Burrakatha is a Telugu art of story telling. In the coastal Andhra region, burrakatha is called jangam katha. In Telangana, it is also known as tamboorakatha or saradakatha. In Rayalaseema, it is known as Tandana katha or suddulu.
Usually, this art is practiced by a team of two or three people from the same family of certain castes/tribes like picchuguntla or jangalu. Burrakatha narrators are also known as Saradagallu. In this form of narration the main storyteller tells the story while playing a tambura (a stringed instrument) and dancing wearing andelu (anklets). One or two associates or sidekicks assist the narrator with small drums called gummeta or budike.
There are differences between the Telangana, Andhra and Rayalaseema Burrakathas. Language is distinctly different from each other. Telangana narrators use budige tambura, while Rayalaseema and Andhra narrators use padige tambura with a hood. Some use brass drums and others use earthen drums. Telangana narrators consider their tambura as goddess Sarada and hence they are known as Saradagallu. Telangana narrators do the performance while sitting, where as Andhras tell stories while standing. In Rayalaseema the main narrator tells the story while holding a stick, while his associates play tambura and drums.
Origins of Burrakatha: Jangam folklore (kulapuraanam): One day four founding fathers of the jangam tribe went to forest to hunt for rats. While they were digging for rats, the supreme God Parameswara and his wife goddess Parvati saw them. Goddess Parvati felt sorry for their low quality of life and requested the supreme Lord to give them a better life. God explained her that they don’t deserve to have a better life because of their bad nature. However, goddess Parvati insisted. Then Lord Parameswara suggested that they test these four men and then decide their fate. Lord Parameswara became an old man and Goddess Parvati became a beautiful young woman. They both together went to these tribal men and suggested a better way of life. The four men ridiculed and pushed the old man aside and attempted to rape the young woman. Goddess Parvati got angry at their behavior and cursed them to become beggars and nomads. Since then they became beggars and nomads and continued their uncivilized life and came to known as jangam (nomad, not stable, as opposed to stavara -stable) tribe/caste.
This tribe took Virashaivism religion under the influence of Basava of Karnataka (12th century). For the livelihood they continued begging and started burrakatha, in which they narrated the stories of Lord Shiva. Thus, the meaning of jangama acquired the meaning of “the worshipper of Lord Shiva,” “one who wears linga” and so on. After the Virashaivism disintegrated, most of them gave up the principles of Virashaivism and started eating non-vegetarian food and drink alcohol. Contrary to the principles of Virashaivism, Jangalu are divided into various castes such as Budigejangam, Bedajangam, Malajangam, Madigajangam, Urajangam, Ganayatajangam, Shivajangam, Itamukkalajangam, Pirikijangam and so on. However, Jangamdevaras still follow some principles of Virashaivism.
Modern History of Burrakatha: During the independence movement (first half of 20th century) in the Indian continent, Burrakatha was brought into mainstream in Andhra Pradesh and was used for political purposes. Burrakatha was banned in Madras province by the British government and in the independent Hyderabad kingdom by Nizam government, because the purpose of this form of narration was to enlighten people of the current political situation in various political meetings. One of the associates used to be a political commentator and the other a humorist.
Popular artists in the field were Pendyala Venkateswarrao, Paruchuri Ramakotayya, Sirivisetti Subbarao, Kosuri Punnayya, Govardhana, Kakumanu Subbarao, Davuluru, Chintalal Suryanarayana etc. Women also formed groups, e.g., Moturi Udayam, Chintala Koteswaramma, Mahankali Lakshmi etc.
Thus, Burrakatha that was born into Virashaivism in 12th /13th century and graduated in politics grew out of beggar’s bowl to become a popular art in Andhra Pradesh, and is played on TV and radio regularly now.
References: “Janapada Kala Rupalu” by Prof. Jayadhir Tirumalarao, in Andhra Pradesh Darshini, volume 2.
Budige Jangalu, Dr. N. R. Venkatesam
Sreenivasarao Vepachedu, October 7, 2001
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