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Yakshagana ( kannada ಯಕ್ಷಗಾನ, yakṣagāna , tulu ಯಕ್ಷಗಾನ), is a traditional dance theater style in the southern Indian state of Karnataka with heavily made-up and costumed actors . Its distribution area is the coastal strip and the mountains of the Western Ghats with the Malnad region between the districts of Udupi and Shimoga in the north and the Kasaragod district of Kerala in the south. Two main directions ( tittus ) differ according to dance forms, costumes, make-up and music: the northern style badagutittu and the southern style tenkutittu. The name yakshagana , composed of Sanskrit yaksha , a class of demigods, and gāna ("song"), has stood for a certain musical form since the 1st millennium AD, the current dance theater style developed in the 16th or 17th century .

A prince or young warrior with the crown kedage mundale and the round breastplate yede kattu . The black vertical line with a circle on the forehead shows him as a Vishnu character

The Yakshagana Theater is performed by professional troupes who move around from October / November with the beginning of the dry season until the end of April and, at the invitation of Hindu temple administrators or individual believers, perform performances that traditionally take place outdoors and last all night . Since the middle of the 20th century, commercially successful events in front of a paying audience have been established in the cities and especially in Mangalore , the course of which is compressed to two to three hours. The actors speak Kannada, and Tulu in the southern region since the 20th century.

Songs and music form an essential element of the performances. The themes, dressed in verse, come mostly from the great Indian epics Ramayana , Mahabharata and the Puranas . The drama director and narrator ( bhagavata ) sets the pace with a cymbal ( tala ), his accompanying musicians play the double-cone drum ( maddale ), the cylinder drum ( chande ) and, as a drone instrument, the harmonium or shrutibox .


According to the Rigveda, the earliest dancers were the gods, in a hymn they are called nrutyamano devata , "dancing gods". In the movements of the weather god Indra , clouds, thunder and rain could have symbolized themselves as the dance of the forces of nature for the hymn writers of that time. The Vedic dramas had at their time of a ritual function and were sung, in dialogue form or scenic presented and represent the origin of the traditional folk ritual theater.

In India to this day there are not only external similarities between religious rituals and religious folk theaters, the character of which is mostly shaped by a mythical story, both are often organized for the same purpose and want to achieve the same goal. A Vedic fire offering or a drama in a temple can equally include a request for a male offspring. Religious theater forms, including Yakshagana, owe their origin to the devout Bhakti cult, which in South India became an essential aspect of Hindu belief from the middle of the 1st millennium .

Dancers at a ritual for the Bhutas ( bhuta kola ) as pili- chamundi spirit in the Nellitheertha cave temple in Dakshina Kannada

Another source of inspiration for Yakshagana is the worship of Bhutas in popular belief. Bhutas are spirits, supernatural beings in changing manifestations, who move between heaven and the human world, are malevolent or helpful. In South India they are represented as stone monuments, masks, metal objects or wooden sculptures. The Bhuta cult shows the close connection between drama and ritual. A magical evocation of bhuta images described in Mangalore in 1872, carried out by the billava caste (formerly mostly Toddy collectors) living in the distribution area of ​​the yakshagana , contained all elements of a dance theater including songs, costumes, masks, dialogues and a narrative plot . For the Yakshagana theater, elements from the Bhuta cult were brought into a new form and their magical-ritual character was removed. In this region of Karnataka, the ritual by which the Bhutas are worshiped is called bhuta kola , and in Kerala the ritual Bhuta theater is called teyyam .

According to popular estimates, the classic Sanskrit theater reached its peak in the 1st millennium and ended in the 15th and 16th. Century gradually back. It developed into poetic forms of expression while the people barely understood the Sanskrit language. Nevertheless, Sanskrit theaters continued to be performed in the temple halls ( mandapas ) during religious festivals - in Rajasthan and Gujarat until the Islamic conquest at the beginning of the 14th century - during which only the gestures of the actors remained for the general population to understand. The increasing influence of popular theater was shown early on by inserting passages in Prakrit and Apabhramsha .

The word yakshagana is mentioned in the Kannada literature from the 10th century, where it denoted an unspecified dance or music style that was independent of the styles of Indian classical music . At that time, many composers wrote various songs and plays on Kannada, which were given the generic term yakshagana . The 15th and 16th centuries brought many new forms of theater from the strengthened Bhakti movement. Saints and poets such as Tulsidas (around 1532–1623), Swami Haridas (15th century), Srimanta Sankardeva (1449–1568) from Assam and Chaitanya Mahaprabhu (1486–1533) wrote numerous dramas and spread their religious teachings.

