I can’t forget those days during my childhood where we use to go to Aata whenever it happens near our place and spent the whole night there, sometimes watching and sometimes simply sleeping on the ground in the crowd. We use to take along blankets to protect from cold. Normally they use to be the ones played by the troupes of temples funded by devotees. I use to enjoy the comedies in the stories made by the comedy artist. His look itself used to be very hilarious. The demon characters were really frightening, so called Rakshasa or “Bannada Vesha”. They are really colourful and it takes hours for them to do the makeup. We sometimes go to the Chouki (the place where the artists get dressed) and spend some time watching how they get dressed, many senior artists used to dress and makeup themselves.
Yakshagana consists of a Himmela (background musicians) and a Mummela (dance group). Himmela consisting of Bhagawata, who is also the facilitator (singer), Maddale, Hormonium for drone and Chande (loud drums). The music is based on the Karnataka Sangeetha but with a heavy 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 painted faces which they paint themselves. A performance usually depicts a story from the Hindu epics and puranas. It consists of a narrator(Baghawatha) who either narrates the story by singing or sings precomposed dialogs of a character, 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.
I myself is very much interested in Yakshagana, I always try to watch it whenever I am in my native and get a chance to. But spending whole night becomes difficult these days, and to suit our timing concerns these days Tent Yakshagana’s are being organised (A commercial form, where in you pay and watch in a theatre). I myself played a small role once in my native in a “Sanghada Mela” (A group of people who have practised Yakshagana as a habit). I have also played a role in our company’s annual day on surprise event. It’s a wonderful experience to be a part of Yakshagana, make up is and the head wear is the most difficult thing to bear for long time. The head wear called as Keerita is tied tight and sometimes you feel fatigue.
There are two variants of Yakshagana. In this fierce competition, the two styles differentiate from one another through the instruments played, but also through the costumes displayed.
The Badagutittū style, as its name indicates, is prevalent in Northern parts of South Canara, that is, from Padubidri to Byndoor and North Canara District. It makes use of a typical Karnataka chande. The Badagutittu style was popularized by Shivram Karanth's Yakshagana Mandira at Saligrama village in Dakshina Kannada as a shorter, more modern form of Yakshagana. Keremane Shivarama Heggade, the founder of the Yakshagana troupe, Idagunji Mahaganapathi Yakshagana Mandali is an exponent of this style of Yakshagana.
The second variation, the Tenkutittu style, is prevalent in Southern areas of South Canara, that is, from Mulki to Kasargod. It is accompanied by a Kerala maddalam. Another aspect that sets it closer to Kathakali than its northern counterpart is the less exuberant costumes, notable the demon ones. One notable practitioner of Tenkutittu style Yakshagana was the late Sheni Gopalakrishna Bhat.
There are other forms of Yakshagana such as “Koodata”, “Jodata” and “Attanige Aata”. Koodata is where two troupes performs together in one stage, one troupe artists will take roles of “Pandavas” and other of “Kauravas” and thus there will be a healthy competition among the artists to give value to the roles they perform and if you get a chance to watch such a Koodata you should never miss it. A Jodata is where two troupes will perform separately on two stages side by side. Attanige Aata is one where there will be one stage above the other, like a two stories building, where they depict the earth on ground floor and Heaven on the top floor, but these days these type of Attanige Aata have reduced and almost extinct.
Dr. K.S. Karanth is the foremost authority on Yakshagana and has been working on all its aspects, namely--dance, music, and literature, since 1930. He had given great contribution to Yakshagana and his contribution should be remembered and respected. He has led the way to a deep and systematic study of this art form. He has spent decades travelling to remote villages with in Karnataka to inspect and study every Yakshagana manuscript, the earliest going back to A.D. 1651. He has put together his findings in the shape of two standard books Yakshagana-Bayalata (1958) in Kannada, and Yakshagana in Kannada and English (1975).
Picture Credits : Wikipedia