Bhasmasura Mohini yakshagana
Bhasmasura Mohini yakshagana
Yakshagana is a folk theater form that combines dance, music, dialogue, costume, make-up, and stage techniques with a unique style and form. This folk theater style is mainly found in the coastal districts and the Malenadu region of Karnataka, India. Yakshagana is traditionally presented from dusk to dawn.

Yakshagana literally means the song (gana) of the yaksha, (nature spirits). Yakshagana is the scholastic name (used for the last 200 years) for art forms formerly known as kēḷike, āṭa, bayalāṭa, and daśāvatāra (Kannada: ದಶಾವತಾರ). It is believed to have evolved from pre-classical music and theater during the period of the Bhakti movement. It is sometimes simply called "the play" (ಆಟ) in both Kannada and Tulu.
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Music

Yakshagana is a separate genre of music, independent of Karnataka Sangeetha and the Hindustani music of India. It is believed to have survived as an indigenous phenomenon only in parts of Karnataka and Kerala.

A typical Yakshagana performance consists of background music played by a group of musicians (known as the himmela); and a dance and dialog group (known as the mummela), who together enact poetic epics onstage. The himmela is made up of a lead singer (bhagawata)—who also directs the production—and is referred to as the "first actor" (modalane vesha). Additional himmela members are players of traditional musical instruments, such as the maddale (hand drum), the pungi (pipe), the harmonium (organ), and the chande (loud drums). The music is based on ragas, which are characterized by rhythmic patterns called mattu and tala (or musical meter in Western music). Yakshagana talas are believed to be based on patterns which later evolved into the Carnatic talas.

Yakshagana performance in progress
Yakshagana performance in progress
A Yakshagana performance typically begins in the twilight hours, with an initial beating of the drums of several fixed compositions, called abbara or peetike. This may last for up to an hour before the actors finally arrive on the stage. The actors wear resplendent costumes, head-dresses, and face paints.

A performance usually depicts a story from the "Kavya" (epic poems) and the "Puranas" (ancient Hindu texts). It consists of a story teller (the bhagvatha) who narrates the story by singing (which includes prepared character dialogues) as the actors dance to the music, portraying elements of the story as it is being narrated. All components of Yakshagana—including the music, the dance, and the dialog—are improvised. Depending on the ability and scholarship of the actors, there will be variations in dances as well as the amount of dialog. It is not uncommon for actors to get into philosophical debates or arguments without falling out of character. The acting in Yakshagana can be best categorized as method acting.The performances have drawn comparison to the Western tradition of opera. Traditionally, Yakshagana will run all night.

Yakshagana is popular in the districts of Uttara Kannada, Udupi, Dakshina Kannada, Shimoga and Kasaragod. Yakshagana has become popular in Bangalore in recent years, particularly in the rainy season, when there are few other forms of entertainment possible in the coastal districts.
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History

Origins
Yakshagana can refer to a style of writing, as well as the written material itself. There are questions on whether this writing system originated in Telugu literature. It was probably used for poems enacted in bayalaata (or open theater drama), such as the ballads of Koti and Chennayya." Yakshagana in its present form is believed to have been strongly influenced by the Vaishnava Bhakti movement.Yakshagana was first introduced in Udupi by Madhvacharya's disciple Narahari Tirtha. Narahari Tirtha was the minister in the Kalinga Kingdom, he also was the founder of Kuchpudi.

The first written evidence regarding Yakshagana is found on an inscription at the Lakshminarayana Temple in Kurugodu, Somasamudra, Bellary District, and dated 1556 CE, a copy of which is available at the University of Madras. The inscription mentions a land donated to the performers of the art, so as to enable people to enjoy tala maddale programs at the temple. Another important piece of evidence is available in the form of a poem authored by Ajapura Vishnu, the Virata Parva, inscribed on a palm-leaf found at Ajapura (present day Brahmavara). Another historic palm-leaf manuscript, dated 1621 CE, describes Sabhalakshana.
The Stree Vesha, or female roles,
are performed by male actors in
traditional Yakshagana.
Uloopi Mantapa

Yakshagana bears some resemblance to other members of the 'traditional theater family:' Ankhia Nata (found in Assam); Jathra (in Bengal); Chau (Bihar, Bengal); Prahlada Nata (Orissa); Veedhinatakam & Chindu (Andhra); Terukoothu Bhagawathamela (Tamil Nadu), and Kathakkali (Kerala). However, some researchers have argued that Yakshagana is markedly different from this group.

