the translation of which goes " the music of celestials"
is a form of a dance drama performed predominantly in South
Kanara, Malnad region and certain parts of North Kanara
Districts of the State of Karnataka has a 400 hundred-year-old
is a combination of dance, music, spoken word and costume-makeup
and stage technique. It is a typical folk form of drama
, commonly performed at night on a platform-like stage in
the open air with themes based on Hindu Epics like the Ramayana,
the Mahabharata and mythological tales from the Puranas.
The dance-drama is similar to Kathakali of Kerala. The themes
of all the dramas of Yakshagana are fights, warfare, and
stories of 'veera' and 'raudra' rasas from legends; it is
remarkable for its pure dance. Though described as folk
it has strong classical connections. The night long event
with gorgeous costumes, elaborate make-up, quick movements,
beating of drums and the narration of songs by the Bhagavatas
put the audience in a trance.... the total effect is spell
binding. Yakshagana a mixture of dance & drama has its soul
in its .As prescribed in the Natya Shastra, it has the Suthra
Dhara (conductor) & the vidushaka (the Jester).
real richness of this art is seen in predominately rural
areas where even with the lack of proper transportation
the villagers attend the performances in sizeable strengths.
Yakshagana enjoys immense popularity and its exponents are
honoured. The stage is set in the open air in paddy fields
or public maidaans. As the night wanes away one feels that
there is an amalgam of the sky and the earth as the singing
and drumming merge with the dances of the performers clad
in costumes of striking colour and contours. A visit to
this region is incomplete without witnessing a Yakshagana
performance. To sum it up it is a cherished cultural possession
of the coastal districts of Karnataka.
Up and Costumes:
The makeup of Yakshagana is rich and closely related
to the ornamentation found in the sculptures. The male characters,
such as the hero, the king, the ministers and the prince
have a fine 'Mukuta' (crown); all royal characters have
a bow and an arrow in their hands. The headdress of the
wild characters like 'Dhiroddhatas' is an arch-like headdress.
The female dress for 'Chandi', 'Kali' and so on is, lion's
teeth, blood red artificial tongue drawn out and lengthy
hair at the back. All the actors wear trousers/ pajamas
to enable them to dance and over it they wear a 'saree'
that is tied in the form of 'Kaccha' with ornaments. The
faces of kings and princes are painted rosy pink, 'Yama'
face is black, Lord Krishna and Vishnu are blue. The face
make-up used is made of vegetable die.
The word Yakshagana is a theatre form, which was and even
today, being popularly called Bayalata (open place play)
or simply Ata (play). Yakshagana is a scholar's nomenclature
a hundred years old as far as the theatre in application
to performance is concerned, though it is at least six centuries
old as a literary composition. The word Yakshagana as a
name of the whole art complex became popular in the context
of writings on it and publicity in the form of handbills,
leaflets, advertisements, because the words Ata or Bayalata
looked too colloquial and general. Hence the word Yakshagana
has come to stay as the name of the art. Actually it is
shifted and expanded term from one aspect of the art. Sometimes
called 'Prasanga' (episodes) now, a Yakshagana performance
commences with a pooja to Shri Ganesh followed by buffoonery
by "Kodangis." Or the "Vidooshakas" loud background music
is provided by a chande and a maddale (various types of
drums), and a tala (cymbals) handled by a team of three.
Seated among them is Bhagavata who is the producer, the
director and the master of the ceremonies. In short, he
is all in one. Every actor must have good physique and excellent
stamina, and should sing, dance, act and converse the whole
night. He should also have sound knowledge of Hindu scriptures.
In every act, there will be gods, goddesses, kiratas (mischief
mongers), kimpurushas (mythological figures) and demons.
