stage across Karnataka today, Talamaddale does not have a widespread provenance. Such art forms are regionally bound. According to Phatak, Talamaddale is not aimed at large audiences, instead thrives in courtyards. What Talamaddale shares with Yakshagana is its masculine nature of presentation. The performance involves several features that are often attributed to masculinity and it is quite rare to find a woman donning the role of Arthadhari.
Today, Ranga Shankara presents a Talamaddale performance by Phatak Yaksha Samskruti Trust. Renowned Yakshagana and Talamaddale artists like Umakanth Bhat, Ujire Ashok Bhat, Vasudeva Ranga Bhat, Ananta Padmanabh Phatak, Shashank Arnady and others will perform Devidasa’s Bheeshma Parva. He is an early 19th century poet from Dakshina Kannada, who has authored famous Prasangas like Draupadi Swayamwara, Bhabhruvahana Kalaga, Bheeshma Parva and Krishna Sandhana. This Prasanga is about Bheemsha’s decision of spearheading the battle of Kurukshethra for the Kauravas. It narrates his last years and the battle from his perspective.
Prasanga is the text that the performers present and interpret. Umakanth Bhat says Prasanga voices Prasaktha, that which is current. These texts are interpreted and understood in the light of current trends. Shashank Arnady adds that he is the youngest among the Arthadharis and a non-professional. He has spent years in the corporate world and feels that it is all about team management and leadership. His experience will only help him to understand the journey of Rama and Krishna not only as gods but as leaders. Phatak opines that Talamaddale in its structure is quite exclusive and may not reflect temporal differences. Therefore a deliberate effort to make it contemporary is awkward. Its space is in the puranas, traverses in the mythical landscape and it is a kind of lively archives to reflect upon our present.
Phatak says that one cannot deny the err in judgement of Rama in killing Vaali, but it depends on the Arthadari in representing this incident. In fact, initiating a debate on the moral ground would be limiting the scope of a tale, as morality is not universal. So, an Arthadari should posit incidents in different contexts. However, more Prasangas should be written focusing on the contemporary aesthetics. He hopes to have more successful compositions like Aesu Mahathme and Swarajya Vijaya.
Taalamaddale is an epic scale recitation, narration, and interpretation art form. In the coastal Karnataka it popularised epics among the masses and helped in building holistic imagination of the epic characters. Bhat concedes to the fact that more than performing a text, the recitation and narration only helped him grow as a being. Every performance made him live the life that he could not otherwise. He shares that he does not have brothers, but Rama fills the vacuum. However, limited in its scope, Talamaddale helps in knowing one’s myths and puranas.