Yakshagana is a musical dance drama popular in coastal and Malenadu regions of Karnataka, India. Yakshagana is the recent (200 years) scholastic name for what are known in Kannada as Kelike, Dashavatara, Aata, Bayalaata. It is believed to have evolved from pre-classical music and theatre during Bhakti movement. It is popular in the districts of Uttara Kannada, Udupi, Dakshina Kannada,and Shimoga of Karnataka and Kasaragod district of Kerala. It is gaining popularity in Bengaluru since a few years. It has drawn comparisons to the Western tradition of opera. Actors wear costumes and enact various roles. Traditionally, Yakshagana would go on all night. It is sometimes simply called as Aataa in both Kannada and Tulu, meaning ‘play’. Yaksha-gana literally means the song (gana) of a Yaksha. Yakshas were an exotic tribe mentioned in the Sanskrit literature of ancient India.
It consists of a Himmela (background musicians) and a Mummela (dance and dialog group) which together perform a Yakshaga Prasanga. Himmela consisting of Bhagawata who is also the facilitator (singer), Maddale, Harmonium for drone (Pungi was used earlier) and Chande (loud drums). The music is based on pre-Karnataka Sangeetha Ragas characterised by melodic patterns called Mattu and Yakshagana Tala. Yakshagana Talas are believed to be based on the groves which later have evolved into Karnataka Sangeetha Talas. Both Yakshagana Raga and Yakshagana Tala have some folk influence. 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 which they paint themselves.
A performance usually depicts a story from the Indian epics and puranas. It consists of a narrator (Baghawatha) who either narrates the story by singing or sings pre-composed dialogs of characters, backed by musicians playing on traditional musical instruments as 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 and scholarship of the actors, variation in dance and amount of dialog may change. It is not uncommon for actors to get into philosophical debates or arguments without going out of the framework of the character being enacted. The acting can be categorised as method acting.
It is a traditional theater which was founded by Sri Madhwacharya and Popularised by Sri Narahari Thirtha which Consits form combining dance, music, actor-created dialogues, costume-makeup, and stage technique with a distinct style. It is closely connected with other forms prevailing in other parts of Karnataka, and its neighbouring states of Andhra Pradesh, Kerala, Tamilnadu and Maharastra. According to noted theater artist and writer B.V Karanth, classical dance forms like Barathanatya originated from Yakshagana.
Yakshagana Raga refers to melodic framework used in it. It is based on pre-classical melodic forms that comprise a series of five or more musical notes upon which a melody is founded. Ragas in it are closely associated with a set of melodic forms called Mattu. In Yakshagana tradition, ragas are associated with different times of the night throughout which Yakshagana is performed.
Yakshagana Tala (Sanskrit tala) are frameworks for rhythms in it that are determined by a composition called Yakshagana Padya. Tala also decides how a composition is enacted by dancers. It is similar to Tala in other forms of Indian music, but is structurally different from them. Each composition is set to one or more talas, and as a composition is rendered by Himmela, the percussion artist(s) play supporting the dance performance.
Yakshagana poetry (Yakshagana Padya or Yakshagana Prasanga) is a collection of poems written to form a music drama called Yakshagana. The poems are composed in well known Kannada metres using the frame work of Yakshagana Raga and Yakshagana Tala. It also has what is called a Yakshagana metre (prosody). The collection of Yakshagana poems forming a musical drama is called a Prasanga. Oldest surviving parasanga books are believed to have been composed in 15th century. Many compositions have been lost. There are evidences to show that oral compositions were in use before 15th century.
Yakshagna costumes are rich in color. The costumes or Vesha in Kannada depends on characters depicted in the play or prasanga. It also depends on Yakshagana style or tittu.Badagutittu Yakshagana Ornaments are made out of light wood, mirror work, colored stones. Though, lighter materials like thermocol are used in modern days, ornaments are still predominantly woodwork.Yakshagana costumes consist of headgear (Kirita or Pagade), Kavacha that decorates chest, Buja Keerthi (armlets) that decorate shoulders, and belts (Dabu) all made up of light wood and covered with golden foil. Mirror works on these ornaments helps to reflect light during show and adds more color to costumes. These armaments are worn on a vest and covers upper half of the body. Lower half is covered with Kachche that comes in a unique combination of red, yellow and orange checks. Bulky pads (cloths) are used under Kachche and this makes actors different from general audience in size.
