Breaking barriers with Yakshagana

A young Muslim woman overcame resistance to acquire prowess in the art form

February 23, 2020 04:14 am | Updated 04:14 am IST - MANGALURU

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.

0 / 0
Sign in to unlock member-only benefits!
  • Access 10 free stories every month
  • Save stories to read later
  • Access to comment on every story
  • Sign-up/manage your newsletter subscriptions with a single click
  • Get notified by email for early access to discounts & offers on our products
Sign in


Comments have to be in English, and in full sentences. They cannot be abusive or personal. Please abide by our community guidelines for posting your comments.

We have migrated to a new commenting platform. If you are already a registered user of The Hindu and logged in, you may continue to engage with our articles. If you do not have an account please register and login to post comments. Users can access their older comments by logging into their accounts on Vuukle.