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Yakshagana – And they dance

Yakshagana is a celebrated theatre form in Dakshina karnataka. The art form is prominent in Dakshina Kannada, Kasargod, Udupi, Uttara Kannada Shimoga and western parts of Chikkamagaluru

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From dawn to dusk they dance in a graceful blend of costume, colour, dance, drama, music and much more to the folk theatre form of Yakshagana mainly found in Dakshina Kannada. With stories adapted from the Ramayana, Mahabharata and Bhagavata along with stories from Hindu and Jain culture, Yakshagana is called in many names in and around the state, each name specific to the culture or place it comes from. The names include ataa or Ata which means the play in Tulu, Bagada Thittu and Thengu thittu from Udupi to Kasargod and from north to Uttara Canara respectively. The art form is prominent in Dakshina Kannada, Kasargod, Udupi, Uttara Kannada Shimoga and western parts of Chikkamagaluru

Like many major folk dance forms, Yakshagana also has its own music genre which is in accordance with rhythmic beats called tala and tune called raga and is played by musicians known as Himmela. There is also a dance and dialogue group known as mummela. Instruments also constitute a prominent part of the theatre form. Instruments like maddale(hand drum), pungi(pipe) and harmonium are used. 

Improvisation of the Kavya or epic poem is key in this art form. Characters are so well versed in their field that on stage, they may suddenly break into an argument or debate. Yet they make their viewpoints seen and heard by remaining in their character. When they are in their costumes and the drum beats welcome them on stage, they are not a human anymore, they have transformed to the character they depict. Every movement, every word, every song and even the flicker of the eye will be that of the character and not the individual. 

The origin story of the artform has various versions and one cannot reach a consistent end to it. Some say that it was influenced by the Vishva Bhakti movement, it is believed that Naraharitha, a minister of the Kalinga Kingdom introduced Yakshagana in Udupi. Some say that inscriptions dating back to 1556 CE found in the Lakshminarayana Temple, Kurugodu in Bellary district is where it all started. Some believe in  the evidence of a poem called Virata Parva written by Ajapura Vishnu on palm leaves. 

Even today, Yakshagana is a celebrated theatre form in Dakshina Karnataka. We hope that as time passes, maybe unlike many artforms, it may continue to exist and be a prominent part of the future.

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