The nuances of Yakshagana

Priyanka K Mohan, one of the few women Yakshagana dancer-teachers in the country, has brought out a book on the art form

Updated - July 26, 2019 01:52 pm IST

Published - July 26, 2019 01:51 pm IST

Yakshagana artiste Priyanka K Mohan is happy to have collaborated with online store Bookosmia for publishing her book Yaksha, which was recently launched at Ranga Shankara. Yaksha is a 12-page book with 25 illustrations by Adityaa Sadashiv, and is written by Archana Mohan with matter provided by 30-year-old Priyanka.

Speaking about why she wanted the story of Yakshagana in a book, Priyanka, an Engineering graduate, says, “My heart throbs for Yakshagana, as I was brought up amidst the music and energy of the art form. If my professional education helped me gain knowledge, my art opened up a lot of Indian culture to me.” The general lack of awareness among people regarding the art form, prompted her to bring out a book on the subject. “People know Yakshagana exists, but they are not aware of the nuances that make the dance rich in form and matter. I wanted people to understand and appreciate that,” says Priyanka.

Incidentally, Priyanka’s father is Yakshagana maestro K Mohan and her childhood centered around the dance form. “My father always felt that the urban audience lacked a deeper understanding of Yakshagana. That led to him settling down in Bengaluru and it has been 40 years since he started Yakshadegula where thousands of artistes have been trained,” says Priyanka, who stepped into the school as a teacher 10 years ago. “I was lucky to have a home-run organisation and observe conversations with stalwarts. My training here helped me get interesting roles from our mythology. But not every woman who wanted to be a part of this dance form was lucky enough. It used to be a tough call to see female participation in a world dominated by men,” she says.

Speaking about the ratio of students in Yakshadegula today, she says, although it is encouraging to see that 60% are girls now, the percentage of who will finally take the stage is not very encouraging yet. “When students and parents came into our school a decade ago, I could sense their disapproval at a female teacher,” she says.

“I took a Teach For India fellowship and started teaching in Government schools and later stepped into my father’s school. We need young minds understanding Yakshagana so more people appreciate it. It doesn’t matter if all the students learning do not take to performing. The form has to survive in its appreciation,” she says.

There are variants like Badagutittu and Tenku Yakshagana, and Yakshadegula is taking forward the Badagutittu legacy where intense steps get priority, making it physically exhausting. “This is one reason we found fewer women here compared to Tenku Yakshagana where dialogue is highlighted,” says Priyanka, adding, “Yakshagana was always showcased the whole night, and this was one more reason for women to not be allowed.”

To keep alive the legacy, Priyanka’s book highlights the story of an eight-year-old boy Yaksha. “Everyone knows Superman and Batman, but my little hero who is bullied in school, collects courage to become ‘Yaksha-man’ on ‘Superhero-day’ when he talks of his family’s 200-year-old legacy. Basically, it is a fun way to educate children on the nuances of Yakshagana,” says Priyanka.

Yaksha is available on Amazon and Kindle

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