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  /  Yakshagana

Coastal Karnataka’s signature folk dance performance

Yakshagana is a traditional folk dance form popular in Coastal Karnataka districts. 

A trip to the coastal belt would be incomplete without watching the Yakshagana – an elaborate dance-drama performance unique to Karnataka. It is a rare combination of dance, music, song, scholarly dialogues and colourful costumes. A celestial world unfolds before the audience, as loud singing and drumming form a backdrop to dancers clad in striking costumes. Hence the name Yaksha (celestial) Gana (music). This is a night-long event, with elaborately adorned performers dancing to the beat of drums in open-air theatres – usually in the village paddy fields after the winter crop has been harvested. Traditionally, men portray all roles, including the female ones, though women are now part of Yakshagana troupes. A typical troupe consists of 15 to 20 actors and a Bhagavatha, who is the master of ceremonies and the main storyteller. The performances draw crowds from far and wide, with a fair-ground atmosphere pervading the venue till dawn.

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 the 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. 

Experiencing Yakshagana:

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.

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