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Put Y back in Yakshagana

NAVEEN MENEZES
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TRENDS Youngsters may constitute the amateur brigade and take to Yakshagana only during cultural festivals. Yet, they are the only spring of hope

Going strongYoung people are keeping the art form currentphoto: by author
Going strongYoung people are keeping the art form currentphoto: by author

Acollege youth festival takes its usual course: break dancing to fast-paced music, guitar strumming English tunes, and scenes that could be found anywhere in the metros of the country. However, the next act, replaces the jarring electronic tones with the ‘chande’ and ‘thala’, a traditional, rustic return to beats created through brass plates clanged together rather than have it synthesized through a computer. In bright florid costumes with equally bright appendages — a far cry from the tight jeans and glittery ‘branded’ shirts of previous acts — Sunil B.C. Road strolls out to the beat and in one swift move he transforms from expressions of serene, delicate, poignant, sage-like radiance to menacing fierceness, complementing the transformation with quicker, wilder movements.

Bucking the trend

Sharath Alva Chanila and Santhosh Thimmottu follow suit, bringing with them the centuries-old traditions of Yakshagana. These students of Mangalore University have been actively involved in the folk dance form for years now, and with every performance they buck the trend of heading towards ‘more popular’ dance forms. The three are beneficiaries of the ‘Yakshagana Study Centre’ in Mangalore University, headed by Chinnappa Gowda. The Centre runs programmes for students through workshops and training sessions.

“Today, one of the biggest challenges of Yakshagana is to attract youngsters to the field. Unfortunately only the elderly people turn up to see the performances... The youth are the ones who can take the art to the next generation. If this does not happen, theatre, which is a rich source of learning, is lost,” Gowda said.

With declining popularity, Yakshagana has seen a ‘corruption’ in its traditions: replacing all-night drama episodes to just two-hour briefs where comedy and romance is highlighted in a desperate attempt to bring in crowds.

Yogish Kairodi, Head of the Department of Kannada in Alva’s College, Moodbidri, said modernity is not to be blamed for the decline. “Earlier Yakshagana was a medium of entertainment and disseminated knowledge in the rural areas. However, due to the rise in the number of sources for entertainment, the youth eventually switched to other media. Though modern technology has been blamed for the decline, nobody has found fault with the youth or the art form itself,” he said.

This is not to take away from the young troupes mushrooming in education institutions across the district. Though considered a positive development, these troupes are active only during college or other cultural festivals. “For the past 25 years, the youth are increasingly seen as amateur artistes in Yakshagana,” said Nagaveni, a Yakshagana scholar. This amateurism and a lack of skilled teachers see the influence of other dance forms such as Bharatanatyam, Kathakali entering a Yakshagana performance, and in a sense, threatening its essence, she said.

In the defence of the ‘hobby-ists’, Babu Kotekar of the Kalagangothri Yakshagana Kendra said it was because of them that the form still exists amidst an onslaught from modern art and entertainment forms. “Yakshagana requires in-depth study and is not possible to acquire overnight. This could be one of the reasons for the youth not taking it up full time,” he said.

Despite these considerations, with every pirouette the three students reaffirm their passion for the art, even if it only exists during the inter-collegiate cultural programmes. They explain that Yakshagana possesses a strong traditional connection for them, where the singing and drumming merge with dancing, while the artistes, clad in costumes of colour and contour, assume larger-than-life roles. On the stage, it is for them a ritualistic possession, if only possession by the passion for the art. Sunil says “Yakshagana is so rich in its form…one visit and you’re hooked to it.”

NAVEEN MENEZES

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