The Victory of Prahlada’s Devotion

By Dr. Padmavathi  Narasimhan

Saint Tyagaraja  has composed three operas ‘Prahlada Bhakta Vijaya’, ‘Nauka Charitram’ and ‘Seeta Rama Vijayam.’

‘Prahlada Bhakti Vijayam’ is a full-length drama in five acts with 48 songs set in 28 ragas and 132 verses written in different meters. It has in addition, invocative, descriptive and introductory gadyas, choornicas and other forms of prose passages of great merit. The interesting part of this musical play is that it does not have the characters of Hiranya Kashipu or Narasimha.

Sukanya Prabhakar presented this opera with her disciples on the 11th of this month. The whole event was colourful with the actors in costumes appearing in the role of Prahlada, Narada, the queen and her friends, Samudra Raja, Lord Vishnu and Maha Lakshmi, while the singers were present on the dais throughout. Five senior disciples of Sukanya — her daughter Sumana, Veena, Nityashree, Meera Manjunath and Medha Manjunath — presented more than 15 compositions from the musical play.  The play opens with the observation that there is no Vishnu prasada for a man who worships God but ignores his devotees.

Like the sutradhara in a Sanskrit play, the story of a queen asking her friends to narrate a good story was introduced to create interest. They narrate the story of Prahlada as in PBV and as the story continues, songs are inserted in between, when necessary. The first composition was ‘Vinata Suta Raa Raa’, in Huseni, wherein Tyagaraja depicts how Samudra Raja (Lord of oceans)calls on Garuda to rescue Prahlada from the snake bonds. Prahlada is rescued and Samudra Raja advises him to involve himself in Hari Dhyana. Narada arrives to see Prahlada. ‘Narada Muni Vedalina’(Kamavardhini), says, ‘Listen to the grandeur with which sage Narada set out meditating on the lotus feet of the Lord and always reciting His name in order to convey good tidings to Prahlada.

Listen to Narada who proclaims that victory is certain to those who listen to the secrets of the effulgent Lord’. ‘Ipudaina Dalachina’ in Arabhi, ‘Ennaga Manasuku raani pannagashayi’ (neelambari) and Eti Janmamidi ha’ (Varali), carrying the same mood of desperateness in not being able to see the Lord, were rendered by each of the singers. The joy of Prahlada on seeing Lord Vishnu was depicted in ‘Enati Nomu phalamu’ (Bhairavi) and ‘Nannu vidachi Kadalaku Ra’ (Reetigowla). Vishnu grants Prahlada a boon. But Prahlada is not interested in anything materialistic. He humbly pleads Him to grant him His feet. The Lord smiles and disappears. Prahlada yearns for the Lord again — ‘Oh, Jagannatha!’ and Lord Vishnu appears again with Lakshmi. Prahlada worships him with ‘Sompaina manasuto impaina bangaru’(Ahiri) and appeals to him-‘Pahi Kalyana Rama’. While Prahlada as a devotee wins, Prahlada’s utter devotion to the Lord wins too and hence the name ‘Prahlada Bhakta Vijaya’. (Prahlada Bhakti Vijaya).

The summit of Tyagaraja’s aspirations was to experience in every breath the bliss of his devotion to Rama and thereby gain a vision of his favourite idol. In many of the songs in Prahlada Bhakti Vijaya, this longing finds eloquent expression.

Every song breathes the fragrance of one or other aspect of Nava Vidha Bhakti. In every one of the songs is reflected the working of a bhakta’s yearning in his soul.

While singing was excellent and the kaleidoscopic costumes rich and bright, the acting skills can be improved upon in the future shows of the musical play. Aditi (violin) and Ramanujam (mridanga) are also responsible for the success of the event. Dr Sukanya and her team must be applauded for the effort.