Yakshagana - Seeker's Thoughts

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Seeker's Thoughts

A blog for the curious and the creative.










A Yakshagana is an intricate dance-drama which focuses on one small sub-story (known as Prasanga) from an ancient Hindu epic and takes place over one nightlong performance.


Melas are troupes that specialize in performing Yakshagana. Performers require intensive training, and must possess strong physiques in order to carry heavy costumes for multiple hours of acting/dancing performances.




Priyanka Mohan is one of a growing number of women entering the male-dominated world of Yakshagana. A software engineer by trade, she left her career three years ago to devote herself fully to the art form.


Yakshagana differs from other forms of classical musical drama by being more dependent on spoken dialogue. This requires actors not only to be artistically gifted but also possessing the skill of captivating spectators through their interpretation of characters.


Yakshagana music blends elements of folk and classical dance. The bhagawatha's voice is supported by the chande (cymbal) and maddale, which is made from special alloy to suit his or her tone, while rhythmic accompaniment such as the taala and katti are utilized during dance sequences. Torches were traditionally lit onstage to add mystery; today however brighter, steadier electric lights have replaced torches to change the ambience without diminishing its beauty.




Yakshagana dance is character-based; male actors tend to focus more on battle-oriented and heroic movements while female roles favour graceful and measured ones. Since it developed from folk art, there are few symbolic or stylised gestures as in Bharatanatyam or Kathakali; instead movements mirror how people move naturally in everyday life.


Notable elements of Yakshagana's nritya include rhythmic footwork, hand and palm movements, body flexions and impressive squatting and jumping movements, in addition to other subtle movements specific to its genre of play.


Certain elements of Yakshagana remain constant, such as music played during chowki, prologue and closing prayers; other features, like oddolaga sequence, may differ depending on which prasanga it takes place in. Katha-s, composed from different poems sung by lead singer in style of swaraprastha; musicians playing maddale, taala, chande and harmonium complementing performances with accompaniment by musicians who provide accompaniment through maddale, taala sequence; oddolaga sequence; others such as oddolaga sequence are unique to each prasanga.


 Katha-s which feature in each prasanga; lead singer chants in style of swaraprastha while accompanying musicians provide music which complement the dramatisations while accompanying musicians provide accompaniment using maddale, taala, chande and harmonium for performances that showcase different poems that come alive on stage through performances called kathas based on those poems by means of maddale taala, chande chande harmonium instruments to add characterisation of course!




Yakshagana stands apart from other classical dance forms by placing great emphasis on speech. Even standard characters, like clowns, should speak in high-sounding phrases with elaborate syllables.


The Bhagvatha is a storyteller, singing his tales while keeping rhythm on his finger cymbal (thaala). To add more humor to his stories, he may also use harmoniums. As with narrators, they provide interpretation of prepared characters and dialogue in ways which add humor.


Other than the Bhagawatha, other actors contribute their dialogue during song-and-dance sequences by basing it on the characters they are portraying - an aspect unique to Yakshagana that could be considered method acting. Furthermore, actors often engage in philosophical discussions amongst themselves without breaking character - one reason why Yakshagana remains so engaging for audiences.




Yakshagana is one of India's most distinctive theatre forms, depicting holy stories like Ramayana, Mahabharata or Puranas through dance-drama performances that depict their message with vibrant dance-drama settings that promote devotion in common people. Performers wear three iconic sets of colors: red/green heroic characters; black demonic figures known as Kaatubannas and green/red female roles known as Sthreebannas for female roles respectively.


The Bhagavatha, or story narrator, sings pre-composed dialogue between characters while actors dance to music to portray different aspects of plot. Dialogue and dance may become spontaneous or may delve deep into philosophical discussions without breaking character.


Performers require excellent physical fitness in order to wear heavy costumes for extended periods, and possess both acting/dancing expertise as well as strong dancing capabilities. They don large head gears with bright colored faces. Their elaborate costumes cover all parts of their bodies - including musical beads on legs (Gejje). Furthermore, different facial make up techniques are employed depending on whether or not they portray heroes, women or wild figures.

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