Mudalapaya (mUDalapAya) (ಮೂಡಲಪಾಯ) or Doddata (doDDATa) (ದೊಡ್ಡಾಟ) is a form of folk drama, prevalent particularly in the north eastern parts of Karnataka. However variants are present all over Karnataka apart from the coastal Karnataka. ‘Mudala’ literally means eastern signifying the fact that this theatre is endemic to non-costal Karnataka. They are called ‘hirE ATa’ and very infrequently ‘Yakshagana’. These are usually performed by non-professional rural artists on festive occasions under the guidance of a teacher called ‘ATada mAstara’ or ‘sUtradhAra’. This form is not more than two hundred years old. Mudalapaya could have referred to a regional variant of Karnataka SangIta. Most of the rAgas and tALas used in Mudalapaya have sprung from this school of music. The story line and the costumes might have been later additions. (?)
These performances are usually based on full fledged texts, having mythological stories and episodes as their thematic content. Usually these themes are based on battles and warfare because of an emphasis on valour and courage. ‘Lava-Kusha’, ‘Bheemarjunara KaaLaga’, ‘Krishnaarjunara KaaLaga’, ‘Lankaadahana’ and ‘Keechakavadhaa’ are some illustrations. Otherwise, they are focused on a wedding as exemplified by titles such as ‘kanakAngi kalyANa’ and ‘ratikalyANa’. Of course even in these plays weddings are preceded by long drawn battles. Hence the basic emotions of Mudalapaya plays are valour and awe. (Veera and Raudra) Playwrights such as gandigavADA bALamBaTTa, nEsargi basavaNNappa and nalavaDi srIkanTashAstry have composed the texts for these performances. Usually the play begins with a prayer in the green room itself. At the outset the Sutrdhaara enters the stage and offers his prayers to Lord Ganesha and Shaarade. This is followed by an episode involving bAlagOpAlas.
The charioteer (sArathi) who makes his appearance at this stage plays a crucial role in this play. He is the one who introduces all other characters of course in a stylized manner. He endears himself to the spectators by his originality and an enduring sense of humour. He is also called ‘hanumanaayaka’. He is present on the stage almost through the entire performance. He is a product of pure folk genius.
Doddaata performances are extremely energetic and require lot physical stamina and consummate skills because valour is their tour-de force. This is evident in the dialogues, songs and the dances associated with it. The characters deliver a series of high flowing sentences full of Sanskrit words and internal rhyming, in a very high pitch virtually without any break or a change in modulation. The songs reveal a fair share of folk elements even though they are based on Karnantak music. Most of the songs are rendered by the ‘sarathy’. The background musical support consists of more than five instrumentalists. It is virtually a group. The instruments are maddaLe, gunDatALA and mukhavINe. Harmonium has made a late entry.
Mudalapaya dramas are held on a raised platform built of boards, bamboo and such material. It is called ‘kaTTalu’.
Dances lend a special aura to Muadalapaya performances. Sometimes the heroes and demons succeed in breaking the very platform on which they are dancing, with their vigour and vitality. They consist of movements of two or three steps. Big crowns made up of cut glass and other trinkets adore the male characters. They wear broad shoulder bands also. (bhujakeerthi) They are armed with mazes, arrows and bows. Woman characters wear zari sarees and smaller crowns.
Of late some modern directors have tried to bring about certain innovations in the performance of these productions.