Yakshagana, a traditional dance form is culturally rooted in the lands of Karnataka. Yakshagana evolved as a dance form during the Bhakti Movement. It is a unique blending of music, extempore dialogues, phenomenal dancing moves, rich make-up and intrinsically designed costumes. This unique harmony is extensively found in Tulunaadu and Malenadu region of Karnataka and is exhibited from dusk to dawn.
Narahari Tirtha, a disciple of Madhvacharya, is said to be the first person to introduce Yakshagana in Udupi. He was also the founder of Kuchipudi. An inscription dating around 1556 CE has been evidence that Yakshagana existed from a long time. This inscription has been the first written evidence to cite about this dance form. The inscription was found at the Lakshminarayana Temple in Kurugodu, Bellary.
A Historic palm-leaf manuscript, dated 1621 CE, has been another evidence describes about Sabhalakshana. Another evidence was found at Ajapura, present day Brahmavara. The manuscript is said to have mentioned about Yakshagana in the form of poem (The Virata Parva) that was authored by Ajapura Vishnu.
Researches and Experts have placed the origin of the Yakshagana approximately in the period of 11th and 16th Century CE. It should be noted that Yakshagana became an established art form during the time of Parthi Subba, who was a Yakshagana poet.
By 19th Century, it is said that Yakshagana deviated from its origins. It diluted itself from the strict traditional forms that existed in the previous eras. The Practitioners of 19th century composed their own plays and songs. This resulted in the rising of other troops throughout the coastal belt of Karnataka.
The early 20th Century saw a complete transformation of this dance form. Commercialisation of Yakshaganas started. Tent Troupes rose. They started admitting common people to the troupes and started giving performances. This genre modified the dance form and organisation. For instance, Electrical lights were replaced by Gaslights; inclusion of folk epics and Sanskrit dramas, seating arrangements were modernised, fictional stories became the central themes in many plays and Tulu was introduced to blend with the common people. Today, Yakshagana has drawn elements from theatre, temple arts, secular arts, royal courts and fictional characters.
A known Writer Jnana pitha awardee Sri Kota Shivaram Karanth experimented with the dance form. He blended it with Western musical instruments. The timing of Yakshagana performances was reduced from twelve hours to three hours. He incorporated movie plot lines and Shakespearean themes.
There are various factions in Yakshagana. The popular ones are Tenkutittu and Badagutittu. Others include Moodalopaya Yakshagana, Paduvlopaya Yakshaganaand Uttara Kannadatittu.
The Tenkutittu is prevalent in Dakshina Kannada, western parts of Coorg, Kasargod and few parts of Udupi. Amritha Someshwara is known for composing creative dramas for Tenkutittu. There is a blending of folk art with classical dance in Tenkutittu. Carnatic music is apparent in Tenkutittu. This form is noted for dhiginas that is, flying spins. The Rakshasas are the highlight of this form. There are three iconic set of colours in Tenkutittu. They are:
- The Raajabanna
- The Kaatbanna
- The Sthreebanna
The Badagutittu is prevalent in North Canara that is Uttara Kannada District and the northern parts of South Canara. Emphasis is laid on facial expressions and dialogues. Shivaram Karanth popularised this style. Another exponent in this style is Keremane Shivarama Hegde.
The main acoustics consists of Maddale, Chenda and Taala. Maadale and Chande being a percussion instrument form the primary rhythmic component in Yakshagana. Taala or cymbals create background music while the play is on. The eye catcher element in the Yakshagana play is the costumes. They are intrinsically designed clothes that are rich in colour. The costumes are varied depending on the characters depicted in the play and Yakshagana styles. The important elements while dressing up for Yakshagana play includes Headgear, Kavacha, Buja Keerthi (armlets) and Belts. The lower half is covered with Kachche. Armaments cover the upper half of the body. The Stree Vesha consists of Saree and decorative ornaments. The dance form narrates one prasanga (one story), starting usually at night and ending by dawn.
The dance form, which was confined to Karnataka, is now gaining popularity abroad. There are troupes that have emerged in California, USA and Ontario, Canada. Some of the international troupes include Yakshamitra, Yakshagana Kalavrinda and Yaksharanga.