An inscription from 1556 was found at the Lakshminarayana Temple in the village of Kurugod (belongs to the town of Somasamudra in the Bellary District ), according to which lease land was given to a group of performers as financial support to give performances of tala maddale in the temple . This meant a form of songs accompanied by the cymbal tala and the drum maddale , which are considered the forerunners of the yakshagana musical style and are still performed today. The songs were thematically limited to sung prayers for the gods in the temple. Over time, stories told in verse ( katha prasanga ) from the epics and Puranas were added. The main narrator of the tala maddale (also tal-maddale ) is the bhagavata, his companions are called arthadhari , they translate the "meaning" ( artha ) of the verses sung by the bhagavata for the audience. Tala maddale is performed seated, there are no dancers, actors or costumes. The stylistic device lecture through sung verses with prose dialogues is called vachika abhinaya (Sanskrit vachika , "words", abhinaya , physical representation of the drama). The bhagavata sits with his companions in a central position and begins with the narration; the arthadhari s seated in front of him assume different roles (such as those of the five Pandava brothers) and embody them in dialogues. Tala maddale represents the transition between the narrative and the dramatic form of the Yakshagana.

The earliest known Yakshagana drama dates from 1564, written by a certain Vishnu from Ajapura (in Dakshina Kannada ), it is based on Virata Parva , the fourth book of the Mahabharata. From the period between the 16th and 19th centuries, around 300 such dramas have survived in the form of palm leaf manuscripts . The oldest manuscript of the Sabhalakshana is dated to the year 1621, practicing this piece is an essential part of the training for young dancers to this day. Based on these manuscripts and temple inscriptions, Yakshagana developed as a popular drama at the beginning of the 16th century.

The source of the first dramas was probably the Vishnu stories of the Bhagavatapurana . Accordingly, the Yakshagana theater would be the South Indian counterpart to the Raslila called North Indian folk dances with which the affection for Krishna is expressed and draw their subjects from the same texts. This is confirmed by names for the pieces such as Bhagavathara Ata or Dashavatara Ata , in which Krishna worship is expressed. After all, bhagavata describes the main character on the stage: the theater director, who comments on all scenes and intervenes as a director. Gradually, from the second half of the 16th century, the Yakshagana repertoire was expanded to include legends from the Mahabharata, Ramayana and the Puranas.

By the beginning of the 20th century, almost 150 pieces (Sanskrit prasanga s, meaning "episodes") had been printed, the repertoire of some troops at that time comprised 20 to 30 pieces, each of which contained almost 300 songs and scenes that were sung and danced become. From the 1920s onwards, numerous prasanga s came on the market as inexpensive little books for everyone, most of which are no longer available today. In 1981 the number of pieces was given as over 40. Since the 1950s, the troops have been performing economically successfully in tents with seats against entry. There are currently around 30 professional yakshagana troops ( mela s) out and about during the game season. Kota Shivaram Karanth (1902–1997) made a significant contribution to the development and popularization of Yakshagana in the 20th century; he is cited as the leading authority on historical research into the style of dance. Around the middle of the 20th century he created a version of the yakshagana badagutittu style reduced to two to three hours for the theater stage. In particular, the religious dances of homage (generally purvaranga ) before the actual performance began, fell victim to the scissors. Instead, new topics were added that did not come from Indian mythology.


Duryodhana, the oldest of the 100 Kaurava brothers in the Mahabharata

The Yakshagana music and dance style was once common over a large area of ​​the southern Indian states of Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu . When the Muslim Deccan sultanates finally defeated the Vijayanagar Empire at the Battle of Talikota in 1565 , many Brahmin families fled Karnataka and settled in Thanjavur in Tamil Nadu. In this city and in some villages in the surrounding area, they developed the kirtanas song form, which is part of the bhakti tradition they brought with them . From the 17th century there are numerous references to the performance practice of the yakshagana dance drama, which was composed at the court of Thanjavur and cultivated with the active support of the kings. The Yakshagana music style there contained both older song genres such as dvipada, dhavala, ela and ragada as well as pada , a contemporary composition in the kirtana style.

The Muslim rulers of Golkonda also created a liberal atmosphere in the 17th century in which Hindu culture and especially the Bhakti movement could flourish. The Bhakti devotee Madanna was employed as a minister to King Abul Hasan Qutb Shah (Tana Shah, r. 1672–1687) of Golkonda and organized Yakshagana troops himself who traveled around the country to spread the Bhakti belief.

Today Yakshagana belongs mainly to the Kannada language area. The two main styles are the northern style yakshagana badagutittu from Uttara Kannada (northern Kanara style) and yakshagana tenkutittu from Dakshina Kannada (southern style). Other forms known as Yakshagana are doddata in Karnataka, yakshagana kuchipudi and yakshagana kuravanji in Andhra Pradesh, and yakshagana bhagavata mela in Tamil Nadu.

