is the most popular form of narrative entertainment in the
state of Andhra Pradesh. In this theatrical form, a storyteller
accompanied by his partner gives recitals for two or three
days. He sings dances and recites a story, before the people
of a village under the patronage of a village elder.
The term 'burra' refers to 'tambura', a stringed instrument
worn across the right shoulder of the performer. 'Katha'
means a story.
The main performer (kathakudu) plays the tambura with his
right hand as he dances rhythmically forward and back on the
stage while reciting a story. The performer also wears over
his right thumb, a hollow ring in the palm of his hand. With
the rings, he beats the basic tempo of the songs.
At regular intervals during the narration he responds to his
co-performers, two drummers who play two-headed earthen drums
(dakki). The drums produce a distinctly metallic sound
to accentuate the songs and are regarded as an indispensable
ingredient of Burrakatha performance.
The drummer to the right of the performer is known as the
'rajkiya'. He comments on contemporary political and
social issues even if the story concerns historical or mythological
events. The drummer on his left, the 'hasyam', cracks
jokes and provides comic relief.
Performance begins in the evening with devotional songs in
praise of various celestial beings. Then the performer introduces
the main story by establishing the place, time and historical
context of the action. During this the rajkiya and hasyam
repeat the refrain of the narrative.
When the introduction is concluded, the main plot begins in
which all three perfomers take an active role assuming various
characters in the incidents, as well as providing narrative
bridges between incidents. Dance, recitation, song and enactment
of scenes provide variation within a strong narrative line.
Generally a story continues for two to three hours. A longer
work may be serialized into several consecutive evenings.
Burrakatha stories fall into three categories - mythological,
historical and sociopolitical. Although the form was originally
improvised, today popular stories have been written down and
committed to memory by performers.