Experts have placed the origin of Yakshagana somewhere in the period of the 11th to 16th centuries CE. Yakshagana was an established performance art form by the time of the noted Yakshagana poet, Parthi Subba (c. 1600). His father, Venkata, is attributed by some to be the author of the great Hindu epic, Ramayana, although historian Shivarama Karantha counters these claims (made most notably by historians Muliya Thimmappa and Govinda Pai) and argues that it is Subba, who was in fact its author. Venkata is the probable founder of the tenkuthittu (southern) style of the art.

Troupe centers, such as Koodlu and Kumbala in the Kasaragod District, and Amritheshwari, Kota near Kundapura, claim to have had troupes three to four centuries ago, indicating that the art form almost certainly had begun to take shape by circa 1500.

The Yakshagana form of today is the result of a slow evolution, drawing its elements from ritual theater, temple arts, secular arts (such as Bahurupi), royal courts of the past, and the artists' imaginations—all interwoven over a period of several hundred years

Early poets
Early Yakshagana poets included Ajapura Vishnu, Purandaradasa, Parthi Subba, and Nagire Subba. King Kanteerava Narasaraja Wodeyar II (1704–1714) authored 14 Yakshaganas in various languages in the Kannada script.Mummadi Krishnaraja Wodeyar (1794–1868) also wrote several Yakshagana prasanga, including Sougandhika Parinaya. Noted poet, Muddana, composed several Yakshagana prasangasa, including the very popular Rathnavathi Kalyana.
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Evolution of Yakshagana
In the 19th century, Yakshagana began to move away from the strict traditional forms. Practitioners of the day produced a number of new compositions. Also, a large number of troupes arose across coastal Karnataka.

The early 20th century saw the birth of 'tent' troupes, giving performances to audiences made up of common people who were admitted by ticket. These troupes were responsible for the commercialization of Yakshagana. The genre saw major changes in form and organization. Electrical lights replaced the gas lights; seating arrangements improved; the inclusion of folk epics, Sanskrit dramas, and fictional stories formed the modern thematic base of the discipline. Popular entertainment became the criterion, replacing the historic classical presentations. Tulu, the language of the southern part of the D.K. district was introduced; increasing popularity with the common people.

At this time, writer Kota Shivaram Karanth, experimented with the dance form by introducing Western musical instrumentation. He reduced the time of a Yakshagana performances from 12 hours to under three hours, incorporated movie plot lines, and added Shakespearean themes. Today, female artists perform in Yakshagana shows.

Parallel forms
Panar Vesha, an imitation of Yakshagana
Panar Vesha, an imitation of Yakshagana
Yakshagana is related to other performance art forms prevalent in other parts of Karnataka and the neighboring states of Andhra Pradesh, Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Maharastra. Yakshagana defies simple classification into categories such as folk, classical, or rural. It can be included in each or all of these, depending upon the rules used for classification. It is more varied and dynamic than most dance forms. Yakshagana can, however, be classified as one of many traditional dance forms. While it prevails primarily in the coastal areas of Karnataka, other dance forms (such as Doddata) are today often called by the same name. Several forms of traditional theater – Mudalpaya (of southern Karnataka); Doddata (of northern Karnataka); Kelike (on the border with Andhra Pradesh); and Ghattadakore (of Kollegal—in the Chamarajnagar District), may be included in this category. Among them, the Ghattadakore is a direct branch of the coastal form of Yakshagana, while Mudalapaya is the most closely connected form.

