The all-night dance-drama, Yakshagana, takes its themes from the great Indian Epics that the people are familiar with.
As the sun set and evening lamps came alive in the temple complex, loud beats of the percussion instruments would announce the beginning of yet another all-night Yakshagana performance.
This traditional theatre was one of major sources of entertainment for the village folk, centuries ago.
Yaksahagana is a form of dance drama which is still performed in various parts of Karnataka, with many variations of the original and of course differing from region to region. The themes for the theatre are derived from the Indian epics and the performances are generally open air with slow and graceful movements by the artists.
“Yakshagana has a strong connection with the local temple. Troupes were and are still owned by the temples. The entire village gathered in the temple premises to witness and enjoy these performances. In the 15th and 16th centuries, these dance dramas were performed in royal courts too”, says Mr NT Bhatt, a professor at the Manipal University.
The Bhagawath, who is the singer, directs the entire performance. He is accompanied by musicians who play the cymbals, the harmonium, the maddale and the chenda (the last two are both percussion instruments). “In the 17th and 18th centuries, many composers wrote texts for the dance dramas on palm leaves, which are still the basis for performances today. At one time, Yakshagana used to be performed by only males, however, today both males and females are seen on stage and we also have a troupe comprising only female artists,” adds Mr Bhatt. Sri Madhawacharya, Sri Narahari Thirtha, Keremane Shivananda Hegde and Dr Shivaram Karanth, are some of the famous Yakshagana artists.
Dr Karanth established the Yakshagana Kendra in Udupi in 1971, where students do a two year intensive certificate course in Yakshagana. “In the past 41 years, we have trained many national and international artists in this theatre form,” says Mr. Krishna Bhat, the present Director of the Kendra. “Some of the students continue to perform with troupes and are doing their bit to keep the art form alive,” he adds.