The lec-dem on Yakshagana, an interesting introduction to the tala system and the close links between Manipuri and the Thang Ta martial arts were dealt with in detail at the Natya Kala Conference.
How confusing the ‘classical’ and ‘folk’ categorising is in reference to the Indian situation, was reinforced in the ‘Abhyaasa Sampradaya’ lecture/demonstration on Yakshagana by Keremene Shivananda Hegde of Shri Idagunji Mahaganapati Yakshagana Mandali during Krishna Gana Sabha’s 31 Natya Kala Conference.
Belonging to the Badagu Tittu, stretching from Udipi to Shirur (Shivmogga, Chikkamagalore and Malenadu areas), Karnataka’s regional theatre form of Yakshagana Bayalata, which includes the Tenku Tittu and Badabagadu Tittu North Kanara style, is a people’s art traced back to the 15-16 centuries - its total theatre presenting themes from the Puranas and epics, combining dialogue (vachikabhinaya) with dance and music following stylised prescriptions of grammar and raga, alongside improvised elements suitable to a particular character emerging from the actor’s on-the-spot creativity. High literary skills are required to tailor dialogue trends to not just highlight the character but also make the situation in the story contemporarily relevant.
For those who witnessed the Karthaviryarjuna performance the evening before, Ravana’s boastful claims and promises about benefits to the subjects during his rule, sounded every bit like the politician to-day orating about the greatness of his rule vis-a-vis the abject misrule of previous governments. The subtle humour in exchanges between characters emerges from adroit repartee, outside the written script of the play.
Shivananda’s interesting introduction to the tala system, in the demonstration showed how talas are associated with melodic modes (ragas) - the seven matra Kore tala in Khambodi, Eka tala associated with Madhyamavati, Jhampe in Mohanam and Triputa in Khambodi. Himmela includes the high-pitched singing of the Bhagavataru a must while performing in open fields with very large audiences and no microphones and Maddala and Chenda percussions. The straight Carnatic singing has less curves and gamakas. Known for its interpretative sensitivity, the winsome abhinaya to the lyric ‘Rangaiyya Odi Baro’ was by the female character (donned by male).
The enactment, the previous evening of Karthaviryarjuna, treading the forest with the palace damsels to river Narmada for ‘Jalakrida,’ was so evocative that on the empty stage one felt the wetness of water during the merry-making. Shivananda’s own presentation of moving abhinaya, portrayed Rama analysing his own life with its plate full of sorrows and some joys, ‘Novugalinda Tudida Jeevanave Kandaaitu.’ The grandeur of the aesthetic costumes with the elaborate headgear (Munda-s), and the jewellery made of wood, with make-up special for each character, owes much of its sophistication to the contributions of Hegde’s father, the genius Sri Keremene Shambhu Hegde, who injected new life into Yakshagana.
The female characters, aesthetically turned out are so convincing, their steps redolent with lasya grace unlike the Male Oddilaga (entrance) full of vigour and movement variety with rhythmic patterns. Deft gait changes suffice to convey whether characters are crossing large tracts of land, or rocky terrain or even water. Yakshagana is the art of imagination and the range of characters from malefic to benevolent can hold audiences spellbound with the song/ dance/ dialogue narrative.
Manipuri made easy
Never has one been treated to a more lucid and intelligently planned lecture demonstration that was what presented by Lokendrajit Singh of Jawaharlal Manipuri Academy from Imphal. He first established the close links between Manipuri and the Thang Ta martial art, practised by the 30 odd warrior tribal sects inhabiting the Manipur state. Jumping with feline grace the distance of 2 ½ feet, from one pillar to the next in the two pillared traditional homes was how warriors acquired the agility. The main stance with the feet crossed one in front of the other for Thang Ta and in a swastika at the back for Manipuri constituted the main difference. The martial art movements and the lilting movement patterns of Lai Haraoba where abstract serpentine body movements (of which there are 385 types) evoke a formless tribal deity, melded to make Manipuri. The ‘chali-s’ taught first, combining measured body and hand geometry forming circles, the curved line and the serpentine movement, look easy in fluid grace but require rigorous training. The exercises preparing the body to move in a graceful S or 8-shaped up and down movements were demonstrated. The tala structure with Tanchep (4+4), Menkup (3+3), Tanchep Aroibi of 16 matras and Misrajati tintalmacha as examples was explained. The body with weight raised off the floor and very light foot contact, has foot raise in the air at articulated tala points – which is why the ankle bells are dispensed with, as being inimical to restrained aesthetics. The pirouettes and circling clockwise and counter clockwise (navadik parikrama) and the tala with Pung and Kartal (cymbal) playing with singing and dancing in Sankirtan, was briefly explained with an abbreviated Pung Cholom demonstrated by Lokendra Singh.
Explaining Vaishnavism’s superimposition on the regional religious beliefs, led to the story of how the Jackfruit tree, which bled when axed, was fully uprooted to float in the river. Sinking into the river and pulled up only when Raja Bhagyachandra personally supervised its retrieval, its wood went into the making of the image of Govindjee housed in the temple which became the site for Maha Ras. Manipuri’s first coming out of its home with Amubi Singh composing ‘Neela Kamaladala Shyam’ in 1936, rendered by Amla Shankar to the present Pancha Prana Samarpilo and Ashtapadis of Gita Govind is a big change. Demonstrating the throbbing character of Manipuri music with its own identity, neither Hndustani nor Carnatic, also made for a brilliantly informative morning.