This study (an ongoing research project of the author) is based mainly on the knowledge and guidance given by the great scholar Shatavadhani Dr R Ganesh who has been passionately refining and promoting the art of Yakshagana in Karnataka.
Yakshagana from Karnataka
Yakshagana from Karnataka though known as a folk dance art form is equipped with many ingredients from Natyashastra . Kuchipudi from Andhra Pradesh is a dance-drama tradition which comes close to Karnataka Yakshagana. A comparative study of these two forms is useful as they have evolved differently with unique techniques and approaches although they are from neighbouring South Indian states. The best of music and literature from scholars and composers have been adopted by both these forms.
Even today Karnataka Yakshagana is practiced with great pomp and joy. Yakshagana exists not only in Karnataka but also in Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Uttar Pradesh and other parts of India. Evolving from the Yakshagana form, Kuchipudi has emerged as a classical dance form with solo acts, duets, ballets, and group presentations.
The two styles of Yakshagana, Bhadagathittu and Thenkuthittu, apart from other styles likeMoodal paya Yakshagana have almost the same form, differing only in the rendering of music and body kinetics. In Bhadagathittu Yakshagana, all the abhinayas of chathur vidha abhinaya - angika, aaharya, vachika and satvika are used.
Yakshagana in Karnataka is a very popular art form primarily due to its strong religious background. History and tradition indicate that it was and is a very important ritualistic practice (called “Belakina seve”, meaning bringing light) for families to hold an all-night Yakshagana programme called “Harike aata, by inviting a certain group of artists who are officially attached to a certain temple. At least four such groups are attached to a temple and the shows at a temple will be booked for many years - if any family wants a certain day and a certain group they may have to book years in advance!!!!
The Yakshagana groups are called Melas. There are well-known melas like the Amrutheshwari Mela, Kamalashila Mela, Kateelu Durga Parameshwari Mela, Idagunji Mela, Dharmasthala Sri Manjunatheshwara Krupaposhita Yakshagana Mandali and Mandarthi.
A typical Yakshagana performance
By evening, the Abbara Taala or the drums are beaten around the village to bring about awareness of the evening’s performance at the temple.
After this, as great vibrant beats from the drums fill the air, the mela enters the stage singing Swami Paraku. The Kodangis dance to this. Then the Balagopala group perform Ganesha Prathane for one hour, after which the real story should start. Nowadays due to time constraints, many of these traditions are being skipped. The mela starts straight with the story after the Ganesha Pooja in the green room.
There are two seating styles for the orchestra – either standing behind or sitting on a seat called Hadi Mancha. Slowly the music engulfs the atmosphere with eager anticipation while the drums shift from Jhampe tala to Rupaka tala and playing the cymbals, the Bhagavathar begins the story. There is no Suthradhara in Bhadagathittu as in Thenkuthittu as the bhagavataru or the main singer plays the role of Suthradhara also.
To make the show lively, the mela sing lilting tunes like Chanda Bhame, Namaha Shivaya and Hara Hara Shambo. The compositions are usually in Bhamini Shatpadi or Vardikha Shatpadi and other meters. The stories are usually from Bhagwata Purana. All the characters enter the stage except the character who dies a tragic death.
The story begins with the Nandhi shloka - Indirege Thale Bhagi. The storyline is sung in Madhyamavathi Raga. Then for half-an-hour five dancers dance the Vishnu stuthi. The story continues till morning, ending with a song, Mangala. The group packs and moves to the next village to perform the next day.