This week, as part of Sundays with Dr. Rajkumar series, our focus will be on a historical film, Mayura (1976).
Based on Devudu Narasimhashastri’s novel by the same name, Mayura recounts the story of the founder of the Kadamba dynasty (by and large a reliable entry in wikipedia), Mayurasharma, a Brahmin student in Kanci, the Pallava capital, who rebelled against the Pallava kings to avenge a personal insult. Along with the Gangas (C. 350-10th century) who ruled southern Kannada speaking regions, Kadambas (C.345-525 AD) established the earliest Kannada kingdoms. Theirs was also the first dynasty to use Kannada as a written language for political communication, and the first known document issued around 450 AD is found in Halmidi, in Hassan district. However, for us the great contemporary relevance of this film is due to the rebellion against a Tamil kingdom (Pallavas) thus providing an opportunity in the present to articulate Kananda nationalism, using this historical episode. In this review, I will focus on the content of this Kannada subjectivity, wherein uniquely Kannada values could be defined.
Consider the following song, which, Mayura sings, after he drives away the Pallava soldiers who are mercilessly beating up Kannadigas for not revealing Mayura’s identity or his location. He consoles them, offers them hope, promises to protect and ensure their welfare.
Naniruvude nimagagi, nadiruvudu namagagi.
Kannireke, bisiusireke, Kannireke, bisiusireke?
Balivirella hayagi, balivirella hayagi.
Naaniruvude nimagagi, nadiruvudu namagagi.
I am here for you, this land is for us all,
Why tears, why this long breathing,
You will all live happily, you will all live happinly,
I am here for you, this land is for us all.
Onde tayiya makkalu navu, sodarante navella.
Nimmodanindu nanu nondu, midida kambani arilla.
Bharavase niduvenindu, na nimmodaniruvendendu,
Tayiya ane nimmanu kaduva vairiya ulisolla.
We are all children of the same mother, like brothers we all are.
With you today, I am also hurting and my tears haven’t dried.
I promise, I will be with you.
I promise on our mother,
I shall not spare the enemy who troubles you.
Savira janumada punyavo eno, nani nadali janisiruve.
Tapasina phalavo, hiriyara olavo, nimmi pritiya galisiruve.
Vairiya badidodisuva, i nadige bidugade taruva
Janatege nemmadi saukhyava taralu pranavane koduve.
Perhaps due to merit earned in thousand births,
I am born here.
Perhaps due to the fruit of penance, or grace of elders,
I have earned your love.
Let us drive away the enemy, and liberate this land,
To bring happiness and contentment to people, I shall give my life itself.
It is striking to see an individual, even a king, take on so much responsibility on himself to alleviate the suffering of a people and to bring them hope. While we should note the image of a king / benefactor that is evident in this song, we should remind ourselves that similar expectations are relevant in the context of modern politics and films too. I will return to this theme later. Today, let me provide the outline of the movie and then identify themes for further postings.
The film opens in Kanchi with Mayura, a Brahmin youth challenging an arrogant wrestler and defeating him. Mayura had never been formally trained and had only learnt techniques of wrestling by observing other wrestlers. As a Brahmin, he was required to study Vedas, yet he was deeply interested in martial arts and after this wrestling encounter, Ranga Jetti, the premier wrestler in Kanchi, takes him under his wing and trains him. After becoming proficient in all the martial arts, one day, while observing the training of Pallava princes, Mayura accidentally gets into a fight with and gives a thrashing to Vishnugopa, the Pallava prince, thereby earning his enmity. After this, Mayura has to flee Kanchi as per the advice of Ranga Jetti, to escape from pursuing Pallavas. He also then learns that he is in fact the son of Raja Chandravarma (this is not possibly accurate historically), the Kadamba king who was killed by deceit by the Pallava king, Sivaskandhavarma. Upon learning from his father’s minister, his Kshatriya antecedents and his illustrious lineage, Mayura dedicates himself to throw the Pallava (foreign) yoke and liberate his motherland. Returning to Banavasi in the guise of a merchant called Nilakanthagupta, Mayura builds a following and an army. Through clever strategies, he conquers both Banavasi and the Telugu speaking regions around Srisaila, thus building a vast kingdom. While the film builds the rivalry between Vishnugopa and Mayura, it also throws light on the mutually admiring friendship between Mayura and the Pallava crownprince (who isn’t named in the film and addressed just as yuvaraja) and also on the growing love between Mayura and Premavati, the Pallava princess. In the end, Vishnugopa overcomes his anger and hatred towards Mayura, who marries Premavati, with the blessings of Sivaskandhavarma himself.
Obviously, in the present day context, there are many important themes to write on. The rich historical narrative and the question of memory in relation to Kannada subjectivity is a theme that I need to discuss, especially in the context of what I have characterized earlier as an anxiety-centric activism. Further, I also want to explore the values associated with Kannada culture and in general the notion of a Kannada culture itself. Also necessary would be a posting on the history of Kadamba dynasty and the sources for reconstructing this history, and the significance of Kadamba capital, Banavasi, as a core area for classical Kannada culture. The film also has fabulous dialogue and nice songs, which deserve our attention too.
Cast: Dr. Rajkumar, Manjula, Srinath, Aswath, Rajashankar, Vajramuni, M. P. Shankar, Tugudipa Srinivas.
Dialogue and Songs: Chi. Udayashankar.