Bannada Vesha that involves detailed facial makeup is used to depict monsters. It may take 3 to 4hrs to complete makeup for certain vesha.
Traditionally, males are playing female roles in it. However, more recently it has seen female artist who have performed in both male and female roles. Stree Vesha uses sari and other decorative ornaments.
Maddale: The maddale is a percussion instrument from Karnataka, India. It is the primary rhythmic accompaniment in a Yakshagana ensemble along with Chande. Maddale used in it looks similar to Mridangam but is markedly different in structure, acustics, playing techniques and the rhythm system (Yakshagana Tala). Maddale uses the Yakshagana Tala system. Traditionall variety of Maddale is shorter and high pitched. Maddale is available in more than three different variations.
Taala (Bells): Yakshagana bells are a pair of finger bells made of a special alloy (traditional five metal). They are made to fit the tonic of the singer (bhagawatha). Usually professional singer carry more than one of their own finger bells to be able to sing for different drones. Pair of finger bells are available for different keys.
Chande: The chande is a drum used in the traditional and classical music of South India and particularly in Karnataka. It provides rhythmic accompaniment in several dance dramas of South India such as Yakshagana. It follows the Yakshagana Tala system. The rhythms are based on pre-classical music forms, folk groves and some rhythms are similar to Karnataka Sangeta and to lesser extent Hindustani Sangeetha. There are different varieties in this instrument. Two major varieties are the Badagu Thittu Chande (Northern School) and the Thenku Thittu Chande (Southern School). The later is also spelt as chenda and is used exclusively in the art forms of southern costal Karnataka and Kerala. This article deals with Badagu Thittu Chande used exclusively in Yakshagana of Karnataka. The chande used in Badagu Thittu is structurally and acoustically different from chenda used in Kerala.
Yakshagana is a recent scholastic name adopted for what were and are known as Kelike, Aata, Bayalaata, Dashavatara in Karnataka. It actually refers to a style of writing and to the written material or the Yakshagana poems. There are questions on whether this writing system originated in Telugu literature and used for poems enacted in Bayalaata. Yakshagana performance is believed to have evolved from the now-extinct Ghandharva Grama musical system. Earliest mention is in Sangeetha Ratnakara of Sarngadeva (AD 1210) as Jakka later called Yekkalagaana. Yakshagana in its present form is believed to be influenced by the Vaishnava Bhakthi movement. It is a separate system of music independent of Karnataka Sangeetha and the Hindustani music of India, believed to survive as an indigenous phenomenon only in parts of Karnataka and Kerala.
Yakshagana outside India
Yakshagana is finding new grounds outside India. Amateur troupes have emerged on the coasts of California, USA and Ontario Canada. “Yakshagana Kalavrinda” and Yaksharanga in the USA and Yakshamitra in Canada are a few examples. “Yakshagana Kalavrinda” performs on the east coast of USA. Yakshagana in the USA started after the visit of Yakshagana artist Sri Chittani Ramachandra Hegde. His performance at the age of 74 was so inspiring that art lovers decided to continue this great art thousands of miles away from its home. Sri Kidayuru Ganesh who accompanied Sri Chittani stayed back for couple of months to train new generation of Yakshagana artists. The result was a performance of Yakshagana “Sudanvarjuna Kalaga” with participation from local enthusiasts. Since then Yaksharanga has performed many shows around California. These troupes usually use a recorded background Yakshagana music(Himmela) for their performances. Other amateur troop outside of India is “Yakshamitra” in Toronto, “Canada”. Yakshamitra uses local live music (Himmela) for their performance.
