When Sabbanakodi Rambhatt started the Padre Chandu Yakshagana Natya Kendra, the first and the only yakshaganam training centre in the State, in Perala in Kasaragod around eight years ago, hardly anyone was ready to learn the art.
Those were the days when registering for the Yakshaganam competition in the State School Art Festival was enough to win it, as teams used to get walkovers due to less number of competitors. Rambhatt was on the verge of closing the centre.
Cut to 2012. The centre now has 100 students and 16 teams from all over the State are competing at the yakshaganam competition at this year’s festival. Rambhatt’s disciples from the Sathya Narayana High School in Perala won the competition this year too, like the previous years.
Perhaps being the only team that understands the Kannada language, in which the accompanying poetry is sung, is an added advantage for them.
“Our students perform for festivals and in other public stages. We raise the money to run the centre through these performances. For the art festival, we bring a new team every year. The toughest part in such competitions is in cutting down our normal performance time of around 8 hours to 20 minutes. Here, the ‘time over’ bell rings when we are in the middle of a ‘war’,” says Satheesh Puninchithaya, an accompanying singer with the Perala High School. The teams from outside Kasaragod also managed well, even with the language barrier, though the Malayalam influence was notable in the Kannada dialogues. “We don’t understand the language, but we do know the story that we are performing and the meaning of the lines. We time out movements to the music, rather than the language,” says Billa Sara Mathew of SCHSS, Ranni, which came third.
The growing popularity of Yakshaganam is perhaps reflected in the fact that the same costumes are being used by different teams, due to a ‘costume scarcity’.
Earlier, walkovers were the norm for Yakshaganam contest. This year, 16 teams were in the fray.