The key characters, known as "Kattu-veshas" appear after
the Bhagavata, when the sleeping or drowsing audience sit
erect and take keen interest in the proceedings of the stage.
is essentially a stage form, which entertains and educates
the rural folks. In the past A team consisted of 15-20 actors
who carried their bag and baggage on their heads and walked
from one village to another, covering 20-30 kilometers a
day. They camped in a temple, and erected an extremely simple
stage by using just four poles and many leaves for decoration.
People with their families walked or rode their bullock
carts to witness a performance. There were no women in any
team, and hence men wore saris and Female costumes and Lo
There was a woman!
is usually no gate collection to any performance, and hence
it is completely free from any toll. A temple fund or public
contributions financially support a troop. The people in
distress also take vow to arrange a performance to please
their family deity. There are temples where Yakshagana is
performed throughout the year, except in the rainy season
at their premises. Such teams are known after the temples'
origin: It is said Yakshagana is the product of the Vaishnava
Bhakthi movement. Vaishnavism as a school of thought and
religion is quite old. The Bhakthi movement proper, spread
with vigor after the 10th Century. It took religion to the
common man, to the lower strata of society, those classes
to whom the highly formalized and Vedic religion was beyond
reach. Hence Bhakthi movement was a social movement also.
In order to propagate and spread the message of devotion,
it adopted and adapted the existing folk as well as classical
literary forms and performances. It created its own forms.
Most of the traditional theatre forms are the result of
this phenomenon. Experts have placed the origin of Yakshagana
from the 11th Century to the 16th Century. Earliest limit
is fixed by a finding by Vidwan Bannanje Govindacharya who
says a legend goes to show that Sage Narahari Thirtha (c,
1300) started a Dasavathara Ata performance and a troupe
in Udupi and later this spread to other places and grew
into what we call Yakshagana today. It is also said that
Yakshagana must have been an established form by the time
of famous Yakshagana poet Parthisubba (1600) who wrote the
Ramayana in Yakshagana. Because he is said to be a Bhagawatha
(singer) himself and is believed to have founded a troupe,
and probably he is the formulator of the Tenkuthittu (Southern
style) of the art. Troupe centers like Koodlu and Kumble
in Kasargod, and Amritheshwari, Kota near Kundapur claim
having a troupe three to four centuries ago. However, what
we see today as Yakshagana, must have been the result of
a slow evolution, drawing its elements from ritual theatre,
temple arts, secular arts like Bahurupi, royal courts of
the time and artists imaginations - all interwoven over
period. 1930s saw some changes in compositions, organizations
and presentation. Dance and the spoken word was further
developed and refined. But in costume, a type of degeneration
started setting in due to the use of 'modern' clothing and
stone jewellery, in place of handloom clothing and wooden
Year 1950 saw the birth of 'tent' troupes, giving performances
to audience by tickets, with 'tent theatres' and furniture
for seating. These troupes brought in commercialization
of Yakshagana, with both merits and demerits. Yakshagana
saw major changes in form and organization, electrical lights
replaced the 'gas lights' or 'petromax' lamps. Seating arrangements
improved. Major changes came in the themes, with the inclusion
of folk epics, Sanskrit dramas and created (imaginary) stories
forming the thematic base. Popular entertainment became
the criterion in place of 'classical' presentation. Tulu,
the language of the Southern part of the D.K. district was
introduced on the stage, where hitherto only Kannada was
used. This gained great popularity. All these trends continued
with added vigor after 1970s, with a new element of influence.
Along with all these, the traditional type of troupes, giving
free shows financed by devotees still continues and has
a very good support.
is one of the most living art traditions in the World. There
are about 30 full-fledged professional troupes, and about
200 amateur troupes in Yakshagana. Professional troupes
go on tour between November to May, giving about 180-200
shows i.e. a full night show everyday!
are about one thousand professional artists and much bigger
number of amateurs. Further there are off season shows during
the wet season, the anniversary shows, school and college
students Yakshagana and of course the Talamaddale performances.
All put together, we safely say that Karnataka witnesses
about 12,000 Yakshagana performances every year!
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