Another Yakshagana Troupe “Shri Idagunji Mahaganapati Yakshagana Mandali, Keremane’ keremane mela headed by Shri Keremane Shmabhu Hegde and Shri Keremane Shivanand Hegde toured USA and performed about 22 programs all over North America. The troupe visited about 12 countries and celebrated 75 years in history of it.
Variations in Yakshgaana
Scholars have classified Yakshgaana broadly into two types.
- Moodalopaya Yakshagana includes eastern maidan areas of Karnataka such as Channarayapattna and Arsikere Taluks of Hassan District, Nagamangala Taluk of Mandya District, Turuvekere Taluk of Tumkur District, Hiriyuru, Challakere of Chitradurga District and North Karnataka.
- Paduvlopaya Yakshagana comprises of the Western parts of Karnataka and Northern parts of Kerala-dakshina Kannada, Kasargod, Udupi, Uttara Kannada.
Paduvalopaya Yakshagaana is divided into three variations
- Tenkutittu (includes areas such from Kasargod to Udupi, from Sampaaje, Sulliya, Puttur to Bantwala, Belthangady, Karkala)
- Badagutittu (from Udupi to Kundapura and some southern parts of Uttara Kannada)
- Badabadagutittu/Uttara Kannadatittu (consisting of the extreme north and the entire Uttara Kannada)
Training and research
The late Sri Kukkila Krishna Bhat has performed lot of research and written several books on Yakshagana. He was one of the authorities on Yakshagana history of Karnataka. Partisubba is one of his most famous books
Training schools for Yaskhagana are very few in Coastal Karnataka. As most troupes are associated with temples, the training has been confined to the temple premises. However, the Govinda Pai Research Institute, located at MGM College, Udupi, runs a Yakshagana Kalakendra in Udupi that trains youngsters in this ancient dance form. Another famous institute is the SRIMAYA Yakshagana Training Center founded by Late Shri Keremane Shambhu Hegde. Details can be found on http://keremane.blogspot.com. The Govinda Pai Research Institute does research work on language, rituals and dance art forms.
Yakshagana artists are called “Mummela Patradarigalu”.
Tenkutittu: Late Sheni Gopal Krishna Bhat, Late Bannada Maalinga, Late Chandragiri Ambu, Kolyoor Ramachandra Rao, Aruva Koragappa Shetty, Kumble Sundar Rao, Bantwala Jayarama Acharya, Bettampadi Balappa Shetty, Late Ramadasa Samaga, Bellare Vishwanatah Rai, Mijar Annapa, Mijar Thimmappa, Maadavu Thimappa Shetty, Late Puttur Narayana Hegde, Puttur Shreedhara Bhandari, K. Govinda Bhat, Late Alike Ramaya Rai, Late Empekatte Ramayya Rai, Halladi Jayaram Shetty, Chennappa Shetty Siddaktte, Vishwanath Shetty Sidakatte, Ubaradka Umesh Shetty, Gerukatte Gangaiah Shetty, Late Kuriya Vittala Shastry, Late Nayana Kumar, Kokkada Ishwara Bhat, Nidle Govinda Bhat, Muliya Bheema Bhat, Patala Venkatramana Bhat, Late Padre Chandu, Sampaje Sheenappa Rai, Madhuru Radhakrishna Navada, Subraya Holla Kasaragod, Subraya Pattali (son of Late Bannada Maalinga), Shivarama Jogi, Perodi Narayana Bhat, Kumble Shreedhar Rao, Kedila Jayarama Bhat, Sunnambala Vishweshwara Bhat, Dasappa Rai, Sarpadi Ashok Shetty, Sampaje Diwakara Rai, Chandrashekhara Dharmasthala, Sadashiva Kulal, Dinesh maniyani, Mahesh Maniyani, Seetharam Kumar Kateel, Vasantha Gowda and Others