Kuravanji belongs to the tribal groups of the Narikurava and Yerakula. The main character of the stories about the love affair of a princess is a Narikurava fortune teller. The popular ( desi ) stories found their way to the royal court of Thanjavur from the 17th century , where they were adopted into classical poetry ( marga ). Bhagavata mela is a ritual theater belonging to the Bhakti tradition of Tamil Nadu, which to this day is only performed at the temples in three villages around Thanjavur and whose themes come from the Bhagavatapurana. The main spread of the popular drama doddata (also mudalapaya ) is in the northeast of Karnataka. In powerful dances, mythological battles are re-enacted, the language of the dialogues presented in a high voice in an endless torrent of words is strongly interspersed with Sanskrit words. Other popular theater styles included in yakshagana are mudalpaya in southern Karnataka, the ritual mask dance somana kunita , kelike and ghattadakore in the north. In Andhra Pradesh there is the similar style vithi natakam (Sanskrit "street drama"), which is also related to kattaikkuttu (also terukkuttu ) in Tamil Nadu and tamasha in Maharashtra . There is also a stylistic relationship between North Indian folk dramas with dance elements and a purely entertaining character, such as nautanki , the widespread swang tradition and the folk drama khyal of Rajasthan. The dance styles of Karnataka are summarized under the general term bayalata , which means "outdoor performance".

The best known form is yakshagana badagatittu bayalata . According to K. S. Karanth, the origin of this style lies in the Malnad Mountains between Udupi and Ikkeri (in the Shimoga district ), since most of the early writers of pieces come from this area and Udupi has been a center of Krishna worship in Bhakti since the 13th century. Is cult. The earlier regional names of Yakshagana, bhagavatara ata and dashavatara ata , support this assumption. Bhagavatara ata means that the pieces are about the dash-avatara , i.e. the "ten avatars " of Vishnu, bhagavatara ata refers to the Purana Srimad Bhagavatam and ata means "stage play"

In contrast to Krishna, his brother Balarama is only venerated in a few places in India. The fact that there is a Balarama temple near Udupi is a further indication, because the worship of Balarama is one of the rituals of yakshagana badagatittu .

Performance practice

Yakshagana is characterized by a popular, ritualized concept and a classic, aesthetic form. The content is based on the prasanga s (episodes), in which the mythological stories are processed in verse. The prasanga s are adaptations of the kannada-language versions of the great epics and the Puranas. The Mahabharata was rewritten by Kumara Vyasa (Naranappa, 15th century) as Gadugu Bharata in Kannada, while Narahari (16th century) wrote the popular Kannada version of the Ramayana with the title Torave Ramayana. Each of the supposedly over 500 existing prasanga s, 40 to 50 of which are regularly performed, contains around 100 to 200 songs, which are overwritten with notes for the musical implementation, i.e. with the names for the raga (melodic base) and the Tala (rhythmic structure). With these additional information, the musical composition is sufficiently determined.


The demon ( Asura ) Bhasmasura, how he is defeated in a tricky dance by the beautiful Mohini, a descent of Vishnu. Story from the Bhagavatapurana

Basically, in the plays, the brave triumphs over the bad and in the end everything goes well after a great battle. Usually the gods have to intervene and ensure a happy ending. The only drama without a battle is a love story about Krishna and Chandravali. Krishna flirts with Chandravali, his wife Rukmini's sister . Although the bhagavata performs his songs in everyday language, they are difficult to understand in the soundscape of the drums. The dance interludes represent only a small part of the overall performance, which is why the audience has difficulty recognizing the individual characters and following the course of the action, despite the explanations of the bhagavata .

In the past, male actors embodied both gender roles, today women can take on all roles. Specific movement patterns and step sequences are assigned to the individual characters. The most common are circular motions, semicircles, zigzag motions, figure eight and straight steps forward in all directions. There are jumps, pirouettes and turns on your knees. The origin of many fixed movements lies in the ritual dances nagamandala , which are performed for the snake god Naga , other dances have more creative freedom and only obey the rhythmic guidelines of the drums. The choice of hand movements is limited, typical for Yakshagana are hands that twist back and forth in a helical shape and lengthen a corresponding movement of the upper body and shoulders.

In addition to human performers, yakshagana pieces are also performed as puppet theater with marionettes . The approx. 45 centimeter high figures adhere exactly to the stylistic guidelines of their larger models.

