Theatre

Of journeys – past and present

Early days of the Idagunji Mela with the founder Keremane Shivarama Hegde (extreme right) Photos: courtesy Idagunji Mela  

Gunavante is a tiny little village in Uttara Kannada, tucked into the beautiful, sylvan port town of Honnavara. The iconic Keremane Idagunji Mela, which saw its birth in this village in 1934, put the Uttara Kannada district on the country's cultural map with its continued commitment to the highly original and rich art form of Yakshagana. Go to any remote corner of the Uttara Kannada district, and you cannot escape the exhilarating sound of the chande and maddale, intrinsic to Yakshagana and its allied forms. There are hundreds of committed practitioners who have dedicated an entire lifetime to Yakshagana. Despite such an abounding tradition, the Keremane Idagunji Mela becomes noteworthy for its continued dedication and generations of the family going on to become artistes of national repute. The Keremane Idagunji Mela is now proudly 75.

It's a moment of great happiness, but it's also a moment of introspection. At the recent four-day celebrations in Gunavante, Shivananda Hegde, the third generation practitioner of the Keremane family, had this to say: “This is a great moment, but it's also for me, intertwined with sadness and immense responsibility. For 75 long years, the Idagunji Mela, even in the face of grave challenges, has taken Yakshagana to remote corners and has enriched the world of this art form. That makes me happy. But today, the gems of the Keremane family who made such a colossal contribution have left me alone. On this eventful occasion I feel sad they are not here. They have left behind a fund of knowledge and aesthetics and I shudder at the thought of the responsibility I have to shoulder.”

Keremane Shivarama Hegde who started the Idagunji Mela in 1934 was a phenomenal artiste. The roles that he donned – Magadha, Kaurava, Dasharatha, Valala – remain unsurpassed till date. In fact, artistes performing today, who have not even had a chance to see Shivarama Hegde's performances, are so full of stories about the legendary artiste that he continues to live in them like the eternal characters of the epic, who constantly acquire new dimensions. A senior talamaddale artiste and Sanskrit scholar Umakant Bhat, who watched the maestro in his boyhood years, reminiscences Shivarama Hegde rather evocatively: “He was of epic proportions even during his lifetime. In memory, he only grows mightier. I am not sure if there will be another like him who has thought so much about all the aspects of Yakshagana.”

Shivanand Hegde -- who grew up watching and listening to intense discussions on Yakshagana between his grandfather Shivarama Hegde, his immensely talented father Shambhu Hegde and uncles Mahabala and Gajanana Hegde -- grossly misses the fervour of those days. “It was a never-ending obsession,” he recalls. Now, there is a big demand for Yakshagana, melas (troupes) are booked for the next 15 to 20 years, but that has not triggered any “inner development”, he rues. For Shivanand, it is not simply important to keep programmes coming for the Idagunji Mela or running their Yakshagana school smoothly. What's important for him is a holistic development.

“In this grand tradition, the subject was always the important thing. But in recent times, sadly, the individual has come to occupy centrestage,” he explains. The Bhasam (related to Bhagavatike, or music support) workshop, a 14-month programme which culminated with the 75th year celebrations, hoped to revive the essence of musical rendition which has not only lost its flavour but also its original nuances. “Now we shout, there is no emotion in our music. While keeping the larger framework in mind, every artiste must be able to find his own idiom. That's Bhasam's endeavour...” explains Shivanand.

Shivanand recalls how there was a point in the life of the Idagunji troupe when his father Shambhu Hegde felt that there was no way he could put an end to the rapid dilution in content. “He closed down the Mela for a few years and put himself through serious rethinking. He was looking for new dimensions and forms of expression through which new force could be infused into the art form.” However, today, learning the basic steps becomes the end point of training. “Hence moving to higher realms becomes impossible. There is no core development,” observes Shivanand. “I see a distressing absence of talent and hardwork.” While there are hardly any doubts about the richness of the Yakshagana as a form, questions persist about its current aesthetics. “y performing episodes from the epics we don't become traditional. If you study Bharatha's natyashastra you realise that everything that Bharatha explains is mirrored in Yakshagana. I think it is imperative for us to rejuvenate it on the basis of its core beliefs. Mass appeal is like glucose, it's an external stimulus. mething must happen from within,” says Shivanand. At the threshold of 75, Shivanand feels that something must transpire between “tradition” and “mass appeal”. “It's time we evolve an aesthetics, and that cannot happen if we do not submit ourselves to the rigour it demands,” adds Shivanand.

Related Topics
This article is closed for comments.
Please Email the Editor

Printable version | Apr 19, 2021 11:59:42 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/friday-review/theatre/of-journeys-past-and-present/article2923680.ece

Next Story