Yakshagana

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Art & Culture

What is Yakshagana?

Yakshagana the most popular performing art of Karnataka. This performance is noted for its colurful costumes, vigorous dance movements, music subtle expressions and extempore dialogues.

Yakshagana has two main variations in karnataka, each of which has many variations: Moodalapaya (the eastern form which is popular in north Karnataka) and Paduvalapaya (western style also known as coastal Yakshagana). Of the two, the coastal Yakshagana is more popular for the great sophistication that it has achieved over the years by the efforts of artistes, thinkers and researchers. It is more exuberant and refined when compared to all the other styles.

Paduvalapaya is performed in three coastal districts of Karnataka‒Dakshina Kannada, Udupi and Uttara Kannada. In the region with Mangalore at its centre (which includes Mangalore, Sullia, Puttur, Sampaaje, Bantwala, Belthangady, Karkala, Kasaragod (Kerala), Kodagu etc.) the tenkuthittu or the southern style is dominant. In Udupi district (spreading from Udupi to Kundapura and some parts of Uttara Kannada district), the badaguthittu or northern style holds sway. The extreme northern parts of Uttara Kannada district are known for the northern style (badaabadagu tittu).

Let us now look at the structure of a typical Yakshagana performance.

A traditional Yakshagana performance spans the period from dusk to dawn. Nowadays ‘limited-time’ Yakshagana has become more popular, as most spectators are taken up with busy schedules. In such cases, it is a three-to four-hour performance at least. Though this constraint on time has cut down many regular features, the glory of Yakshagana has not diminished so far. One gets to watch the splendour and grandeur of customs, the progression of characters and the scenes etched out in detail, in a full-scale Yakshagana performed by a mela or troupe. If the theme chosen is a short one, another theme is staged after the first. In some cases, three short themes may be performed during a single show.

Usually the mela invited to perform arrives before noon, and its members are offered food and lodging by the villagers or sponsors. The performers rest till nightfall, given that the Yakshagana is a night-long performance. For them, night becomes the day and vice versa.

Traditionally, the stage is constructed in an easily accessible place like a paddy field or a temple yard. Such traditional makeshift stages are small when compared to the modern ones. The traditional stage is usually 12 feet wide and 15 feet deep, and rectangular in shape. Four wooden poles are put up in four corners and are decorated with mango and palm leaves. The whole performance has to be carried out within this small space. There are some customs pertaining to how the Yakshagana stage is to be built. But those regulations are not applicable to stages built in the temple yard. The spectators are supposed to sit on the three sides of the stage. Now the Yakshagana is also performed in modern auditoria, where all the customs cannot be followed, nor can its whole splendour be recreated.

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