Breaking barriers with Yakshagana

Arshiya preparing for  a performance.

Arshiya preparing for a performance.

Unlike Mohammed Ghouse, Jokatte Mohammed and Jabbar Samo, who are well-known Yakshagana artistes in coastal Karnataka, Arshiya is a relatively new entrant to the art form. But she is growing in popularity.

There are far fewer women Yakshagana artistes compared to men, and a Muslim woman exponent is rare. At one time, this traditional art form was forbidden for women.

Arshiya, in her 20s, and working in an automobile company, was fascinated by it as a child and performed her first ‘prasangas’ (episodes) when she was 10 in her village, Okkethur Mada, near Vitla in Dakshina Kannada. She is perfecting her skills at Kadali Kala Kendra in Mangaluru.

She grew up in an atmosphere where Yakshagana was all pervasive but it was a teacher of this traditional style, Jayaram, at Jaycees English Medium School in Vitla, who kindled her interest. “The role of Mahishasura in a Devi Mahatme episode which I watched during childhood mesmerised me. I got addicted to bannada vesha (villain roles),” she said.

Many characters

“The most enthralling part of Yakshagana is the pravesha (entry) of bannada vesha. I still love it and enjoy performing,” she said, recalling her portrayal of Nishambhasura, Raktha Beejasura and Mahishasura in Devi Mahatme .

Going by the stage name of Tanu Vitla, she is also learning to play the ‘chende’, a percussion instrument, under Ramesh Bhat of Kadali Kala Kendra.

Mr. Bhat said Ms. Arshiya was “in the process of learning to use complicated Yakshagana make–up”. She is also likely the first woman from the Muslim community in Yakshagana.

Entry into the field was not a cake walk. Though family members were supportive, some other members of the community were not. Overcoming such resistance and against all odds, she has performed in Mangaluru, Udupi, Karwar and Belagavi.

Her colleague in the automobile company, Prakruthi, said that Ms. Arshiya prompted her also to learn Yakshagana and she has been taking lessons for four months. Senior artiste S.N. Bhat Bayar said the country’s heritage and culture recognised no religious barriers.

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Printable version | May 18, 2022 12:49:05 pm | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/karnataka/breaking-barriers-with-yakshagana/article30891127.ece