An Introduction to Yakshagana -Part II

An Introduction to Yakshagana -Part II

Welcome back…it’s time for the Yakshagana stories. If you haven’t read up on the first part you could do it here or if you want me tell you a little something about it, the video is here.

Yakshagana literally means the song of the demi gods. It is a beautiful representation of our rich and diverse culture, language and history. The episodes of the play are called prasangas. These are composed based on parts from the poetic epics, puranas and literature in Sanskrit. Prasangas are scripted keeping in mind the musical components, dialogues and dance. Parthi Subba from Kumble (though there are alternate opinions on his place of birth), is considered to be the father of Yakshagana. He is believed to be the first one to compose Yakshagana Prasangas. Earlier, Yakshagana was purely a male domain, but now women and children are also carving a niche for themselves. Right from composing Yakshagana Prasangas or episodes to enacting pivotal roles on stage, women are now a part of Yakshagana.

At Yakshotsav SDM Law college Managalore
Dr Manjunath Shetty narrated many short stories based on love, passion, fate, destiny all of them so entwined in our own lives…I can’t make up my mind on which ones to leave and include.

Story on Decisions and Attitude-

There was one on Jaya Vijaya, which you might be familiar with. It was the age of gods, saints and curses. In the distant land of Vainkuntha (Lord Vishnu’s abode), the sentries at the door Jaya Vijaya encountered 4 young saints, no more than 5 years old. They were the Manasputras (Sons born from Brahma’s thought) who had the boon to remain child-like but were great wise saints. Feeling a sense of importance, the sentries refused entry to the saints. Inspite of repeated entreaties, they were refused. Enraged, they curse the sentries to a lifetime on earth as mere mortals. Desperate, Jaya Vijaya request Lord Vishnu to lift the curse and restore them to their position. The Lord gives them two options. They can either finish 7 lifetimes as devotees of Vishnu or opt for 3 lifetimes as his enemies. Thereafter they would return to Vainkuntha forever. Without a second’s thought, they feel that 3 lifetimes are better than 7 and choose to be Vishnu’s enemies on earth.
In their first lifetime they are born as Hiranyaksh and Hiranyakashyap in the Satya Yuga. Vishnu takes the form of a boar (Varahaavtar) and Narasimha (fusion of lion and man) and kills them. In their second Lifetime, they are born as Ravana and Kumbhakarna, killed by Rama an avtar (form) of Vishnu. In their third lifetime, the Thretha Yuga they take the form of Jarasanda and Dantavakra, killed by Krishna, another form of Vishnu.
It is only after these three lifetimes that they attain moksha (eternal peace) and come back to Vainkuntha. So now we get see them in all the temples of Vishnu as sentries.

Yakshotsav at SDM Law College Mangalore
Story on Fate, Destiny-

Yakshagana has many prasangas from the Mahabharatha, an epic narrative of the Kuruksetra war between the brothers- Kauravas and the Pandavas. During the war, Sanjaya is blessed with ‘doora drishti’ which is nothing but seeing in real time or something like ‘live streaming’ (quite advanced na?). But on the last day he is unable to see what is happening on the battlefield and Dhratharashtra, the king of Hasthinapura asks him to go to the battlefield and find out the whereabouts of his son Duryodhana. This is when all of Duryodhana’s relatives, brothers and friends have been killed and he is the only one left of his vast army. Sanjaya finds Duryodhana hiding away from the eyes of the enemy, the Pandavas (they are the good guys) and there is a discussion on how fate has brought Duryodhana down to his knees. Notice the change in tenor, when Dr. Manjunath Shetty sings for Sanjaya and Duryodhana.

Song on Wooing a Woman and an open Proposal-

Then there’s one on romance and how a man woos a woman. Immediately on seeing her beauty he proposes and also talks of being one with her soul. An open proposal is issued.

Story on love and war, with a ‘Happily Ever After’-

There’s another story of a young lady Banashankari who goes to the temple. There she comes upon a young man and they both fall in love. But even before they can speak to each other their friends call them. Her father Gunasena writes to the young man that his daughter would like to marry him. But unaware that it was the same girl he had seen in the temple, he offers his younger brother as the groom. Gunasena refuses and they declare war on Gunasena. In the war Gunasena is defeated and has to give away his daughter in marriage to the brother. At the last minute the young man sees the bride and realises that it was the same girl he had seen in the temple, to whom he had lost his heart. And off course everything ends happily, with the young couple getting married.

Banashankari love story in Yakshagana
Dr. Manjunath Shetty as Gunasena -An Old memeory that he shared with us
Story on play, modesty and nature-

There’s one more on Sahasrarjuna. He is strong, with a thousand arms and a playboy who loves the company of ladies. Here is a small snapshot of him calling out to the ladies for some water sports. A beautiful song describing the beauty of nature is also included. I just loved this song!

Snapshot on Lakshmana’s anger and Sugriva (this one’s from The Ramayana)-

Having helped Sugriva win the war against his brother Vali, Rama is promised aid to free his wife Sita from the clutches of Ravana (This is famously referred to as Sugrivajne). But months pass by; Sugriva does not come with the promised army of monkeys. Rama asks Lakshmana to go and find out what is taking so long. Rama is patient, but Lakshmana is raging at the delay. Here Lakshmana is pacified when he understands that it is not easy to bring together an army of monkeys, monkeys who jump from one tree to another, never still for even a moment. With this instance, Dr.Manjunath Shetty says quite like us and our minds. True, isn’t it?


Yakshotsav at SDM law college, Mangalore

And these are just some snippets on the whole story. Yakshagana is the art which brings to life, characters of the bygone era. It is not of the past but of the present, where it keeps evolving. Don’t let go of it! Savour it and the experience will only make you richer.