Costumes and makeup

Except for a few marginal characters, the characters do not come from the everyday world, but from mythology and are accordingly portrayed fantastically. Different costumes ( vesha ), face paints and headdresses belong to gods than to hunters, who can be recognized by their turbans. The evil nature of demons should be clearly recognizable. Costumes and makeup are classified according to the basic characteristics of the characters. The brightly colored make-up, which looks like a mask and almost hides the facial muscles, is of particular importance. Real masks in the badagatittu style only have three figures: the head of the sacrificial horse in Ashvamedha , the bull Nandi and a certain ghost. In the light of the oil lamps or, more recently, of the electric lighting, the golden and silver decorative stripes on the costumes and on the high, radiant headdresses glitter.

There is a standardized equipment for male roles, which is individualized by the color of the robe. Dharmaraya, the righteous person, wears a green jacket and differs from his more spirited brothers Bhima and Arjuna with red jackets. Dharmaraja is the honorary name for the god of death Yama and in the Mahabharata refers to Yudhisthira, the oldest of the Pandavas. Other jackets are black. The age of the figure can be recognized by the length of the beard and the length of the beard, the hair color and the type of headdress. The jackets get longer with age.

Two of the two main currents in Hinduism are Shaivism and Vishnuism . The characters acting in the prasanga s are typified as follows, with most belonging to the Vishnuitic direction and a few (designated) to the Shivaitic direction:

  • noble male warriors, kings, princes and gods,
  • female figures such as queens, princesses, goddesses and servants,
  • the Guru (Acharya), a religious teacher who especially teaches the art of war in Yakshagana (Shivaitic),
  • the mythical sage or seer, Rishi (partly Shivaitic),
  • a hunter or forest dweller of a warlike nature, Kirata,
  • a Gandharva , in general these are heavenly beings concerned with music, in Yakshagana it is a rather vicious forest dweller,
  • the demon Rakshasa , as a female character Rakshasi and family members who are not considered demons (Shivaitic),
  • female combatants and
  • animals belonging to the heaven of gods such as the monkey god Hanuman in Ramayana; the bird Garuda , Vishnu's mount; and Shiva's mount, the bull Nandi .
  • The comic character Hasyagara, who acts as a guard, servant or messenger, is not mentioned in the prasanga s.

In addition to a jacket ( dagale ), a typical costume of a male figure includes wide black trousers ( ijaru ); a ten-meter-long, red and yellow patterned strip of fabric ( kase sire , from kase "hip band" and hindi sari , the wrap for women) that extends from the hips to just above the floor and, like a dhoti, slightly up between the legs is drawn; a thick chain wrapped around the neck several times ( koralu addike ); a circular breastplate ( yede kattu ); Epaulettes ( tola bapuri ); Belt and belt buckles ( odyana ); Tires on the wrists ( kai chinna ) and on the ankles ( kalu kadage ) as well as bells ( gejje ) there. Female characters wear a tight-fitting blouse ( ravake ), the sire hanging long and with its free end ( kannada seragu , hindi aanchal ) slung over the chest and left shoulder, a wide belt ( sontada dabu ) around the waist, the headdress ( mundale ) as a crown ( sirobhusana ), bracelets ( bale ) on the wrists, lush necklaces ( kanthihara ), a pin ( nattu ) on the nose and earrings ( ole kuchu ).

The shiny ornaments on clothing consist of wooden shapes covered with gold or silver foil and sewn-on mirrors. The colors red and green tend to be based on the temperament of the characters, deviations occur when the color of the jacket is to be related to that of the headdress. The two often bellicose forest dwellers Gandharva and Kirata do not wear red, but green jackets because they contrast with their red head structures ( mundasu ).

Make-up before the performance

The make-up of the Yakshagana figures is based on the definitions of Hindu tradition. Vishnu devotees paint their face with a certain arrangement of vertical stripes ( tilaka ). Shiva followers prefer horizontal stripes, a vertical, lens-shaped sign that symbolizes Shiva's third eye or the trident ( trishula , also as a lying semicircle). Corresponding patterns characterize the characters in Yakshagana. Warriors and kings usually have a black vertical line on their foreheads, which is surrounded by a white field, this field is sometimes bordered by a red border. The five Vishnuitic symbolic signs ( mudras , "seals", otherwise hand gestures) can be found in a simplified form on the temples of the Yakshagana figures. They represent the throwing disc ( chakra ), the snail horn ( shankha ), the club ( gada ), the lotus flower ( padma ) and Vishnu as Narayana and are applied with a brass stamp pressed into a paste of white earth ( gopichananda ) or ocher-colored clay . With the Yakshagana characters, the mudras are not painted on with a stamp, but in a religious act with the middle finger of the right hand. Gandharva and Kirata look terrifying through an oval red field around their eyes. The monkeys from the Ramayana, Hanuman, Sugriva and Vali, also have Vishnuitic patterns with a black line and a circle in the middle on their colorful faces.

