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A Yakshagana artist prepping for his performance

Native to Karnataka, Yakshagana is known as a performance celebrating the music of the celestial beings. It is more of a folklore tradition along the Konkan coast, that overlaps a performance of dance and drama.

Yakshagana was traditionally an all-male enterprise. Men would dress up in elaborate costumes, heavy headgear, and perform all night, telling stories inspired by Hindu epics. Instances from the Ramayana and Mahabharata are relayed through the musical. The performers use specific instruments, like the harmonium, metal clappers, and drums. As the heavy titillating music plays, the actors move in motions expressing the situation.


Yakshagana performance on stage Image source: wikimedia commons

The headgear is decorated with metal and beads. It is quite heavy, and to be able to wear it and dance all night, dancers must be healthy, strong, and have a good stamina. These are known as Yakshagana pagade, and are custom-made. The actors paint their faces with natural dyes, and the shades they use distinguish this art form from similar ones like Theyyam and Kathakali that are native to Kerala. Yakshagana actors patronize shades of yellow, red, brown, orange, and white.

There are two types of Yakshagana performances. Moodalapaya is the form that is still inherent to rural culture and is not performed in urban or commercial settings. Paduvalapaya is the form that has evolved to accommodate the knowledge and interests of modern crowds. This is the form that is performed for tourists at the coasts. There is a slight difference in the presentation of the dance form in the north and southern coast. In the north, facial expressions are emphasized, while in the south, the costume, art, and dance is highlighted.

These days, women take part in Yakshagana performances Image source: wikimedia commons

Yakshagana is still performed in temples and temple towns on special occasions. In rural Karnataka, one can see these performances happening regularly. Today's performances feature women as well, and some times the cast is entirely female.

Keywords: Yakshagana, Dance, Coast, Karnataka, Konkan Coast


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