Kudanthai Mali brought to stage the story of Mahan Narayana Guru

From Kudanthai Mali’s play Mahan Narayana Guru.
| Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Mali’s stage recently presented the play Mahan Narayana Guru (written and directed by Kudanthai Mali), at Narada Gana Sabha. Mali is known for his scripts with a social message. A play on the social reformer Narayana Guru, is, therefore, right up his street. Mali gave everyone in the audience a pamphlet with quotes about Narayana guru. This gave one an idea not just about the Guru’s geographical reach, but the impression he made on many eminent persons, including Tagore and Gandhi.

The play begins with the birth of Narayanan, Nanu to his family. The signs of greatness are evident even when Nanu is a child. He does not blindly accept rules, simply because they have been followed for centuries. And as he grows older, his reformist zeal becomes stronger. His mother thinks marriage will help him settle down. But he walks out of the marriage, and takes to penance.

From Kudanthai Mali’s play Mahan Narayana Guru.

From Kudanthai Mali’s play Mahan Narayana Guru.
| Photo Credit:
Special Arrangement

When lower castes are denied entry into temples, he establishes a linga for them to worship. He knows that education is a tool of empowerment, and his gurukulam includes children from all castes. When they recite a Sanskrit shloka with perfect diction, Rajagoplachariar, Diwan of Cochin and later Travancore, is convinced that the guru is on the right track.

Narayana Guru believed that it was the dead wood of tradition that had to be discarded and not Hindu philosophy. Nor was he against any caste. In a scene in the play, he points out that many reformers were themselves Brahmins. His encounter with Ramana Maharshi, depicted in the play, is a meeting of two enlightened souls. They exchange no words, but communicate in silence.

All the major events in the life of Narayana Guru were captured by Mali, with a voice-over briefly mentioning the ones that could not be accommodated in the play. Mali’s Mahan Narayana Guru was more like a documentary than a play, which was understandable. Although Narayana Guru’s ideas were revolutionary, his methods were peaceful. So, obviously, one could not expect much action on stage.

Mali had encapsulated the guru’s teachings as much as he could in a two-hour play. Except for K.R.S. Kumar, who played the aged Narayana guru, the other actors had minor roles. Kicha had come up with some good tunes for the play. Padma stage Kannan’s props were minimal, but appropriate.