Day 25 of the #AtoZChallenge already, and it is “Yakshagana” for the letter Y. We had an invitation to a Yakshagana performance last year and thoroughly enjoyed it. To say we were mesmerized by the artists would be an understatement. After this troupe performed at Vidur’s school, and he came home and ecstatically described it, we were keen to see one. Universe heard us and soon, we got an invitation from my friend at a venue very close to our place. A fabulous evening followed.
Yaksha-gana literally means the song or gana of a yaksha, which was a term for exotic tribes of ancient India. Yakshagana is a rare and unique traditional theatre art form of Karnataka State in India with a recorded history of more than five centuries. Yakshagana performances are a rich artistic blend of racy music, forceful dance, extempore speech and gorgeous costumes. They combine the features of opera as well as drama, the characteristics of moral education and mass entertainment. A Yakshagana performance begins at the twilight hours with the beating of several fixed compositions on drums called “abbara” or “peetike” for up to an hour before the actors get on the stage. The actors wear resplendent costumes, head-dresses, and face paints. In recent times, yakshagana performances are staged in indoor auditoriums and the performing troupe, called “Mela” or “Mandali”, traditionally travels from village to village.
A Yakshagana performance usually depicts a story from Indian epic poems and the Puranas. There is a narrator or “Bhagvatha” who either narrates the story by singing or sings the dialogs of a character, backed by musicians playing on traditional musical instruments. The actors dance to the music, with actions that portray the story as it is being narrated. All the components of Yakshagana, music, dance and dialog are improvised. Depending on the ability of the actors, variation in dance and the amount of dialog may change. Actors often get into philosophical debates or arguments without going out of the framework of the character being enacted. A Yakshagana performance is method acting at its best.
We had the pleasure of attending a Yakshagana performance by the dance troupe Sri Idagunji Mahaganapathi Yakshagana Mandali Keremane. This is the same troupe that performed at Vidur’s school. Established in 1934 by Late Sri Keremane Shivarama Hegde, their repertoire consists mainly of episodes from Indian mythology. The troupe is very popular for being innovative and experimenting while sticking to the traditional heritage of this wonderful theater art form. They have more than 7000 shows to their credit, both in India and abroad. For a detailed version of the Yakshagana performance, please read Vidur’s post. I just noticed he wrote it in April last year!
By the way, all the actors are male – and the women in the dance drama are all male actors dressed as women! I could have never guessed. They were so very graceful!
Here are some pictures from the Yakshagana Performance titled “Kartaveeryarjuna Ravana” (the story is in Vidur’s post)
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