Tuesday, 5 July 2011

Yakshagana: Songs of the Celestials

India is a synonym of unity in diversity. Every state has its own unique culture, art and its own tradition. Karnataka is also one of such state. One of the most prevailing arts in Karnataka is Yakshagana which was once popularly known as “Gandu Mettida Kale” which originated 400 years back. Yakshagana has been embedded in the history and culture of Karnataka for the past thousand years. This is a classical folk art, which has its roots in the mythologies and holy texts.  Yakshagana is a traditional theatre form combining dance, music, spoken word, costume-makeup, and stage technique with a distinct style and form.

Literally Yakshagana means “Songs of the Yakshas”.  Yakshas means a tribe one whose mention we can find in Mahabharata or in the ancient Indian literature. According to Hindu mythology Yakshas are demi gods and the attendants of Kubera. Yakshagana art form is a product of Vaishava Bhakti Movement. The origins of Yakshagana can be traced as early as eleventh century A.D.  Yakshagana dance-drama during its early days was known as Bahunatakas but was later on rechristened to its present name after getting inspired from the Yakshas or Jakkulas who used to be great singers and dancers. In the ancient days, Mangalore Yakshagana dance-drama was a ballad singing art form which was later on given the shape of a dance drama. In the beginning, Yakshagana was performed by only a single dancer. It was during the 17th and 18th century, that it regained its current form of a dance drama where various characters were introduced.

Yakshagana is popular in the districts of Uttara Kannada, Udupi, Dakshina Kannada, Shimoga and Kasaragod district of Kerala. A Yakshagana performance begins at the twilight hours with the beating of drums for up to a couple of hours before the 'actors' get on the stage. The actors wear resplendent costumes, head-dresses, and painted faces which they paint themselves. The stories of Yakshagana were drawn from the Ramayana , Mahabharatha , Bhagavatha and from other mythological episodes. It consists of a narrator who narrates the story in a song-like fashion, backed by musicians playing on traditional musical instruments as the actors dance to the tune, with actions that portray the story as it is being narrated. Traditionally, Yakshaganas would go on all night.

One of the most remarkable features of Yakshagana dance-drama is that every time when the dance is performed, it is performed with a different subject. Till date it has covered almost every theme from historical, secular to mythological. Presently 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.

Yakshagana is a unique harmony of musical tradition, eye-catching costumes, and authentic styles of dance, improvised gestures and acting with its extemporaneous dialogue appealing to a wide range of the community. In truth it is a vibrant, vigorous living form of theatre art.

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