Home #AtoZChallenge Yakshagana Performances – A folk Art

Yakshagana Performances – A folk Art

by Vidya Sury April 29, 2013 23 comments

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.

Yakshagana performances

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)


 Yakshagana Performance Scene

Yakshagana Performance

The main character

Yakshagana Performance 2

This is a guy dressed as a lady

Yakshagana Performance 1

Yakshagana Performance  Ravana

Yakshagana Performance

Vidur Yakshagana Performance

Vidur with Mr.Hegde


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Bhavya April 29, 2013 at 12:21 pm

Of course! What a wonderful topic you’ve picked. The costumes and the artists themselves look so colourful; must have been a dramatic performance indeed.
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PhenoMenon April 29, 2013 at 12:44 pm

The energy in all these forms of dancing in palpable whether it is Yakshagana or Kathakali… By the way I was trained in Kathakali many many moons back. The only think I do now when people talk is roll my eyes !! :)))

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Shilpa Garg April 29, 2013 at 12:48 pm

Interesting, informative and fascinating! It must a treat to watch this performance live! Thanks for sharing, Vidya! 🙂
Shilpa Garg recently posted…Y is for … You!!

G Angela April 29, 2013 at 1:07 pm

Very informative and interesting vidya ! nice pics.

Harleena Singh April 29, 2013 at 1:07 pm

Hi Vidya,

Sounds interesting indeed 🙂

Never heard of Yakshagana Performance, though a similar folk are or perhaps its the same with a different name. Nice to know more about it.

Ah…one more day to go and I marvel at all those who participated in this challenge – wishing you all the best 🙂
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Rahul April 29, 2013 at 1:10 pm

Very interesting and those costumes are really nice:)

Naina April 29, 2013 at 2:26 pm

Thanks for the lesson Vidya!
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Afshan April 29, 2013 at 2:39 pm

This is something new to me. I know nthing about classical , traditional or folk dances 🙂
Thanks for this informative post !
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Meena Menon April 29, 2013 at 2:53 pm

hv watched a condensed version once! Wa fascinating….
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Kajal Kapur April 29, 2013 at 3:00 pm

I’m a big fan of classical dance forms and this is one form I have never been able to watch live. Would love to one day…Very lively pictures 🙂
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Suzy April 29, 2013 at 3:29 pm

I learned something new today – thanks for this very informative post. Vidur lokks very sweet.
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Suzy April 29, 2013 at 3:30 pm

looks not lokks – typing too fast on the keyboard.
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Shail April 29, 2013 at 5:20 pm

Very informative and interesting read. Let me hop over to Vidur’s blog to read his post.
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Cynthia Rodrigues Manchekar April 29, 2013 at 5:30 pm

I had never heard of this performance. The man looks so like a woman. It must have been a unique performance.
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Pattu April 29, 2013 at 8:38 pm

A lovely topic and a lovely art form. Through these oral and visual traditions we had learnt a lot of stories and their teachings.

This brought back memories of drama troupes and dance troupes that used to travel Tamil nadu villages and towns and perform in the late nights, during temple festivals.

TV and soap operas has a lot to answer for , for taking away our culture,true forms of live entertainment.
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Shannon April 29, 2013 at 10:29 pm

Wow what an art form…sounds like a lovely time to me! Blessings sweetie!

Shannon at I Survived and Now I Run
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janu April 29, 2013 at 10:53 pm

I love their vesha. Never have watched this performance live.

Nandana April 29, 2013 at 11:49 pm

This looks fascinating. Would love to see it someday. Good pictures.

Hope you are smiling as much as you are making us smile 🙂
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Galen Pearl April 30, 2013 at 6:21 am

Fascinating! And I love seeing it through Vidur’s eyes!
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Barbara April 30, 2013 at 11:25 am

Ah, Vidya, your Y post takes me right back to India: we attended an outdoor performance of method acting, what a feast of music, costumes, makeup, words, dancing and gestures! And the mimics: the rolling eyes, the meaningful lifting of eyebrows. Beautiful – thank you, big big bear hugs!
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Corinne Rodrigues May 1, 2013 at 11:59 am

Have never heard of this dance form before. Sounds fascinating.

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