Saturday, April 7, 2012

Yakshagana performance

Friends, a couple of weeks ago I had the pleasure of watching a "Yakshagana" performance by the Shri Idagunji Yakshagana  Mandali Keremane group. This group is lead by Shivananda Hegde Ji (don't miss my photo with him at the end of this post). Earlier the same group performed at my school and I enjoyed it. I wanted to see this one too after such a nice experience and it was worth it.
Shivananda Hegde Sir in a kingly role
Yakshagana is a traditional theatrical form  of Karnataka (musical - dance theatre). It is a traditional musical theatre which originated from the coastal and Malenadu areas of Karnataka.

Yakshagana is the major theatrical art in certain regions of Karnataka, with practice originating from the famous theatrical text Natyashastra. It owes its title to the 2 - part word Yaksha - Gana which means 'song of Yakshs' (exotic tribes in ancient Sanskrit and Prakrit literature). This art form is dominated by males, and they play even female roles. It generally starts with a prayer to Ganesh, the elephant - headed religious god whom Hindus invoke for a proceeding without any hinderance and for removing obstacles, and worship first in all prayers. Two dancers dance for the prayer song and a mask represents Ganesh.

The performances depict various tales from Hindu religious mythology, including stories from Hindu religious scriptures like the Purans, and epics Ramayan and Mahabharat.

Its music is based on Carnatic classical music of South India and the orchestra consists of a Bhagwat (lead singer), Maddale (a percussion instrument), Harmonium, Drone/Pungi, Chande (loud drums), narrating the background story or particular characters' dialogue parts. Actors perform a dance - drama and depending on their merit, improvise their dialogues (for eg. creating jokes for more entertainment).
Shivananda Ji in a princely or religious role

Shivananda Ji in a religious saintly role
Yakshagana costumes are fixed and very colourful, and vary depending upon the kind of character. The ornaments are made from light wood, mirror work and coloured stones though thermocol is also used in modern performances. These are covered with golden foil. Basic elements include a headgear (a Kirita - crown or a Pagade - turban), Kavacha which decorates the chest, Bhuja Keerthi (armlets) used to decorate shoulders and Dabu (belts). Mirror work is used in these and reflects light, adding their colourfulness. A colourful tunic is worn on the upper body. A Kacche (traditional unstitched garment) is worn on the lower body, coloured with a checked - mix of red, yellow and orange. Bulky pads are worn under it. Some cotumes require detailed facial makeups like those used to depict villians and the like. Sari and other decorative ornaments are used for female roles.
All these female roles are played by men
The performance I witnessed was a Hindu religious story titled "Kartveeryarjun Ravan". Here is the story:

King Kritveerya has a child Kartveeryarjun during an inauspicious time at his wife Rakavati's insistence. Because of his untimely birth, Kartveeryarjun is born without hands, so Kritaveerya seeks a boon praying that his son gets 1000 powerful hands instead of 2 ordinary hands from his dynasty's Guru. This is fulfilled.

Kartveerya grows up to be a great ruler of his dynasty, the Haihays of Maahishmati. One day he goes with his wives to enjoy a splash at a nearby river. But the king of the Asurs (type of tribe with people considered demonic), Ravana, wants to conquer Maahishmati and defeat Kartveerya. When he arrives there, he meets some comical attendants of Kartveeryarjun and the impact of Kartveerya's arms sends him aloft while worshipping his favourite religious god Shiv. This results in a battle with Kartveerya and finally the just Kartveerya wins. He captures Ravan, and releases him when his Guru asks him to do so as an offering to his teacher. The preacher blesses him saying that whenever one wants to find something, he can do so by chanting the Kartveeryarjun Mantra (chant). The play was good and had a different artistic style. I was lucky enough to get a photo with Shivananda Sir who kindly agreed.

Here are some photos I captured during my watch:
Shivananda Ji as Kartveeryarjuna (right) and another actor (left) playing Ravan. The musicians can be seen at the rear.
Shivananda Ji (as Kartveeryarjuna, left) and another actor playing his preacher (right). Behind is the Bhagwat.
Close up of Shivananda Ji, lead actor, playing Kartveerya
A male actor, playing a female role, lights a lamp at the end.
A memorable moment, a personal photo with Shivananda Ji


  1. You are a special person Vidur, so is your blog so special. I have never more informative article on Yakshagana ever before. The pictures are beautiful too. I am so glad you are blogging

  2. Thank you for your kind appreciation Ma'am, I feel very glad you liked it.

  3. Love this so much! You helped your mom write a temple post for my blog and I loved it, and I adore this! You write VERY well Vidur! I think you will go very far young man!


  4. Thanks for appreciating and your kind wishes, very happy to see you liked it Ma'am. Always happy to share interesting knowledge. I surely will, and share many more interesting stuff.

  5. This was so very interesting. Your article was quite well written and very informative; thank you for sharing you experiences. I knew only a little about the traditional theater in India so this was a treat to read. I thought the phtography was quite good as well. Perhaps I will travel there one day with my daughter and granddaughter and see a performance in person. I look forward to more posts in the future.

  6. Thanks a lot for appreciating. Will be happy to impart knowledge to you as much as possible. Thanks for liking the photography! Please do, I'm sure you'll have a great time. I will definitely post much more.

  7. So very interesting and informative. Well done, Vidur.

  8. Thank you, Vidur, I felt transported back to India where I had seen a performance as well. I love the mantra for finding lost things, what a beautiful memory and tribute to your grandmother.

    1. Thanks for appreciating Ma'am. Iam so glad you felt so. Iam sure my grandmother is very happy in heaven :)

  9. This is a lovely article. Watching a Yakshagana performance is magical as I discovered one early morning in Kukke Subramanya.

    Thanks for writing and sharing.


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