Lots of Twinkles to you.
Have a great week.

PS- All pictures are from Yakshotsav SDM Law College Mangalore. I wish to place on record my gratitude to Dr. Manjunath Shetty for having shared his knowledge and talent with all of us at Strings of Heritage and our readers.

An Introduction to Yakshagana

An Introduction to Yakshagana

When I started with the idea of stringsofheritage, I was assailed by doubts. And then some days I was very optimistic. With a lot of festivals coming up( This was during Ganesh Chaturthi) and no blog posts on the horizon, I again wondered what I was doing!!! And as we chit chat about sarees and life, I casually ask my co-sister who is a doctor, “Do you know any ‘yakshagana’ artists I can speak to, during these festival days? I want to do ‘An introduction to Yakshagana’ post.” Up she jumps and says, “Off course!! My colleague Dr. Manjunath Shetty is just the person.” Off we go to the government hospital. It’s an emergency appendix operation for which he has come, inspite of it being his off duty day. He is a surgeon, an expert in surgeries and also the administrator at Bhatkal Government hospital. When I meet him, I sheepishly admit that I don’t know the ABC of Yakshagana. I was worried quite unnecessarily. He was happy to talk to me about his hobby, that which gives him a lot of happiness and satisfaction.

An introduction to yakshagana
Dr.Manjunath Shetty as Karna in a Yakshagana performance
I ask him about how it all began for him and he recalls his school days in Kundapur, when he used to bunk the second half at school and go to learn ‘yakshagana’. Unfortunately for him, the headmaster was a relative who asked his father about his absence. His father was a strict disciplinarian and the punishment ranged from ‘200 Uthak bethak’ to locking away his clothes so he couldn’t go out. Though he stopped going to the ‘yakshagana’ classes, his love for it remained and I for one am happy that he continued. Otherwise I would have missed learning about this great art from such an expressive person and my post ‘An introduction to Yakshagana’ would never have been the same without Dr. Manjunath Shetty. I could not resist putting up some of the impromptu videos taken by me. You have to excuse the quality because I was enjoying the performance to the extent that I could not hold the camera steady. Such a musical treat… He was also getting calls from his daughter whom he had to pick up. But I had to have this in the blog. Notice the change in tenor when there is a character change.
Yakshagana performance
Yakshagana performance-Pic Credit: Hemanth Karmaran
But first things first! Let me give you an introduction to Yakshagana, all in lay man’s language. This is just an introduction to yakshagana with stories for you, but if you want to read more about it you can click here. Yakshagana is a complete art form like no other. It is a fusion of all the Navarasas- the hejje, gejje, tala, laya, vesha, bhoosha, abhinaya, bhagavatha, matugarike. It creates a parallel mythological universe with its compelling theatrical experience. It is a fusion of dance, expressions, dialogue, discussion, debate, music, resplendent costumes and make up. All forms of yakshagana(yes there is more than one) have the ‘himmela’ (The group at the rear end of the stage) and the ‘mummela’ ( The artists closer to the audience on stage). The himmela consists of the lead singer or Bhagavatha and the musicians. The Bhagavatha is like the director of the production and controls the actors on stage. The musical instruments include the tala, Tabla, Chande (a loud drum), chakratala and the harmonium. The mummela consists of the dance and dialogue troupe. Dr.Manjunath tells me that the chande even to this day requires no mike. The sound is so loud that 5 to 6 villages nearby can easily hear the sound. The chande is an indication that there is a yakshagana performance that night. Yakshagana typically starts at night and goes on till the wee hours of the morning. I think this was mainly because in the olden days, there was no other form of entertainment and people who would perform would also perhaps be working during the day. Though now a days there are a lot of abridged versions of yakshagana, some troupes still maintain the all night show. It is performed on a raised platform called the ‘Rangasthala’ lit by oil lamps in the four corners.
Yakshagana Performance- Thenku Thittu
Yakshagana Performance- Thenku Thittu; Pic Credit: Hemanth Karmaran
The forms of yakshagana in Karnataka based on the region that they come from, are called Thenku thittu( some parts of Udupi district, Dakshina Kannada district and Kasargod as well). It is characterized by the influence of carnatic music and the dance where there are a lot of high spins in the air and continuous spinning as well. The Badagu Thittu is from Kundapur to Byndoor and Uttara Kannada district. Here importance is given to dialogues and facial expressions. The headgear and costumes of this form is also very elaborate and takes upto three hours to be tied. The BadaBadaguthittu is the extreme northern parts of Uttara Kannada and not very different from Badaguthittu. Irrespective of the region it comes from, the subject is universal, good over evil taking their inspiration from the poetic epics such as Mahabharatha and Ramayana, and the Puranas. The main motto was to explain to the then illiterate public, the story in  an entertaining manner with a moral at the end. But whatever the story, it all begins and ends with a prayer. The artists first perform a ‘chowki pooja’ to the deity and the make-up chest, after which the performance begins, with a prayer and then there is the trial run for all the musicians with the Sthreeveshas. Check out my video…I think I did a good job this time. What do you think of the video? Let me know in comments….
Then the story begins….in the next blog post I will give you a couple of stories by Dr. Manjunath Shetty. Whoever set the limit to the number of words in a blog post? I have so much to tell you! This was just an introduction to Yakshagana. I will get you the stories in a day or so. Stay tuned.
Yakshagana- A theatrical art form of Tulunadu
Yakshagana- A theatrical art form of Tulunadu; Pic Credit – Hemanth Karmaran
Lots of Twinkles to all of you.

Have a great day.