Golla Kalaapam or Golla Natakam was written by the Saint Poetess, Maathrusri Tharigonda Vengamamba in the 18th century. Golla means the cowherd caste or the Yadavas of the Hindu religion and the word Kalaapam means an argument. Golla Kalaapam is in fact an effective argument between a milkmaid and a Brahmin priest on the intricate caste system. Majorly the poem is a verbal squabble between the two people of two different castes to establish the true meaning of the word “Brahmin”.
Maathrusri Tharigonda Vengamamba was born in 1730 AD. She belonged to the Nandavareekssect of the Brahmin caste. Vengamamba was an ardent devotee of Lord Venkateshwara from when she was a small child. Unfortunately she was one of the hapless victims of child marriage- a social evil that was the raging norm of those days. However, she lost her husband very soon after marriage but continued to dress like a married woman with the Mangal Sutra chain on her neck, the large red on her forehead and colorful clothing. She refused to remarry because for her, the Lord was the only true-partner she could accept in life. And she did face a lot of resentment from her community because her way of living was never suited for a widow. She shifted to Thirupathi- the temple of Lord Venkateshwara, where the temple authorities welcomed her as they had heard of her devotion. According to popular legend, Lord Venkateshwara was so pleased with her devotion, that he allowed her to visit the temple after temple hours in order to listen to her soulful poems. But unfortunately for her, one day the temple authorities found her pearls lying on the floor of the inner sanctorum and they banished her to a cave inside a hill located about 15km away from the temple. It is believed that the Lord dug a passage for her connecting the hill and the sanctorum, so she could come to meet him every day after temple hours. And the visits continued for six years until the temple authorities realized their folly and welcomed her back. She was allowed to participate in the Ekantha seva- the last service to the God at Thirumala temple where the Lord is put to sleep. Vengamamba was allowed to do the Final Aarathi for the God during this time. Even today, a descendant of the noble lady offers pearls to the Lord, every night, called the Vengamamba Aarathi.
She has written numerous songs and poems. Some of her popular works are Rama Parinayam, Sri Baghvatham, Jala Krida Vilasam and many more.
Golla Kalaapam was written in a mix of Telugu and Sanskrit and is now a popular dance drama in Kuchipudi. The poem had many edits and insertions; however the most popular version was that of Parama Guru Bhagawathula Ramaih who made changes to the original text in order to choreograph the poem for Kuchipudi dance in Baghwathula Sampradayam. Golla Kalaapam in Baghwathula Sampradayam is very much different from that done in Kuchipudi Devadasi Alaya Sampradayam- a set of dancers totally dedicated to the temple deity of the region they belonged to.
The descendants of the Devadasis, who perform Kuchpudi in the Alaya Sampradayam and who are now settled in the east Godavari district of Andhra Pradesh still follow the original Golla Kalaapam poem written by Vengamamba for their dance drama.
There are only two characters in this famous dance drama- the milkmaid called the Golla Bhama and the Brahmin priest called the Viprudu. The poem is so beautifully crafted to underlay the fact on who is a true Brahmin. The uneducated but intelligent milkmaid wins over the highly educated Brahmin dousing his inherent and foolish pride on topping the levels of caste system. The poem is laced with wit and sarcasm but never once losing its true essence.
Mummidivaram Annabatula Lakshmi Mangatayaru- one of the descendants of the Devadasi clan, says in her interview with the “The Hindu”, “The intrinsic Vedanta of this form is far more profound than Bhama Kalapam. When the Golla Bhama, a naïve, unsullied soul utters truth of life to a priest, who passes her way:
“Janmana Jaayathe Sudraha,
Karmana Jayathe Dhiwajaha,
Brahama Gynaanena Brahmanah.”- isn’t that the kernel of our Sanathana Dharma.”
These lines form the foundation of the entire poem. It means you are born as a shudra- the common worker or the service provider. The next stage in life is when you become a Vaishya – the agriculturalists and the merchants, as you garner proficiency in your chosen profession. When you gain the understanding of the four Vedas, you become a true Kshatriya and as you master the complete knowledge of the Brahman, you turn into a true Brahmin. It is indeed a wonder on how the illiterate milkmaid has such proficient knowledge on the absolute Truth and more of it is about how easily the poet twists her characters on her fingers with complete ease. The Kuchipudi dance drama beautifully incorporates the main essence of the poem in the dance.
There are different stages in the poem where the Golla Bhama, explains to the proud priest about the Bhrama Gyan in her simple words and of all which are charmingly integrated in the dance. The first section, called the Viniki Ghatam or the Gollala Ghatam is all about the Supreme Being. The second phase called the Yagnol Pattu or Yagna Gattam deals with life after death and also explains the significance of the rites and religious rituals required for the different social sectors. The third segment called the Pindothpathi, describes the womb, the gestation cycle and few aspects of embryology. The last section called the Tripurasura Samhara, is all on the destruction of ego, evil and ignorance and thereby learning the absolute truth. The ignorant milk maid has her stupendous win over the conceited priest.
Golla Kalaapam is a surely a must watch dance drama for the marvelous showcase of the cleverness of the Golla Bhama and how she totally and assiduously humbles the learned priest.