Coastal Karnataka’s signature folk dance performance
Yakshagana is a traditional folk dance form popular in coastal Karnataka districts.
An operatic form of dance theatre, Yakshagana might be Karnataka’s most famous cultural exports. Its origin can be traced back to the Bhakti movement of the 8th century, though Yakshagana’s earliest clear forms may have originated in the 12th and 13th century. Towards the 18th and 19th the art form seemed to take off in the western regions of Karnataka, drawing inspiration from secular and religious life. Watching Yakshagana performance is a treat to the senses due to the amalgamation of unique costumes, rhythmic music and unique performance involving dialogues, music, dance and action.
Elements of Yakshagana:
The Act: Each performance typically focuses on a small sub story (known as ‘Prasanga’) from ancient Hindu epics of Ramayana or Mahabharata. The show consists of both stage performances by talented artists and commentary (performed by lead singer or Bhagavatha) accompanied by traditional music.
The Music: Musical instruments used in Yakshagana include Chande (drums), Harmonium, Maddale, Taala (mini metal clappers) and flute among others.
The Dress: Costumes used in Yakshagana are very unique and elaborate. Large size head gear, coloured faces, elaborate costumes all over the body and musical beads on the legs (Gejje). Performers need great physique to perform with heavy costume for several hours and also strong voice and acting/dancing skills.
The Troupes: There are several popular troupes (known as Melas) performing Yakshagana throughout the year. Saligrama mela, Dharmasthala Mela, Mandarthi Mela, Perduru Mela are some of the leading names.
Yakshagana performances occur at multiple places in the districts of Udupi, South Canara and North Canara. Check on local media or your host to help identify an upcoming Yakshagana performance near you during your visit to coastal Karnataka districts.
Some shows are sponsored by local donors; few are performed at government sponsored events while others could be ticketed events. Most events run overnight from sunset to sunrise and patrons get to enjoy the elaborate performance and cultural extravaganza. Do not miss an opportunity to witness one of Karnataka’s unique art forms.