Shivaitic signs occur only with the Guru, the Rishi and the Rakshasas. These figures can be recognized by the horizontal white lines, sometimes alternating with red, on the forehead. The sign does not have a special name and is commonly known as bhasma . This is the name of the holy ash with which devout Hindus rub their face and body during ritual cleansing. The dark character of the Rakshasas is again expressed by red-rimmed eyes.

Five colors are used: White (kannada bili ) consists of zinc oxide , red (kannada kempu , as red color when Yakshagana inglika ) was at least to 1980 of mercury oxide , yellow ( haladi ) is powdered orpiment and as the black one takes either black ( kadige ) or as a ready-mixed kohl paste . Only a female demon (Rakshasi) and Hanuman have a green face. With rust-red color ( kumkuma ), a red that is too bright is occasionally darkened. Apart from the Rakshasa, who paints his colors directly on the face, the other actors first apply a light orange primer and then the desired final color. After the performance is over, the paint is washed off with coconut oil.

A special face painting characterizes the Rakshasa character. A white plastic mass ( chitte ), which consists of one part lime flour and two or eight parts rice paste, is glued onto his face, which is initially painted black, red and yellow . Both substances are mixed with water to form a dough and, after a day of rest, are slightly moistened and then applied with a wooden stick in beads about two centimeters high. The arrangement of the stripe patterns is left to the imagination of the actor. Except for the Rakshasas, chitte occurs in some heavenly animals and in Atikaya, the son of the demon king Ravana and his second wife Dhyanamalini. Like Hanuman, he wears chitte paste and multi-colored vertical stripes on his forehead.

A black mustache ( messe ) and a beard ( kangri ) are signs of an adult figure, adolescents do not wear a beard, the long woolen beard of very old men is white or blond. The Rakshasa's black mustache is made of wool, his full beard is the only one made of white cardboard.

More important than the beard to characterize the meaning of the figure is the headdress ( mundale ). Here the “turban” ( mundasu ) differs from the “crown” ( kirita ). The former is a tall structure made of several wraps of fabric ( atte ), which are lined with dry rice straw on the inside. These include the kedage mundale worn by young warriors and princes , consisting of five to six layers of fabric, and the somewhat larger turban ( mundasu in the narrower sense) of the adult male and the Gandharva. Karna, one of the greatest warriors according to the Mahabharata and the king of the Anga kingdom and his son Vrishaketu wear a paku yelavastra , and another turban belongs to the warlike forest dweller Kirata. The king wears a crown ( raja kirita ) made of wood, which is covered with gold foil and equipped with reflective metal plates. The monkeys have their own crown ( hanuman kirita ) and the Rakshasa family have their bannada kirita .

Running of the event

The lucky Ganesha is called before every event

The traditional performances of the traveling actors take place, as in most popular theaters, on a level place (stage, rangasthala ) in the open field, usually on harvested rice fields, they start in the evening and last the whole night. Oil lamps and gas pressure lights lit up the scene at night until the electric lighting common for today's performances began to prevail. A typical common feature in many theaters with a ritual background is the setting up of a holy post at the beginning of the festival. For example, at the large Indra Jatra festival, which is the occasion for the mask theater mahakali pyakhan , a high ceremonial post is set up at the end of the rainy season (September) in Kathmandu . The same thing happens in East India before the chhau mask dances begin at the Chaitra Parva festival. There are parallels in Japan and Korea. For the Yakshagana in the evening, the performance location is ritually defined by the erection of four posts that delimit a rectangular stage of around 4.5 × 5.5 meters. A narrow side forms the edge of the audience, as a stage background a curtain is stretched between the two rear posts. According to Indian tradition, mango branches tied to the tips of the posts are said to bring good luck.

The musicians sit on the stage on a platform in front of the rear end of the stage and behind a low panel of fabric ( tere ), which is held by two stage assistants standing on the side. The musicians at kathakali and kutiyattam in Kerala are hidden with a similar low curtain .

Each troupe consists of at least 15 actors, the veshadharis ( vesha , "clothing", "costume"), and 5 musicians ( heavenas ). In addition to the bhagavata , the main singer and leader, these include: his assistant sangitagara ; the male protagonist Eradaneya vesha ; the demon Rakshasa vesha ; a demoness Rakshasi vesha ; two Mundasu vesha s ( wearing the headdress of the same name); a Purusha vesha as the second male lead; Muraneya vesha , the third male role; Mukhya strivesha , the female lead; Sakhi strivesha , the second female role and Muraney strivesha , the third. The two initially appeared Balarama and Krishna as adolescents are called balagopala s. Two assistants are still missing, kodangi s, and the fool Hasyagara . The music group includes a maddalegara , the leading player of the double-cone drum maddale , two other maddale players and a chandegara , player of the cylinder drum chande . In the background there is a manager who regulates the organization and finances, and twelve technical assistants with precisely defined areas of responsibility. Nine employees and two cooks report to the head of the accompanying team.

