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Yakshagana: The Art That Lives On4 min read

September 6, 2018 3 min read

Yakshagana: The Art That Lives On4 min read

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Yakshagana is a form of dance and theatre that combines music, dance, dialogue, traditional costumes and make-up, and stage craftsmanship. It is practised in the coastal areas of Karnataka and in some parts of northern Kerala.

With the increase in the influence of western art forms, it is feared that Yakshagana will lose its relevance, only to be remembered by the current generations. However, over time, Yakshagana has incorporated  some western elements into their theatrics. Kota Shivaram Karanth, a Kannada writer and Yakshagana artist experimented with it by introducing Western musical instrumentation. Post his introduction, he reduced the time of a performance from 12 hours to three or four hours.

Traditionally, Yakshagana runs all night and is presented from dusk, during the twilight hours to dawn. Each performance depicts a story, one usually drawn from Ramayana, Mahabharata, Bhagavata Purana, and other epics from Hindu traditions. The background music for a performance is played by a group of musicians known as the himmela, and a dance and dialogue troupe known as the mummela. The prime member of the himmela is the bhagavata, who is the lead singer and director of the play. The other members constitute of the instrument players. These instruments include hand drums, pipes, organs, and chande (a loud drum).

The green room is constructed in a corner of the stage and is known as chowki. This is where the costumes and ornaments are kept. The crown of the hero, usually a king is placed near the entrance. The crown portrays its wearer as a king, who was considered to be a manifestation of God. This tradition is present in many epics, and is expressed in the performance as well. The artists sit in rows according to seniority during the event.

In Udupi district, Yakshagana is performed only during monsoon, after which the artists go on a tour performing across various cities. Here, the badaguthittu or northern style is common whereas in the region around Mangalore, tenkuthittu is more popular. These regions have over 60 groups and some temples support four groups. It is believed that supporting and sponsoring a troupe brings goodwill and prosperity. Often, big groups need to be booked months in advance for a performance at a particular place.

Yakshagana Kendra is a centre in Udupi, affiliated with Mahatma Gandhi Memorial (MGM) College. This centre is a school that teaches the art and has a residential facility for boys. Men and women gather to learn the dance form as a hobby. Although there are other schools that teach the art, the Kendra is a year round school and resource centre.

Abhinav Grover, a theatre artist has studied Yakshagana at the Kendra, which he refers to as his gurukul. A graduate from Drama School, Mumbai, Abhinav was introduced to Indian method acting by a teacher. “I always found the movements interesting to learn and perform. It is challenging, but it explores your capacity for voice and physical training,” he said.

With passing time, Yakshagana is thought to be an art of the past. However with the increase in people wanting to learn about art and culture, it is being practised through the state. The Kendra also invites foreigners to learn and practise the art.

Abhinav believes that any dance form demands practice and dedication, no matter where it’s from. There was a time when he was unaware that Yakshagana was a dance form, but with his background in theatre, he was instantly involved. He further said, “I’m not Kannadiga, but I know Yakshagana is essentially theatre. It is a form of folk and it connects people. It doesn’t matter if they don’t understand the language and dialogue, they can still benefit from it. There’s a lot of theatrics involved and the body language is enough to express the story.”

Grover also went on to say that it opened avenues in theatre to him, and the most important part is the direct connect with people. “Since it is a live performance, you can feel the reaction of the audience and channel the right energy.” He also stated that India has a rich legacy, so Yakshagana will continue to live on through the stories.


Featured Image Courtesy: Google Images/Wikipedia

Edited by: Drishti Sanyal

A play: Shoorpanakha – The Unseen Face will be performed by Team Yakshagana Kendra, Udupi at TMA Pai Halls, on September 8 at 6:00 pm. The play is a part of  Manipal International Literature and Arts Platform (MILAP) being conducted from September 6-8.

The views in this article do not necessarily reflect the organisation’s views.

The Manipal Journal is the official media partner for MILAP, Manipal’s literary and art platform, being conducted on September 6, 7, and 8, 2018.