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The changing face of Yakshagana

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CHARACTERISTIC: Senior artistes such as Chittani Ramachandra Hegde (left) have not deviated from the established aspects of Yakshagana as seen in this scene of a popular episode staged at the Town Hall recently.
CHARACTERISTIC: Senior artistes such as Chittani Ramachandra Hegde (left) have not deviated from the established aspects of Yakshagana as seen in this scene of a popular episode staged at the Town Hall recently.

Raviprasad Kamila

‘A few senior artistes are sacrificing traditional aspects during stage performances’

Connoisseurs of Yakashagana insist on use of classical language in episodes

Introduction of non-traditional percussion instruments is diluting the impact: expexrt

MANGALORE: In a recent Yakshagana programme at the Town Hall here, the “bhagawatha” (singer) was conversing over his cellphone, even as the audience was watching the action on the stage with all interest.

The singer was also indulging in frequent conversation with a man standing by a side of the stage. This “bhagawatha” was a senior professional artiste of a “mela” (troupe), managed by a math in Shimoga district.

“This is the height of distortion Yakshagana is witnessing these days. The bhagawatha is showing scant respect for the audience and artistes. If he has himself lost seriousness, how can we expect the troupe to perform better?” remarked Vigneshwara Bhat, who had come from Vittla for the show.

K. Mahalinga, an avid follower of Yakshagana and Reader in Kannada in a college here, mentioning the name of another senior professional bhagawatha of “tenku thittu” (sourthern style) form of Yakshagana, said: “I have seen him asking the ‘maddale vadaka’ (a percussion player) to take his photograph over his cellphone during a performance.”

Yakshagana, which is an integral part of life of people in coastal Karnataka, has been witnessing many changes in recent times.

Many connoisseurs of Yakshagana are concerned that many professional artistes are distorting this traditional art form by adopting new methods in the name of “experimentation” to gain popularity and get rich.

The distortions are in wearing costumes, facial make-up, imitation of cinema dances, playing new percussion instruments, bringing animals and other realistic objects on stage, creating reality on stage such as creating models of mountain, displaying commercial banners on the stage, bursting crackers during performance, and including colloquial language in the episodes.

“An ancient art form such as Yakshagana should grow from within and not from borrowing finer elements of other art forms,” said M. Prabhakar Joshi, a senior yakshagana artiste.

“One must understand that Yakshagana is not a realistic theatre. It is a theatre of fantasy and symbols,” he added.

Mr. Mahalinga said that it was wrong to generalise all Yakshagana artistes as “destroyers” of its tradition. A few, in their individual capacity, might have deviated from the discipline expected of them. It could be corrected by addressing specific issues, he said.

Yakshagana is a combination of classical art and folk art. “It is an art form of a common man. One cannot expect one hundred per cent discipline in performances like in Bharatanatyam or Kathakkali,” he said.

However, Yakshagana connoisseurs continue to discuss the issues related to additions being make in stage performances, new-wave “prasangas” being introduced, its impact on tradition, adaptation Yakshagana episodes into Hindi, English, Tulu, and Sanskrit languages.

Refresher course

At this juncture, the Karnataka Yakshagana Academy organised a seven-day refresher course for professional artistes at “Siddavana Gurukula” in Ujire, last week.

According to Murali Kadekar, member of the academy and convenor of the course, 47 artistes participated in it. Senior Yakshagana teachers, Bannanje Sanjeeva Suvarna and Kargallu Vishveshwara Bhat, guided them on the nuances of the dance form.

The course aimed at training professional artistes serving in “melas” in all aspects of Yakshagana and to return to its tradition and discipline during future stage performances, he said.

According to Kumble Sundar Rao, president of the academy, many artistes were ignoring the aspects of language, stage discipline, and decorum during performances. The academy wanted to preserve Yakshagana in its original form. The touring troupes had sustained and nurtured it for several decades. No one should indulge in adulterating this rich traditional art form, he said.

Mr. Rao said that it would be difficult to convince some senior artistes who had spent more than 25 years in performing Yakshagana to return to basics. But young artistes could be convinced on this aspect, he said.

He said, interaction between senior and junior artistes in green rooms of touring troupes had come down.

This had deprived the junior artistes of an opportunity to gain knowledge and skills from the seniors.

Senior artistes such as Hostota Manjunatha Bhagawatha, Balipa Narayana Bhagawatha, M. L. Samaga, Balkuru Kirshna Yaji, Sridhara Handhe and senior Odissi dancer Kshama Rao, Regional Director of National School of Drama, Bangalore, Suresha Anagalli, art critic A. Eshwarayya, were among the 24 people who guided the participants.

Mr. Joshi said that such courses should be organised for artistes of each performing troupes to enlighten them. “It is a great beginning. It should continue,” he said.

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