Before the performance begins , an obligatory ritual, called sabhalakshana , takes place outside the stage (in the actors' lounge or a suitably defined outdoor space) with the evocation ( puja ) of Ganesha , with which the success of the entire event is promoted. The statue of the god is erected by the chief of the escort team, the Ganapati pettige , who is also given the honor of transporting it on trips.

Ganesha may have been a pre-Aryan god of the tribal people associated with fertility. Later the lucky elephant god as the son of Shiva in his capacity as a cosmic dancer Nataraja himself became a symbol of dance. The Ganesha cult began in the 6th century and became powerful in the 10th century. Since then, Ganesha has been part of the cult of almost all popular theaters and is invoked to remove obstacles.

Then the stage director ( bhagavata ) walks gracefully with his companion ( sangitagara ) to the stage and the prologue begins. The two young characters Balarama and Krishna (Gopala) appear, who outline the ensuing drama in the introductory dance ( oddolaga ). They are followed by two female figures from Krishna's environment: his first wife Rukmini and Satyabhama, his third. They dance all configurations typical for female roles. After their departure, the actual drama begins. The actors enter the stage through the back curtain and embody their roles as deity, demon or king, while at the same time the bhagavata speaks to them. In his sung dialogues with the characters and his monologues into the audience, the bhagavata explains the course of the plot and who is playing which role. He is responsible for ensuring that the performance runs according to plan. The bhagavata can be assisted by a second singer ( sangitagara ) who accompanies him with certain musical phrases and supports him when he needs a break.

Finally, the bhagavata and some performers comment benevolently about their client, who invited them and financed the event, go back to their lounge, where they once again bless the statues of gods and sing honoring songs.


Cymbals ( tala s) with which the bhagavata sets the beat
Cylinder drum chande

Songs and instrumental music bring the performance to life. The theme is expanded upon in the lyrics, and the dancers' movements follow the drum rhythms. Musical instruments usually include three double-cone drums, maddale, played with the hands in a horizontal position, and a standing, single-headed cylinder drum, chande, beaten with sticks . Today, the drone ( shruti ) is usually provided by a harmonium , earlier it was the pungi known as the snake charmer's flute or a mukhavina (South Indian double-reed instrument , smaller than the nadaswaram ). For the sake of simplicity, the harmonium player ( shrutigara ) clamps the required keys down with sticks so that he only has to operate the bellows with one hand. With the cymbals ( tala ) the bhagavata keeps the beat for the drummers and the dancers. The maddale can be heard during the incantation ceremony for Ganesha in the lounge and during the subsequent prelude ( abbara bidtige ) on the stage. Immediately before the performance begins, the maddale plays some fixed rhythms called prasanga pithike . The chande, with its sharper, higher tone, only occurs at certain moments of particular emotional density, when characters are new to the stage or during the great battle.

There are two groups of songs, one of which is performed without dances and describes the outer framework of the story. However, the majority of the songs are composed in a rhythmic timing that suits the dancers. In intervening scenes, the actors speak improvised text in prose, which in dialogue is aimed at the bhagavata or other actors. In recent times the eloquent dialogues have gotten out of hand and can now drag on for hours. The old form of tala maddale is being revived here.

The musical structures developed during the heyday of yakshagana compositions in the 17th and 18th centuries. At one time, according to the surviving palm leaf manuscripts, up to 150 yakshagana ragas were known, fixed ascending and descending tone sequences whose specific character lies in the emphasis on individual notes. Around 1980 the selection was limited to about 20 ragas, whereby in contrast to classical singers, who should have a precise understanding of the musical nature of the raga, Yakshagana singers generally have an approximate theoretical knowledge and they often switch between individual ragas during a song. K. S. Karanth collected about 60 yakshagana ragas. The design freedom is greater for a non-classical style like Yakshagana.

Typically the voice of the bhagavata is quite high, often it interrupts abruptly after one or two words or stretches individual syllables unusually long. Due to the high pitch and the loud voice necessary for outdoor performances, especially with the dynamic increases that belong to the battle scenes, he needs pauses in which his assistant is used. Since music has to be heard continuously, K. S. Karanth modernized the ideas by introducing violin and saxophone instead of the second singer during the vocal breaks in the bhagavata .