Yakshaganamu in Andhra Pradesh State
There is a form called Yakshaganamu in Andhra Pradesh, which exhibits some resemblance to the Yakshagana forms of the Karnataka plateau region and is less sophisticated as a visual art.
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Important components

Raga
Yakshagana Rāga refers to melodic framework used in Yakshagana. 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 Yakshagana are closely associated with a set of melodic forms called mattu. In the Yakshagana tradition, rāgas are associated with different times of the night throughout which the Yakshagana is performed.

Tala
Yakshagana Tala (Sanskrit tāla) are frameworks for rhythms in Yakshagana that are determined by a poetry style called Yakshagana Padya. Tala also decide how a composition is to be enacted by the dancers. It is similar to tala in other forms of Indian music, but differs from them structurally. Each composition is set to one or more talas, rendered by the himmela percussion artists play.

Prasanga and literature
Yakshagana poetry (Yakshagana Padya or Yakshagana Prasanga) is a collection of poems written to form a music drama. The poems are composed in well known Kannada metres, using a frame work of ragas and talas. Yakshagana also has its own metre (or prosody). The collection of Yakshagana poems forming a musical drama is called a Prasanga. The oldest surviving parasanga books are believed to have been composed in the 15th century. But many compositions have been lost to time. There is evidence showing that oral compositions were in use before the 15th century. The narratives of the surviving historic Yakshagana Prasangas are now often printed in paperback.
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Costumes and Ornaments
A kings costume (raja vesha) with kireeta (or headgear); the mace is used as an abstract depiction of a weapon
A kings costume (raja vesha) with kireeta (or headgear); the mace is used as an abstract depiction of a weapon

  • Yakshagna costumes are rich in color. The costumes (or vesha) in Kannada depend on characters depicted in the play (prasanga). It also depends on the Yakshagana style (tittu).
  • Traditionally, Badagutittu Yakshagana ornaments are made out of light wood, pieces of mirror, and colored stones. Lighter materials, such as thermocol, are sometimes used today, although ornaments are still predominantly made of woodwork.
  • Yakshagana costumes consist of headgear (Kirita or Pagade), Kavacha that decorates the chest, Buja Keerthi (armlets) that decorate the shoulders, and belts (Dabu)—all made up of light wood and covered with golden foil. Mirror work on these ornaments helps to reflect light during shows and add more color to the costumes. Armaments are worn on a vest and cover the upper half of the body. The lower half is covered with kachche, which come in unique combinations of red, yellow, and orange checks. Bulky pads are used under the kachche, making the actors' proportions different in size from normal.
  • The character, Bannada Vesha, is used to depict monsters. This often involves detailed facial makeup taking three to four hours to complete. Males play the female roles in traditional Yakshagana. However, more recently, yakshagana has seen female artists, who perform in both male and female roles.
  • The character of Stree Vesha makes use of sari and other decorative ornaments.

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Music Instruments of Yakshagana

Maddale
The maddale is a percussion instrument and, along with the chande, is the primary rhythmic accompaniment in the Yakshagana ensemble.

Taala (Bells)
Yakshagana bells or cymbals, are a pair of finger bells made of a special alloy (traditionally five metal). They are made to fit the tone of the bhagawatha's voice. Singers carry more than one set, as finger bells are available in different keys, thus enabling them to sing in different pitches. They help create and guide the background music in Yakshagana.

Chande
The Chande is a drum and, along with the maddale, is an important rhythmic accompaniment in the Yakshagana ensemble.
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Training and research
As most troupes are associated with temples, training in the art has been confined to temple premises. The Govinda Pai Research Institute, located at MGM College, runs a Yakshagana Kalakendra in Udupi trains youngsters in this ancient dance form. It also does research work on language, rituals, and dance art forms. Srimaya Yakshagana Training Center also trains Yakshagana students which was founded by Shri Keremane Shambhu Hegde.

Watch Video of Yakshagna


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