Monday, December 3, 2007


133yrs history of family based theatre
Surabhi theatres are more than a century old. This is a unique collective of Telugu theatre companies. Organized on commercial lines, they tour rural areas with a repertoire of over thurty plays. Their ancestral home was Surabhi. This was a village in Cuddapah district where they started their activities. All the groups refer to themselves as Surabhi Theatres.

The community, consisting of warriors who allied with the British during the First War of Indian Independence had migrated from Maharashtra and spoke a dialect of Marathi called Are. The death of its earliest-known ancestor, Vanarasa Sanjeeva Rao, forced his three sons Ramayya, Venkayya, and Krishnaiah to make their livelihood by performing puppet plays in Telugu in the Rayalaseema area. They came across an orphan boy, Pakeeranna, whom Venkayya adopted and named Govindappa. In later years he became famous as the founder of Surabhi Theatres.

Govinda Rao did not like the family profession. He ran away to Nandyal in Kurnool district and joined the Jyothi Subbaiah Nataka Company. He was brought back to Surabhi with the assurance that the family would henceforth stage only regular theatre. During a wedding in the house of patrons, Ramireddy and Chennareddy, Govinda Rao and the elders enacted Kichaka vadha i.e. `Killing of Kichaka` in 1885 with great success. They started performing in the district and Govinda Rao called the group Sarada Vinodini Nataka Sabha.

In its early days, Raptati Subbadas, who was an actor and Harikatha exponent, wrote, directed, and played the lead. It was renamed as the Sarada Vinodini Sangeeta Nataka Sabha. It attained huge popularity on all its tours, which included coastal Andhra in 1901, Madras presidency and Mysore in 1902, Burma and Malaya in 1903. Govinda Rao was a good organizer. Starring excellent singer-actors like Chinna Ramayya, Anjanamma, Papabai, and Venkubai, and featuring the latest equipment and Subbadas`s training, the troupe gained fame. It applied the colour schemes of shadow theatre in make-up such as chalk, lampblack, red, and yellow ochre. Unlike in other professional companies, women played female roles were a definite point of attraction. The elaborate trick scenes remain the main reason for their popularity even today. 

If you wish to support  Surabhi theatre and let the traditional theatre to survive, please help us:
The honorable PADMA SHRI award from the Govt. of India
Mr. Surabhi Rekandar Nageswara Rao (Babji) received the award from the  President of INDIA ,2013

R. Jayachandra Varma M.B.A, received Ustad Bismillah Khan Yuva Purskar Award – 2016 from Sangeet Natak Akademi, New Delhi.


Very soon they have come to be known very popular for the materialistic realisation of the enigmatic effects of super human powers of the devathas, rakshasas, mantrikas and so on meticulously on the stage. They perfected the technique so much that it got identified with the place of the origin of the theatre group Surabhi. Not only the theatre groups started subsequently under different names one each by the 10 daughters and the three sons of Govinda Rao but also of their descendants , enjoyed the same reputation because of the prefix Surabhi, from the Sanskrit Shushstu Rabhathe Janaanandam, Ithi Surabhi


Rekamdar Venkatrao, KALA PRAVEENA Subadhramma garu
founders for the VENKATESWARA NATYAMANDALI IN 1937. After completion of decades in theatre now R.Nageswara rao (Baabji)
is organising the surabhi

Surabhi Sri Venkateswara Natya Mandali comprising about 60 artistes of the same family under the stewardship of R. Nageswara Rao alias Babji staged Srikrishna Leelalu, Baalanagamma and Mayabazaar and somany other mythological plays.


 Surabhi Parnika Varma started her performance in her 3rd month 
The sets changed in a flicker of second. Cobras came alive with their fully spread hoods on the stage. Arrows projected as varuna and agneyaastras created rain and fire. The entire universe got revealed in the small mouth of the tiny tot Krishna. The Hamsatoolikatalpam with Sasirekha lying on it flew in the air all the way to the ashram of Ghatotkacha and many more such thrilling feats realised as part of the plays kept the houseful audience bedazzled and dumb struck in their seats 


Reasonably good display of histrionic talent coupled with ability to sing, dance and render versified dialogues in chosen ragas as well marked the performances.


