Yakshagana - Traditional theatre from Southern India: A lec-dem on an 800 year old theatrical art form from Karnataka

A summary of the lecture
by Sridevi Prasad, ISAS Program & Publications Assistant

On Thursday, September 17, the Institute for South Asia Studies had the honor of hosting Dr. M Prabhakar Joshy, accomplished Yakshagana performer from Mangalore, and three Yakshagana dancers from the Bay Area. Yakshagana is a traditional dance-theater form from Karnataka. As Dr. Joshy explained in his lecture, this form combines a written composition (or prasanga) with music and dance. Unlike other dance-theater forms such as Kerala’s Kathakali, Yakshagana can be most closely related to an opera as there is dialogue in Kannada in between the dance scenes. The two most prevalent forms are the northern style (Badagu) and the southern style (Tenku). Dr. Joshy and his accompanying dancers skillfully performed pieces in the Tenku style. During the demonstration, the first piece gracefully depicted how princes such as Arjuna would typically enter the Yakshagana performance. Influenced by the Vaishnava bhakti movement, Yakshagana pieces often depict scenes featuring Krishna. The second performance told the story from the Mahabharata of Arjuna’s death by his son, Babruvahana. Spinning around each other as they engaged in an elegant battle, the two performers illustrated how dialogue and dance are combined together in Yakshagana to tell a story. The final performance was by the sole female dancer, portraying the many expressions (or abhinaya) that Yakshagana performers utilize in their performance. Even though Yakshagana was predominately a male-dominated art form, the past few decades has seen the growth of all-female Yakshagana dance troupes. After viewing quick glimpses of this wonderful art form, ISAS looks forward to possibly hosting more lengthy Yakshagana performances in the future.