Yakshagana – a traditional folk theatre!

Yakshagana is a traditional folk theatre, believed to have originated in the coastal districts of Karnataka that combines dance, music, dialogue, costume, make-up, and stage techniques with a unique style and form.

A trip to the coastal belt of Karnataka would be incomplete without watching the Yakshagana – a rare combination of dance, music, song, scholarly dialogues and colourful costumes.

A celestial world unfolds before the audience, as 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.

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 an audience from far and wide, with a fair-ground atmosphere pervading the venue till dawn.

The Four Elements of Yakshagana:

The Act: Each performance typically focuses on a small sub-story also known as ‘Prasanga’ from ancient Hindu epics of Ramayana or Mahabharata. The show consists of both stage performances by talented artists and commentary which is performed by the lead singer or Bhagavatha accompanied by traditional music.

The Music: Musical instruments used in Yakshagana include drums, harmonium, maddale, taala and flute among others.

The Costume: Costumes used in Yakshagana are unique and elaborate. Large size head gear, coloured faces, elaborate costumes all over the body and musical beads on the legs known as ‘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.

During your visit to coastal Karnataka districts, do not miss an opportunity to witness this cultural extravaganza which is one of Karnataka’s unique art forms.

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