The second musical concept, the rhythmic structure, also often does not strictly follow the tala set for the song. There are six talas in the Badagatittu style: eka tala with four beats, jhampe tala with five beats, rupaka tala with six, tishra tripude with seven, adi tala with eight and asti tala with 14 beats. Another, irregular rhythm ( ti ti tai ) has seven beats. Independent of these divisions into ragas and talas are religious devotional songs (kannada tumiri ), which are derived from the north Indian thumri style. The other folk songs with their own melodic and rhythmic traditions are thematically divided into harake (religious sacrificial song), tillani (price song for a god or king), jogula (lullaby), lavani (work song , humorous) and sobhane (erotic song at weddings).

Education and social structure

In the past, the drama troops would walk from village to village and play in the open air at night with free entry. In the Dakshina Kanara district there were six or seven troops belonging to a temple in the first decades of the 20th century, the troops were either paid by the temples or played at the invitation of a rich man from the upper class. The repertoire consisted of about 20 pieces, which the actors could perform within a few hours on request.

Traditional training

Before the introduction of the British school system during the colonial period , there were classes in the region called aigala matha , which took place in a temple or occasionally in a private house. The Yakshagana contents served as material for reading lessons ( vachana , "reading"), the prasanga s had to be memorized and written down on palm leaves or later on paper. The learning goal was to know the Indian epics in their adaptations to Kannada.

The training to become a Yakshagana performer was done according to the traditional method by memorizing long passages of text and imitating what other dancers of a professional troupe ( mela ) perform on stage, while the student already acts in simple roles in front of an audience. The tala maddale singing style gave students the opportunity to hear the songs and memorize the lyrics. During the four-month rainy season from June to September, the teachers (gurus) passed the training content on to their students in personal lessons. For this purpose, the boys moved into accommodation near their teacher in order to be taught by him for two to three hours a day, if the teacher had no other duties on one day. Before the printing press, those who could write made coveted copies of the pieces on palm leaves. If a teacher did not agree with the progress of a student, he fired him, and the others he put under high pressure. Basically, there were no box barriers in the teacher-student relationship or in the distribution of roles, so Brahmin students also took lessons from the lower-cast.

The playing season in the dry season offered little free time for individual lessons, but the bhagavata was able to tell a lot to his young actor and assistant ( sangitagara ) on the several-hour walk that the troops took to the next village. Regardless of the form in which the training took place, it was unsystematic, largely dispensed with theory and its course was dependent on the circumstances. Theory grew out of practice.

Bhadragiri Achyuta Das and his companions with tabla , harmonium and cymbals ( tala ) play harikatha in the city of Saligrama in the Mysore district

A special form of singing and theater belonging to Yakshagana was huvinakolu , a performance of singing and dialogues in the context of the Dashahara festival at the beginning of the dry season in October. The group consisted of a singer and a drum player who gathered some young people around them, with whom they, sitting on a mat spread out on the floor, presented their songs and stories. Such groups wandered around for ten days, playing in the farmyard yard to receive rice, coconuts, and other gifts as rewards. In addition to the income received, this was good training for the offspring of a mela .

The solo performance of Harikatha ( Hari , salutation from God / Krishnas; katha , narrative form) represented a further possibility to pass on the classical myth tradition in verse and as musical entertainment, comparable to villu pattu , a popular narrative tradition in Tamil Nadu. Harikatha groups came to a place for one or more days by invitation from temples or wealthy landowners.

For the boys, lessons began when they were eight to ten years old, when they joined a mela during the dry season for free food and went around with it. There were class differences between boys who belonged to the performers' relatives and were privileged and the others who did not find proper work at home after leaving school and should not be a burden on their parents. The latter were also allowed to study, were given food, but were otherwise treated as handlers. They washed the clothes and wore the equipment. The bhagavata or another teacher in the troupe received some money ( kanike ) from the privileged students for his lessons . Most of the things a student learned and learns to this day as a participant in the nightly performances.

His first role is that of the young prankster ( kodangi ), whose dancing skills do not have to be particularly pronounced. One, two or up to six kodangi s can be active by jumping and doing a few simple dance steps. From the third season the student changes as balagopala vesha into the role of the youthful Krishna or Balarama. He now practices all seven dance rhythms ( tala s), so he learns talajnana , the knowledge of rhythm patterns, and sings songs in praise of Krishna. Balagopala s are accompanied by kodangi s, so the little older ones show their dance steps to the beginners. During this time the student makes his first attempts to wrap his turban ( kedage mundale ) and his sari-like cloth and to apply simple make-up.

