Yakshagana is a musical theater popular in the coastal and Malenadu regions of Karnataka, India. Yakshagana is the recent (200 years) scholastic name for what are known as kēḷike, āṭa, bayalāṭa, bayalāṭa, daśāvatāra. It is believed to have evolved from pre-classical music and theatre during Bhakti movement. Yakshagana is popular in the districts of Uttara Kannada, Udupi, Dakshina Kannada,and Shimoga of Karnataka and Kasaragod district of Kerala. Yakshagana is gaining popularity in Bangalore since a few years. It has drawn comparisons to the Western tradition of opera. Actors wear costumes and enact various roles. Traditionally, Yakshagana would go on all night. It is sometimes simply called as ಆಟ "play" in both Kannada and Tulu. Yaksha-gana literally means the song (gana) of a yaksha, which was a term for exotic tribes of ancient India.
Yakshagana consists of a himmela "background music group" and a mummela "dance and dialog group", which together perform Yakshagana poetry. Himmela consist of a bhagawata "singer" who is also the director (also called the first actor, modalane vesha), maddale, harmonium for drone (pungi was used earlier) and chande (loud drums). The music is based on Carnatic ragas characterised by melodic patterns called Mattu and Yakshagana Tala. Yakshagana Talas are believed to be based on patterns which later evolved into Carnatic talas. A Yakshagana performance begins at the twilight hours with the beating of several fixed compositions on drums called abbara or peetike for up to an hour before the actors get on the stage. The actors wear resplendent costumes, head-dresses, and face paints.
A performance usually depicts a story from Indian epic poems and the Puranas. It consists of a narrator (Bhagvatha) who either narrates the story by singing or sings prepared character dialogues, backed by musicians playing on traditional musical instruments as the actors dance to the music, with actions that portray the story as it is being narrated. All the components of Yakshagana, music, dance and dialog are improvised. Depending on the ability and scholarship of the actors, variation in dance and amount of dialog may change. It is not uncommon for actors to get into philosophical debates or arguments without going out of the framework of the character being enacted. The acting can be categorised as method acting.
Yakshagana Raga & Tala
Yakshagana Rāga refers to melodic framework used in yakshagana. It is based on pre-classical melodic forms that comprise a series of five or more musical notes upon which a melody is founded. Ragas in Yakshagana are closely associated with a set of melodic forms called Mattu. In Yakshagana tradition, rāgas are associated with different times of the night throughout which Yakshagana is performed.
Yakshagana Tala (Sanskrit tāla) are frameworks for rhythms in Yakshagana that are determined by a composition called Yakshagana Padya. Tala also decides how a composition is enacted by dancers. It is similar to Tala in other forms of Indian music, but is structurally different from them. Each composition is set to one or more talas, and as a composition is rendered by Himmela, the percussion artist(s) play supporting the dance performance.
Yakshagana is a recent scholastic name adopted for what were and are known as Kelike, Aata, Bayalaata, Dashavatara in Karnataka. Yakshagana actually refers to a style of writing and to the written material or the Yakshagana poems. There are questions on whether this writing system originated in Telugu literature and used for poems enacted in Bayalaata. Yakshagana performance is believed to have evolved from the now-extinct Ghandharva Grama musical system. Earliest mention is in Sangeetha Ratnakara of Sarngadeva (AD 1210) as Jakka later called Yekkalagaana. Yakshagana in its present form is believed to be influenced by the Vaishnava Bhakthi movement. Yakshagana is a separate system of music independent of Karnataka Sangeetha and the Hindustani music of India, believed to survive as an indigenous phenomenon only in parts of Karnataka and Kerala.
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