Yakshagana: The traditional theatre form of Karnataka

Yakshagana play

Yakshagana is the traditional theatre art form of Karnataka, particularly prevalent and developed in south and north Karnataka, Udupi, Shimoga and western parts of Chikmagalur district in Karnataka. A group of performing artists is known as a Mela or a Mandali. Through the medium of music, songs with lyrics, drama, dance and dialogue in Kannada, varied stories from Hindu mythology, sacred texts like the Ramayana, Mahabharata and Bhagwatham, stories are enacted and recreated by performers to entertain and enlighten the audience, pertaining to the significance of the presentation, maintaining the cultural and social relevance of the play. It is amazing to note that with 12,000 performances around the year, Karnataka generates a turnover of 6 crores!

Shivananda Hegde, one of the leading Yakshagana artistes of Karnataka
Shivananda Hegde, one of the leading Yakshagana artistes of Karnataka

Evolution and significance

The earliest prasanga (play) dates back to the 15th century. Ever since, Yakshagana, also known as music of the Gandharvas, has gone through varied stages of development and change in order to suit the changing trends of society. Nevertheless the basic structure of the story-telling has not changed. Originally the performance used to last the whole night but due to time constraints, it has been reduced to two to three hours. There are about 30 professional troupes in Karnataka and about 200 amateur groups that perform around the year, particularly from November to May. During festive occasions, a Yakshagana performance is a must. The performers are essentially males and female roles are also enacted by men.

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Guru Vijay Shanker

Guru Vijay Shanker

Guru Vijay Shanker is a professional Kuchipudi-Kathakali exponent, actor, choreographer and arts critic for more than four decades.