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‘Yakshagana is attracting a young urban generation’

Anil Kumar Sastry
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Art form losing rural base as it can’t support livelihoods, says master

CONTINUITY:Subrahmanya Dhareshwar: ‘I’m still trying to perfect my art.’— PHOTO: BHAGYA PRAKASH K.
CONTINUITY:Subrahmanya Dhareshwar: ‘I’m still trying to perfect my art.’— PHOTO: BHAGYA PRAKASH K.

Having started as an electrician with the Amruteshwari Mela, Kota, in Udupi district, he has traversed a long way to become a leading bhagavata (Yakshagana singer). During his 34-year career he has lent voice to more than a thousand Yakshagana performances besides scripting a few prasangas (stories) as well as many songs.

Now, looking back after his ‘voluntary’ retirement, Subrahmanya Dhareshwar cherishes his rich memories but has plans to continue singing in specially organised performances.

Demanding role

In an interview with The Hindu here, Mr. Dhareshwar who is 56, points out that being the bhagavata in a mela (professional troupe) is demanding as he is the one to organise everything — right from arranging rangasthala (stage) to arrangements at the chowki (greenroom). “With advancing age, I no longer have the energy to organise the entire show.”

Born and bred in the temple town of Gokarna, Mr. Dhareshwar is now settled at Kirimanjeshwara, a village between Kundapura and Baindoor in Udupi District, also known for the ancient Agasthyeshwara Temple on the shores of the Arabian Sea. Though he had some experience in theatre music, he started as a light boy with the renowned Amruteshwari Mela and learnt Yakshagana singing from Narayanappa Uppoor.

Composer as well

Competing with his then counterpart Kalinga Navada, who later passed away in a tragic road accident at a young age, Mr. Dhareshwar joined Perdur Mela as a fulltime singer and continued with it till his retirement. Many routine incidents inspired him to script songs, he says, citing the example of “ Kaniya Helalu Bande Koravanji Naanamma ” introduced for Shoodra Tapaswini prasanga.

“While travelling by bus from Udupi to Kundapura, I saw a few traditional fortune-tellers (Koravanjis) going about their vocation and composed the song, which became a hit.” This high-pitched song, sung at just before daybreak (around 5 a.m.) with accompanying percussion instruments, used to wake up many a viewer who would have dropped off to sleep watching the overnight performance, he laughs. The song became so popular that Shoodra Tapaswini was staged 150 times during that particular year’s Yakshagana season.

Amateurs’ interest

Asked about the changing face of the folk art, Mr. Dhareshwar says Yakshagana is losing its appeal in rural areas as it can no longer support livelihoods. On the other hand, the younger generation in towns and cities are evincing keen interest in the art and are become amateur artists.

There seasoned veteran is very disapproving of two-hour truncated versions saying the art form is meant to be an all-night affair. He says he is still trying to perfect his art post-retirement and is ready to take part in a prasanga once in a while. Certainly he believes in passing on his accumulated knowledge to the younger generation. His son Karthikeya is an animation specialist. He is also learning the chande, the percussion instrument used in Yakshagana.

Performance

Mr. Dhareshwar is performing three prasangas in Bangalore on December 8 at the Ravindra Kalakshetra. The all-night show is organised by the Dhareshwar Abhimanigala Balaga which will gift him a purse. Tickets are priced at Rs.200 and Rs.100.

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