Then, after the learning phase of the kodangi and the balagopala vesha , he slips into female roles that represent two of Krishna's women ( strivesha s) and require the physical expression of feeling abhinaya . These also appear on stage after the first two roles. The long oddolaga dance before the start of the actual piece, a specialty of Yakshagana, all characters dance together in a circle for about half an hour. This gives students the opportunity to follow a large number of the yakshagana dance steps while the bhagavata guides them on the stage.

After four to five years, the student has worked his way up to the young warrior heroes Abhimanyu and Babhruvahana, two of Arjuna's sons. Now he should gradually be able to deliver improvised, literarily demanding speeches. The later roles are assigned according to the physical appearance of the performer; elegant, slender actors inevitably take on female roles, powerfully built mimes demons, for the smaller ones there is the purusha vesha , the second male leading actor.

In the past there was no specialization to the extent that it is common today, a bhagavata could also play the drums maddale and chande , and vocal training was a part of the dancer anyway. Since enough mela s wandered around, each student had the opportunity to join a troop.

Today's training

In the 1940s, a more systematic type of training was added. Professional teachers, who were not Yakshagana performers themselves, taught young people dance and rhythm in their own classes in different locations. The focus was on the practical exercise, but included the art form, so that this class ultimately contributed to the popularization of Yakshagana. From here, the students switched to one of the mela s.

Today's training lasts around ten years, with lessons from a private teacher until you have acquired extensive knowledge. In 1971 the Yakshagana Kendra in Udupi was the first college education that still exists today. Further schools in Dharmasthala ( Tehsil Belthangady), Hangarakatte (Tehsil Udupi) and Gunavante near Honavar (port city in the north) followed. The limited number of training facilities cannot meet the Yakshagana troops' demand for trained performers. Its members hardly have time to train their own offspring, as they accept offers on urban stages in other regions of India outside of the season. At the same time, the importance of Yakshagana as a medium for the transmission of the myth tradition has declined due to the modern means of communication.

Around 1980 the Yakshagana Kendra in Udupi accepted ten to twelve students a year. By then, almost 100 students had been accepted since the opening in 1971, of which 50 or 60 subsequently worked in a mela . Although the course was designed to last two years, practically all participants left the school after one year for cost reasons and because their knowledge seemed sufficient to enter a stage. In the temple of Dharmasthala there is a school of the southern tenkuthittu style.

The Keremane Mela troupe from Gunavante, founded in 1934, has a training center founded in 1996 in their home town. The troupe also gave numerous concerts in western countries.


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Web links

Commons : Yakshagana  - collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

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  2. Varadpande 1992, pp. 33f.
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  4. Varadpande 1992, p. 53.
  5. ^ Basile Leclère: Performance of Sanskrit Theater in Medieval Gujarat and Rajasthan (From the 11th to the 13th century). In: Karin Steiner, Heidrun Brückner (Eds.): Indian Theater: Text, Theory, Practice . Harrasowitz, Wiesbaden 2010, p. 59.
  6. Ashton, Christie, p. 21.
  7. Varadpande 1992, pp. 91f.
  8. Varadpande 1992, p. 312.
  9. Varadpande 1992, pp. 312f.
  10. Binder 2005, p. 8.
  11. Emmie te Nijenhuis: Kīrtana: Traditional South Indian Devotional Songs. Compositions of Tyāgarāja, Muttusvāmi Dīkṣitar and Śyāma Śāstri. Brill, Leiden / Boston 2011, p. 3f.
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  20. Suresh Awasthi: Traditional dance drama in India. An overview. In: Emmert, p. 73.
  21. Award for achievement. The Hindu, March 7, 2007.
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  23. ^ Yuki Minegishi: The Costumes and Makeup of Yakshagāna. In: Emmert, pp. 205-217.
  24. ^ Yasuji Honda: Similarities in Asian Performing Arts from a Japanese Viewpoint. In: Emmert, p. 89f.
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  26. Varadpande 1992, p. 5.
  27. Kota Shivarama Karanth: Session III: Yakshagāna. In: Emmert, p. 31.
  28. Ashton, Christie, p. 59: 40 ragas available in Yakshagana badagatittu and another 110 that are no longer listed
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  30. Kapila Vatsyayan, Maria Lord: India IV § IX, 2 (i) a. In: Stanley Sadie (Ed.): The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians . Vol. 12. Macmillan Publishers, London 2001, p. 268.
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  32. Good Response to Huvina Kolu. The Hindu, October 25, 2004.
  33. KS Haridasa Bhat: Transmission of Yakshagana Art Through the Generations. In: Emmert, p. 180f.
  34. Ashton, Christie, pp. 47-49.
  35. Yakshagana Kendra.
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