About Surabhi Kalaanidhi
About Surabhi Kalaanidhi
Surabhi – the name that obviates any specific introduction in the domain of Telugu theatre.
During the early days of the theatre when a performance was typified by the domination of auditory aspects of music and literature with the relegation of the visual aspect to pitiable inattention, it was the Surabhi group that identi-fied the need to emphasize the visuals that should have been at least on par with the other aspects because of the power of immediate message possible through, because inherent in, the visual demonstration. With this perspective – let us say, vision, with the pun intended –, the Surabhi group has carried out, over the years, much technical research, and their name is now synonymous with stunning, innovative ways of presenting any selective anecdote that were sadly absent in the traditional Telugu theatre that used to be more audio than visual.
The inception of the Surabhi group was almost as old as the beginning of the very Telugu theatre (circa 1860). During the days of colonization, these people migrated from Maharashtra and engaged themselves in various vocations – in the British army, puppet-shows, sleight of hand, and the like – and used to earn their living. Of these, the people who lived by puppet-shows gradually matured into the theatrical presentation, to be identified in the later years as the Surabhi group that has undergone much transformation into what is known of it today. To be more specific, in the year 1885, two chieftains named Rami Reddy and Chenna Reddy used to invite these people for presenting their puppet-shows on any important event in their household. This presentation was slowly modified with the substitution of the puppets with live characters involving the members of the Surabhi household, and the subject for the debut of this modified presentation was episode of keechakavadha from maha bharatham, which was the humble start, the tiny seedling that grew to the arboreal prominence of today the world over.
During this 138-year long transition, their repertoire has enlarged into a rich combination of episodes from different genera of the theatre – mythological (e.g. bhakta prahlaada, sri krishna leelalu, maayaabazaar), historical (e.g. bobbili yuddham, veera brahmendra charitra, saibaba mahathmyam), folklore-fantasy (baala naagamma, paataala bhairavi), and sociological (chintaamani) – that were unique by their techniques of illustrative translation of the themes that enthralled the wide range of audiences from the illiterate to the scholarly. Their all-new treatment and presentation of the episodes earned them numerous awards at various levels from the local and state to the national padmasree.
With their lives inseparable from the theatre right way back since 1885, the group burgeoned into about 60 sub-teams that used to tour numerous towns and villages to give performances in a nomadic fashion. As of today, five such sub-groups are performing as a mobile theatre, while the rest have settled down in vocations ancillary to the theatre. It was many decades before the state government, in 1990, finally identified the Surabhi theatre as a part of our cultural heritage, and allotted residential plots to the members in Serilingam-palli to ensure their permanent geographical settlement. It is these very residential plots that are now collectively called the Surabhi Colony, where every household is occupied either directly with the theatre, or with the jobs relating to it, and is living accordingly. In brief, the theatre is their same life blood as it was 138 years ago.
In the colony, they have earmarked some space for a make-shift auditorium to conduct regular monthly performances, through which they intend to refine and perpetuate the theatrical art down to the progeny; this apart, they have undertaken to contribute their mite to the furtherance of the Hinduism, and perform numerous spiritual rituals and observe religious occasions specific to Hindu faith, such as (a) observance of the nine-day festivities on the occasion of Sree Rama Navami, Ganesh Chaturthi and Dasara, comprising daily worship rituals, conduct of theatric presentation of plays relating to Hindu mythology, (b) one full-day rendition and chanting of raamanaamam on the eve of Sree Rama Navami (ehkaaham), conduct of Sita-Rama Kalyanam, and a public feast, (c) for Hanumajjayanthi, conduct of specific rites of worship and a public procession, and so on.