Badagutittu: Muroor Devaru Hegde, Keremane Shivaram Hegde, Keremane Mahabala Hegde, Keremane Shambhu Hegde, (Jalavalli Venktesh rao), Bananje Suvarna, Chittani Ramachandra Hegde, Gode Narayan Hegde, Bhaskar Joshi, Balkur Krishna Yaji, Kondadakuli Ramachandra Hegde, Uppunda Nagendra Rao, Keremane Shivananda Hegde, Manki Eshwar Naik, Thombattu Vishwanath Achari, Hadinbal Sripad Hegde, Sreepad Bhat Thandimane, Ganapathi Hegde Thotimane, Kappekere Mahadev Hegde, Ganapathi Bhat Kannimane, Prabhakar Chittani, Argodu Mohandas Shenoy, Sridhar Hegde Chapparmane, Nilkod Shankar Hegde, Mantapa Prabhakara Upadhyaya, Jalavalli Vidyadhar Rao(son of Jalavalli Venktesh Rao), Yalaguppa Subrahmanya Hegde, Narayan Hasyagar Karki, K P Hasyagar Karki, Thirthahalli Gopala Achari, Subramanya Hegade Chittani, Kolali Krishna Shetty, Chapparamane Shridhara Hegde and Others
Taala Maddale artists: Sheni Gopalkrishna Bhat, Shankarnarayana Samaga Malpe, Matti Subba Rao, Pollya Deju Shetty, Late Vidhwan Kerekai Krishna Bhat, Tekkatte Ananda Master, Deraje Seetaramayya, Moodambailu Gopalakrishna Shastry, Sunnambala Vishweshwara Bhat, Dr. Prabhkar Joshi, Kumble Sundar Rao, K Govinda Bhat, Jabbar SaMo, Subrahmanya Bhat Venur, Vasudeva Samaga, Ramadasa Samaga, Katte Parameshwar Bhat, Melukote Umakantha Bhat, Vasudeva Ranga Bhat, Ganaraja Kumble, Radhakrishna Kalchar, Buchchan Shastri Karki, N S Bhat Baad, Mohan Hegde Kumta, MR Amachi, Vitla Shambhu Sharma, Kondadakuli Ramachandra Hegade. Herriyanna Kota padukare, Kodi Vishvanath, Suresh Manooru Padukare.
Background singers, Yakshagana
Tenkutittu: Late Balipa Narayana Bhagavatha (Sr), Late Puttige Ramakrishna Jois, Balipa Narayana Bhagavatha (Jr), Late Damodara Mandechcha, Nalluru Mariyappa Achar, Late Agari Srinivasa Bhagavatha, Agari Raghurama Bhagavatha, Kadathoka Manjunatha Bhagavatha, Padyana Ganapathi Bhat, Puttige Raghurama Holla, Tenkabail Thirumaleshwara Shastry, Maindappa Rai, Dinesh Ammannaya, Polya Laxminarayana Shetty, Balipa Prasada Bhagavatha, Balipa Shivashankara Bhagavatha, Kuriya Ganapathi Shastri, Kubanuru Sridhara Rao, Raghavendra Mayya, Hosamoole Ganesha Bhat, Smt. Leelavathi Baipadithaya (The only lady singer in Yakshagana [Tenkutittu]), Pattla Satish Shetty and Others.
Badagutittu: Ira Gopala Krishna Bhagavata, Kadatoka Manjunath Bhagavata, Late Kadatoka Krishna Bhagavatharu, Late GR Kalinga Navuda, Nebbooru Narayana Hegde, Hosthota Manjunath Bhat(Famous yakshagana poet also), Subramanya Dhareshwara, K P Hegade Golagodu, Heranjal Gopala Ganiga, H Suresh Shetty, Narayanappa Uppur, Vidhwan Ganapathi Bhat, Gopal Bhat, Jogi, Raghavendra Achari, Nelluru Narayana, Kolagi Keshava Hegde, Kolagi Madhava Bhat, Narayana Shabaraya, A T Yejneshwara Sagara, Maravanthe Narasimha Das Bhagavath, Maravanthe Shrinivasa Das Bhagavath and Others.