The Ramayana Project

Yakshagana: The Origins

The Ramayana Project

Yakshagana: An Overview

In Yakshagana, the story of Ramayana is presented as different episodes: Pattabhishekha, Seetha Kalyana, Panchavati, Vaali Vadha etc. The coastal Yakshagana has two main variations, Tenku Tittu (Southern Style) and Badagu Tittu (Northern Style). Both styles have nightlong performances, which take place in a six month calendar schedule (November till May), or till the rains come. There are about thirty two professional troupes (called Melas in Kannada) performing more than 3000 Rama-centred Yakshaganas per year and more than 1500 amateur troupes performing an average of 1000 episodes in a year. The Yakshagana performance has a Narrator called Bhagavata who sings to describe the scene to be enacted, accompanied by two percussionists, one on the Chenda and the other on a Maddale (Mridangam). The dialogues are impromptu creations by the actors. They are based on the song of the Bhagavata but the words of the song provide only the barest outline of the narrative. The actor depends on his talent, his conception of the character and his knowledge of the epics and the Puranas to develop his dialogue. Thus, Ramkatha actors in Yakshagana are not translators but re-creators of the episodes. An interesting interpretation is of the characters like Shurpanakha, Ravan and Vaali who are not considered wicked and evil but are recognised as Pratinayakas (anti-hero). Thus, Ravana is sometimes portrayed as the champion of the downtrodden, Shurpanakha speaks about the liberation of women and Vaali is the protector of forests.

The Origins of Yakshagana

Prof. M. L. Samaga, an exponent of both Yakshagana and Taala Maddale, is a renowned performer and teacher in the field of folk theatre. He explains that the term Yakshagana actually has two elements. One is Yaksha and the other Gana. So etymologically, it may mean a type of song of the Yakshas. It represents a unique type of traditional performing theatre form, combining the flexibility of folk theatre and the discipline of classical theatre.

Dr. Prabhakara Joshy is a foremost scholar and a creative artist in the field of Yakshagana and Taala Maddale. According to him, there are clear indications in Kannada literature showing that Yakshagana is at least 800 years old. Right from 1500 CE up to now, there is an unbroken, continuous tradition of Yakshagana mainly in the coastal areas of Karnataka. Rama, he feels, is 'Yakshagana Hridaya', the heart of the art form.

A lifetime student of Yakshagana, Prof. Purushottam Bilimale, Professor of Kannada Language Chair, JNU, has been learning and performing Yakshagana for the last 45 years. He says that in 1760 CE a poet called Parthi Subba wrote ten Ramayana Prasangas, which started a trend in Yakshagana. Later many people added a lot of episodes. Presently there are more than 60 episodes of Ramayana, of which two to three are presented during a Yakshagana performance.

Project Title
Vignettes of Ramayana
English, Hindi
In Copyright