As the name suggests, Natakapriya can be a confounding rāga for a novice. It is the 10th Mēḷakarta rāga in the Mēḷakarta system in Carnatic music expounded by Venkatamakhin, which consists of a total of 72 rāgas. The swaras used in this rāga are:
SA, (r1) shuddha rishabham, (g2) sadharana gandharam, (m1) shuddha madhyamam, PA, (d2) chathusruthi dhaivatham and (n2) kaisiki nishadham.
I listened to nātakapriya for the first time when Sanjay Subrahmanyan rendered a rāgam–tānam-pallavi “Hridaya kamala nivāsa hare — shri krishnayya”. When Subrahmanyan started essaying the rāga, I had no clue what the rāga was or where it was heading to, as it had a bit of Thodi and it also sounded a bit like kharaharapriya while ascending the higher notes.
I tried to decipher the rāga note by note and could almost draw an outline where it consisted all swaras, but I did not know the name. I was desperate. By then, the recital of the rāga was over and the singer announced that it was nātakapriya. Voilà, it was novel indeed! I comforted myself in a lighter vein saying, “Oh, even others don’t have an idea, which is probably the reason Sanjay announced its name.” However, on second thoughts, I was impressed by the aptness of the name: nātakapriya, meaning the one who loves acting.
Then I happened to listen to “Ithi samayamu brova rada” composed by Mysore Vasudevacharya where he hails “yadukulatilaka” (Lord Krishna of the Lunar Dynasty) asking him, “O Yadukulatilaka, has not the right time yet struck upon to bestow your infinite grace?” Though it appears a simple request or prayer, the ‘samayamu’ is a relative term that calls for further deliberations as to whether the composer was referring to a time, which was confined to the limitations of how it came to be known as we understand today. Or, was he on the path of self-actualisation where he aspired to transcend the illusory barriers of time, space, and object and yearned to unite with the divine play (nātaka) of the lord. Again a case in point is where the lyrical beauty aptly reflects the rāga lakshana (the characteristic or nature of the rāga).
In the rāga, there is a lot of room for interpretations. As the rendition speeds up, there is also a mild indication of chakravāham, which is also a closely allied 16th Melakarta Rāga with the only difference of swara in g3 (antara gAndharam) instead of g2. Now that means if you are not a trained professional vocalist, there is a very slim chance that you will get the right modulation to deliver the essence of Nātakapriya. In business parlance, this type of rāgas may be known as conglomerates where at one instance the rāga drives us to a state of quandary and, on the other, it shows us light and purpose. This seemingly obvious duality is essentially the play of the Lord (his leela) who just acts but does not react.