Yakshagana is a traditional India dance combining elements such as dance, music, dialogue, costume, and makeup, which literally when translated means “the nature spirits song”. This “theatrical” based dance form is supposed to have originated from the Malenadu region in Karnataka. According to traditions this dance form is usually performed from morning to evening. Historically speaking, it is said to have developed during the “Bhakti movement” from pre-classical music and the theatre art form. Furthermore, this dance form is commonly referred to as “the play” in both the Kannada and Tulu language.

a. History and origin of the Yakshagana dance:

According to history, the origin of this “theatrical dance form” is said to be influenced heavily by the “Vaishnava Bhakti movement” that developed around the 17th century in south India. It was first introduced in a town called Udupi in Karnataka by Narahari Tirtha (the founder of Kuchipudi), who also happened to be a minster of the Kalinga Kingdom. Furthermore, the first evidence of the existence of this dance form was found on inscriptions located in the Lakshminarayan Temple situated in the Bellary district. In addition, it is also said that this unique dance form was first established during the era of the renowned Yakshagana poet Parthi Subba. The art of Yakshagana as seen today is said to have evolved slowly over the time from cultural elements such as ritual theatre, temple arts, royal courts that existed in the past, and via the imagination of the performing artists.

b. Costumes used during a Yakshagana dance performance:

This dance form essentially comprises of mainly male costumes (since it is a male oriented dance form) that are extremely colourful. The costume worn for a Yakshagana performance essentially comprises of the following, and they are as follows

  1. The headgear i.e. in local terms known as Kirita or Pagade.
  2. Kavacha i.e. essentially the vest.
  3. Armlets i.e. locally known as Buja Keerthi.
  4. Belts i.e. also known as Dabu worn around the waist is said to be made from light wood and is covered by a golden foil.
  5. Kachche i.e. essentially a colourful dhoti that covers the lower part of the body.

c. Music used in a Yakshagana dance performance:

The music accompanying this dance form essentially is divided into two key components. They are as follows:

1. Raga:

It is an ancient concept of Indian classical music that consists of five (or more) musical notes through which a melody is created. The melodies formed during a Yakshagana performance is known as “mattu”.

2. Tala:

Is yet another concept belonging to the Indian classical music which essentially represents the rhythmic beat which then leads to the creation of a melody. It is then that the ragas along with talas combine to form the crux of the music used in the Yakshagana performance.

The musical instruments used in this dance form are as follows:

  1. Maddale: A percussion instrument. This instrument plays a major role in the music created for this dance form.
  2. Cymbals: Also known as Yakshagana bells are used to create the background score for the performance.
  3. Chande: Is a form of drum and is yet another important instrument used in the music created for the performance.

d. Training availability and dance techniques involved in Yakshagana:

As for the technique used, Yakashagana combines dance as well theatrical to narrate a story through music. This dance form is also unique due to the fact that it emphasizes a lot more on the dramatic skills i.e. expressing emotions via facial expression. In fact the acting used in this dance form can be effectively termed as what is popularly known the world over as “The Method”. Furthermore, this dance style is often compared to an opera performance.

Training for this dance form is undertaken in many (mostly) temples located in the state. An institute known as Govinda Pai Research institute operates a “Yakshagana Kalakendra” situated in the town Udupi which provides for training in this dance form, and also conducts research on cultural topics such as language, rituals, and dance as an art form.

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