The National Centre for Performing Arts (NCPA) has been consistently and proactively preserving folklore from across the country. As exponents of the performing arts, the NCPA has always encouraged and recognized talent from all habitats. Strengthening the initiative with Living Traditions, NCPA presents a variety of acts from the remotest pockets of the country in an attempt to preserve the rich folklore that is the hallmark of Indian culture.
This year, Living Traditions will venture into its tenth edition with an enthralling showcase of theatre forms from coastal Karnataka. Well-known troupes from Udupi will present the two main variants of Yakshagana over the course of two days. On both days, the performance will be preceded by a presentation by the well-known Tulu and Kannada scholar Dr. Purushottam Bilimale, who is currently the Chair of Kannada Studies at the Jawaharlal Nehru University.
Patronized by temples, the origin of this ritual theatre can be traced to the period between the 11th to 15th centuries. Yakshagana is a kind of literature which, in the course of history, has assumed the theatrical form where it is presented as a dance drama. Primarily, this is a semi-classical theatrical art form nurtured and developed by rural intellectuals from the North and South Kannada districts of the State of Karnataka. For more than four centuries, Yakshagana has entertained the rural audience of almost the whole of Karnataka and beyond.
Traditionally performed in the open air through the night by all-male troupes, Yakshagana performers wear elaborate headgear, facial make-up, colourful costumes and ornaments, all of which combine to give a superhuman appearance to the character presented. The themes of the plays are generally from the epics; Ramayana, Mahabharata and the Bhagavat Puranas. The music of Yakshagana, as well as the style of writing plays are specific to the genre. Even today, the tradition is alive and extremely popular, attracting new talent including women.
Dr. Suvarnalata Rao, Head Programming – Indian Music, NCPA said, “Yakshagana is a popular folk theatre form of Karnataka with a long history of nearly four hundred years. It is a unique harmony of musical tradition, eye-catching costumes, and authentic styles of dance, improvised gestures and acting with its extemporaneous dialogue appealing to a wide range of the community.”
She further states, “Indian folk theatre is richly laden with rudiments of Indian art and culture. Folk theatre of Karnataka highlights the rich tradition and culture of the state in dancing. This mainly marks the past of a nation’s theatre and also forms the basic structure of amateur and professional theatre of urban areas. Folk theatre preserves, rejuvenates and also inspires cultural achievements of the people.”
The first day of the festival will present Chakravyuha in Tenkutittu (Southern style) by Theatre Yaksha. This tradition of Yakshagana is prevalent in South Canara (Dakshina Kannada), Udupi and Kasaragod districts. Music is dominant in this tradition and the influence of Carnatic music is apparent from the style of singing and by the type of musical instruments used.
The following day will witness a performance of Jatayu Moksha in Badagutittu (Northern style) by Yaksharanga. This tradition of Yakshagana is prevalent in North Canara (Uttara Kannada) and the northern parts of Dakshina Kannada District. Badagutittu places more emphasis on facial expression and dances appropriate for the character depicted in the episode. Unlike in the Tenkutittu tradition, music is influenced by the Hindustani music.
Over two days, Living Traditions will showcase traditional theatre performances that will give the audiences an experience of the deeply rooted theatre traditions that are a symbol Karnataka.