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Epic tales, the South way

Published : Mar 14, 2018, 12:06 am IST
Updated : Mar 14, 2018, 12:07 am IST

A good mix of song, dance and storytelling, two variants of the Yakshagana folk art form is set to take over the city this weekend.

Artists in action during rehearsals
 Artists in action during rehearsals

With the sole aim to preserve, promote and bring to fore the rich India culture from the remotest pockets of the country, The National Centre for the Performing Arts (NCPA) has brought to city Yakshagana, a unique folk form of performance art from the coastal region of Karnataka.

As part of its initiative titled Living Traditions, which is now in its 10th edition, NCPA has brought on board well-established troupes from Udupi presenting the two main variants of Yakshagana — Tenkutittu from southern Karnataka and Badagatittu from northern Karnataka.

Talking about the two forms, ethnomusicologist Dr Shubha Chaudhuri explains that while both are similar they can be distinguished on the basis of their components.


“Music is dominant in Tenkutittu and the influence of Carnatic music is apparent from the style of singing and by the type of musical instruments used. Whereas, Badagutittu places more emphasis on facial expression and the dances appropriate for the character are depicted in the episode,” explains Dr Shubha

Traditionally performed in open air through the night by all-male performers, Yakshagana is a medley of background music, dance, and dialogue. All put together, it is enacted in a poetic form drawing stories from Ramayana, Mahabharata, Bhagavata and other epics.

For the upcoming show The Song of the Yakshas: Yakshagana from Coastal Karnataka, the two folk forms will be narrating the stories of Chakravyuha and Jatayu Moksha in Tenkutittu and Badagatittu, respectively.

While the number of performers can vary, the organisers have come up with an average of 10 people in each act. Artistes wear elaborate headgear, facial make-up, colourful costumes and ornaments — all of which combine to give a superhuman appearance to the character presented on stage.

But what intrigued Dr Shubha about this folk form theatre to bring it to the stage was the fact that Yakshagana continues to be an active folk theatre form in the region.

“We have so many folk art forms in India. But I was surprised to learn that parts of Karnataka still follow the tradition and have kept the folktales alive,” smiles Dr Shubha.

Dr. Suvarnalata Rao, head of programming, Indian music, NCPA, says she believes folk theatre forms are as relevant to you and I as they are to the natives of Karnataka. “Folk tradition is the tradition of folks — a direct expression of day-to-day life of the people in regional areas. For instance, women singing while working in the fields, a child’s birth or a marriage — all of it is depicted in folk art. All of this is connected with life itself, to rituals and emotions,” she explains. 

“It is a story being told through gestures and theatrical expressions, where a certain body movement becomes a dance. Hero to villain there will be a specific colour depicting each character. And with those headgears and loud make-up it is enchanting to see performers enacting tales from the epics we have grown up to,” says Dr Rao.

Having offered performers from Nagaland, Rajasthan, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Goa, West Bengal and Assam a platform in the past, the organisers are keen on getting other forms of folk art to the stage as well. “I would like to bring some of the folk theatre from the Chhattisgarh region,” she says. Defining it as an experience in itself for people who haven’t witnessed any folk form, Dr Rao says then now is the time to witness it live.

Tags: national centre for the performing arts, yakshagana, badagatittu, tenkutittu