Harikatha faces identity crisis among new generation across Andhra Pradesh

Express News Service

VIJAYAWADA: Harikatha, which was, once upon a time, one of the most prestigious art forms in Andhra Pradesh now stares at a bleak future as the newer generation barely knows about it. “My son knows about this art form only because I am involved with it. Almost none of his friends are aware that our State is the bearer of one of the oldest art forms,” said Nemani Nagalakshmi Bhagwatarani after she performed ‘Parvati Kalyanam’ at Sri Seetharama Kalyana Mandapam in Shivalayam temple of Satyanarayanapuram here on Sunday. 

She performed in the five-day birth anniversary celebrations of Harikatha exponent Adibhatla Narayana Das, which began on Sunday. He was a poet, dancer, vaggeyakara, musician, literati, linguist and creator of the modern school of Harikatha.

Nagalakshmi has been performing Harikatha since 1973. She said, “Harikatha has gradually entered the list of diminishing art forms over the period of time due to lack of encouragement. Earlier, the maharajas and zamindaars encouraged the artists respected and took good care of them, but nowadays nobody recognises neither our talent nor us.” 

The art form which was performed daily in olden days now struggles to get even four shows a month. “We could feed our families easily through our performances. But for the last 15 to 20 years it has become difficult to earn a livelihood out of it as the mode of worshipping God and celebrating festivals has changed massively,” lamented Nagalakshmi. 

“Harikatha, which is the perfect combination of story-telling, music, dance and singing is absolutely unknown to the present generation,” said founder of Annamayya Parivaramu Yenamandra Venkata Krishnaiah. 

Though the condition of Harikatha performers is bad, there are some organisations that are taking efforts to save the dying art form. Narayana Das Sishya Prasishya Sangham founded by the Late Lakshmi Narayana Bhagwatha, prime disciple of Narayana Das is one, while Annamayya Parivaram, Hyderabad is another organisation. 

It has been 68 years that Harikatha programmes have been organised by Annamayya Parivaram to spread the knowledge of the art form. “Though we conduct this programme every year in Vijayawada, we do not get the response we seek. We get the audience from the older generations but fail to attract the youth. A few of them do come, but they do not show any interest in the show or in learning the art,” said Krishnaiah. 

Similar programmes are performed regularly at Vizianagaram (which is known as the birthplace of Harikatha), Guntur, Rajamahendravaram, Amlapuram, Mungunda, Vijayawada and Visakhapatnam. 

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