The original idea for film Mayabazar is Surabhi play Sashirekha parinayam played many decades back.
The tricks, songs all are taken from surabhi plays
Abhimanyu and sashirekha's love scenes are still fresh in presentday


Surabhi’s origin is traced back to the people belonging to the king’s armed forces from Maharashtra, settled in Andhra Pradesh. It was Vanarasa Govinda Rao who decided to divert from puppetry and take up theatre for his livelihood. Thus Surabhi was started in 1885 from a small village in Cuddapah district.


Sri K.V.Ramanachary(IAS) garu is permananent and powerful
supporter for SURABHI family.Under his guidance surabhi has given so many shows and a semi permanent theatre in Hyderabad.


As they were not so proficient in the local Telugu dialect, they opted for a sanskritized version of Telugu, which was also convenient for them to perform mythological plays", she writes in one of her essays. Though there were 46 groups with 2000 working actors, there is now only one single family with 64 members upholding the tradition


Surabhi family depends on mouth publicity only.The media as well as pomphlets supports widerely.Electronic and print media has played a great roll to pull the audience to the theatre.
The Government of Andhra pradesh (cultural department)sponsoring all the shows and providing subsidy.Few artists of surabhi family are getting Scholorships regularly.


More than 100 artists are living under one roof with their families happily for sake of theatre
We can find unity in diversity in this family
Where ever the shows runs, there they arranges their temporary tents.This is really wonderful


Every person who plays a role as an artist before the audience, he should work labouriously behind the curtain.This is a unique role for an artist.This reflects the commitment of the artists


R. Nageswara Rao, the head of the family known in short as Babji is expecting us half an hour before the beginning of the show. He leads us over the stage to behind the backdrops which are not only theatre backdrops but actually a whole village.


The men and women have built this village here in the park, made small houses with wood and corrugated sheets, raised and built the theatre auditorium, a month of back-breaking work before the first show could take place. Babji takes us through his village.

The women cut vegetables, let them simmer. They will continue to do it all through the show leaving their work only when they have to step on the stage and later come straight from the stage back to the hearth. Every one eats together after the show.


Directly behind the stage the main actors are putting on makeup and pulling on colourful unique costumes. Babji serves us tea which I assume to be coffee with milk and sugar only stronger and more aromatic.

He explains that though they often play the same piece for weeks they do have a big repertoire. Once in a while someone commissions them for an occasion, a birthday, a wedding, or something similar. They do a play in between on this evening.

There is no book with the texts of these plays; it is a purely spoken tradition that one has to grow into. Even the really young actually act.


for Humor there are several skits in surabhi
plays.Artists performs hillarious comedy as we seen in movies. Sri krishna leelalu, Mayabazar,
Balanagamma are few among them

During the performance which revolves around Krishna, a two and half year old comes on to the stage several times with a heavy mace, sees what papa, mama or uncle are talking about and then disappears only to appear again a little later pulling the mace behind him.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Costume designings with self

They live generally about 40 kilometres away from Hyderabad and often come to the city for some time to present their plays. It is interesting that the grooms are integrated into the Surabhi family even today. This is done in order to keep families together and also because it was especially difficult to marry off an actress and leave her in another family. The women do not move out, the men move in and naturally perform as well.


The 122 years of great service to the Theate have a versatile person behind its curtain.
He is the key and back bone to Sri Venkateswara natyamandali (surabhi)
Under his organisation the troop developing day by day.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

The father of the Surabhi community was Vanarasa Sanjeevarao. He had two wives and ten children. In an inebriated state, one day, Sanjeeva rao not only gave away his share of property to lhis brothers' sons by signing the will, but also ended his life at a fair of goddess
In the history of dramatic arts, it is the greatness of perhaps only Surabhi" community to have lived making the stage a part of ltheir life, for over hundred years.