Yakshagana is a Theatre Form of South India. 'Yaksh' means
demigods associated with Kubera, God of wealth and 'Gana'
is song. Thus Yakshagana means songs of the demigods.
Yakshagana is lively, fast-paced form in which songs, dances
and improvised dialogue mix according to a prescribed structure.
Yakshagana is popular with the rural audiences. At the heart
of Yakshagana are the poetic songs (prasanga) sung
by the chief musician (bhagavata), who thus controls
the pace of the performance. The most popular of these songs
have been transcribed and published, even those from hundreds
of years ago. With their particular melody (raga) and metre
intact, they constitute a major part of the historical record
of regional Indian dramatic literature.
Improvised dialogue (matu) by the actor-dancers expands
on the content of the songs. Until recently, this portion
was not written down because it changed from night to night
and from actor to actor. Most prasnaga are based on the
stories from the great Hindu epics, the Mahabharata and
Ramayana, and from the purana and concern serious events
from the lives of well known epic figures. Humor is added
in the performance by the clowns (hasyagar) through comic
antics and witty remarks.
The acting area (rangasthala), a space near the house of
the patron, may be a paddy field cleared of stubble, or
the open ground in front of a temple compound. Mango leaves,
flowers, coconuts, plantains leaves and colored paper provide
a festive, simple decoration.
15 people are required to produce a performance and a minimum
five musicians are needed. The chief musician sings and
plays the maddale drum, while standing between the musicians
a man plays shruti, simplified version of harmonium which
keeps the underlying pitch necessary to guide the singer's
melodies. A chende drummer accompanies him. Costumes and
make-up for the Yakshagana of Andhra are unique. Big heart-shaped
headdresses are worn by the warriors, crowns of wood covered
with tinsel paper are worn by kings and large impressive
headdresses are worn by demons whose spiky make-up distorts
the actor's facial features beyond recognition.
Yakshagana of Andhra Pradesh originated in the 14th century
and it began as a dance interpretation of one character
who took many roles. Later it added a second character,
a female counterpart. In this phase, the male was called
Yaksha and the female was known as Yakshi. In course of
time a clown was introduced to provide humor and finally
a fortuneteller came into the picture.