People from across the walks of life have contributed their might to the cause of our country’s freedom. In addition to kings, chieftains and intellectuals, poets and stage artistes also contributed and sacrificed.
One such stage artist was S.S. Vishwanatha Das. Born in 1886 CE in Sivakasi (TN), he was named as Dasari by his parents. In the early days, he was brought up in his grandfather’s town of Tirumangalam (Madurai), where he learnt bhajans from the devotees. At the age of 8, he returned to his native town and enthralled his villagers with his bhajans and sweet voice. He was fondly called as Dasari Das by his villagers.
The local temple priest identified Dasari Das’ talent in acting and singing and advised his father to nurture his talent in his field of interest. Half-heartedly, Dasari Das’ father admitted him in a local drama troupe. Dasari Das was renamed as Vishwanatha Das and made his debut in stage plays at the age of 8 (1894 CE). From then on, he donned many roles in the stage plays including Rajapart and Sreepart.
As he grew as an adolescent, Vishwanatha Das observed the tyranny of the British rule and understood the hardships faced by us under them. Hence, he started infusing patriotic themes even in his puranic dramas. His stage plays of Lord Muruga, Kovalan and Harischandra, reverberated with songs and dialogues, which kindled the patriotic spirit of the audience. He started growing popular with his innovative ideas of blending puranic themes with the contemporary freedom spirit.
He started his own drama troupe “Shanmuganandam Art Group” and further enhanced the patriotic doses in his drama. The Jallianwala Bagh massacre of 1919 shook his conscience and deeply impacted him. In his subsequent stage plays, his song “Punjab massacre is the most horrible act on the earth” (பஞ்சாப் படுகொலை பாரில் கொடியது) became a runaway hit and claimed mass appeal. This song became an integral part of all freedom movement meetings/rallies conducted by various organizations at that time. This made British police to turn their eyes and ears on Vishwanatha Das and he was marked by them for his movements and activities.
Vishwanatha Das continued to inspire the audience with his patriotic appeal and exhorted citizens to join the freedom struggle. Hence, Vishwanatha Das was arrested many times by British police and numerous cases of sedition was filed against him. This did not deter him from pursuing his patriotic appeal and he was repeatedly arrested. At one point in time, it became a norm that Vishwanatha Das would do a stage play and would be imprisoned for 3-6 months and upon his release he would once again do a stage play only to be re-arrested.
His son Subramania Das got arrested by British police for supporting his father. When British police indicated that he would be released if his father tender unconditional apology for his previous acts and also undertake that he would not repeat those in future, Vishwanatha Das squarely rejected this and mentioned that he would prefer his son to be in jail rather than apologizing to Britishers for his patriotic pursuit. Hence, his son had to be in jail for 1 year and later released.
After Vishwanatha Das met Gandhiji in 1925 in Thoothukudi, he decided to promote Khadi in all his stage plays. All the characters in his stage plays, even the puranic icons like Lord Muruga and Harischandra would adorn Khadi as their dress in his stage plays. This has further infuriated British Police and they started constantly harassing Vishwanatha Das with threats and arrests. At one point in time, police would wait for him in the theatre and arrest him upon his arrival even before the stage play is enacted.
On the one side, chances of stage plays were getting bleak due to the pressure exerted by British Police on organizers, which resulted in loss of livelihood and on the other side, Vishwanatha Das had to face numerous cases filed against him. He had to pledge his house in Tirumangalam to take care of his family and fight cases. VO Chidambaram Pillai appeared for him in the cases without fees, though VO Chidambaram Pillai himself was finding it difficult to meet the ends.
In the year 1936, Jawaharlal Nehru visited Thoothukudi and Vishwanatha Das accompanied him in the same ship for travel to Sri Lanka. As the ship reached Thalai Mannaar, the British police prevented Vishwanatha Das from de-boarding and advised him to go back. When he pointed out that Jawaharlal Nehu is also accompanying him, the police mentioned that they perceive Vishwanatha Das to be a real threat and that they are not worried about the presence of Jawaharlal Nehru. Hence, he had to return to Bharat without his stage plays being enacted in Sri Lanka.
The house pledged by him could not be redeemed on time and British Police decided to auction it. Vishwanatha Das tried to raise funds to redeem his house, but could not. British lured him with an offer – If he decides to conduct stage plays in support of British, then the house would be returned to him. He flatly refused the offer and vowed to fight British till his end.
As he was staging his play Valli Kalyanam on 31st December, 1940 in Chennai, he died on the stage adorning the costumes of Lord Muruga in front of the packed audience. This sent shock waves amongst the audience and the common public and he was cremated with full public honours the next day.
Vishwanatha Das is one of the many unsung heroes, who gave his everything for this country and refused to bow down to foreign forces even during the most difficult times in his life. He will continue to inspire us to re-dedicate ourselves in the service of Bharat Mata.
Courtesy : VSK BHARATH