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Growing with tradition

SANJAY KUMAR

Yakshagana, an intrinsic part of Kannada culture, was presented in Hindi for the first time this past week in New Delhi, giving cause for elation as well as caution.



DEFYING CLASSIFICATION Yakshagana, like many other forms, defies neat classification into categories like folk, classical, rural.

`In the beginning was the word.' And since then the power of the spoken word has been a central means of artistic representation. Realising this potential, Delhi witnessed a unique experiment in the legendary theatre form of Karnataka, Yakshagana - in Hindi!

The event held at the Delhi Kannada Sangha was coordinated by the Sangha and organised by Yaksha Manjusha, an ensemble of performers from Mangalore.

Yakshagana is a traditional theatre form combining dance, music, the spoken word, costuming, make-up, and stage technique with a distinct style and form. The world of Yakshagana is at once interesting and intriguing. It is a theatre form mainly prevalent in the coastal districts and adjacent areas of Karnataka. It is closely connected with other forms prevailing in other parts of Karnataka and its neighbouring states of Andhra Pradesh, Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra. Yakshagana, like many other forms, defies neat classification into categories like folk, classical, rural. It can be included into each of these, or all of them together depending upon one's perspective.

Unabated popularity

Yakshagana is indeed enmeshed in the cultural life of the Kannada region. In its hoary tradition dating back centuries, it has had unabated popularity among the masses and aficionados alike. At once classical and folk, this performing art has often bridged the spreading chasm between high art and popular culture. Thus it holds a unique place in the cultural landscape as a living tradition of dance and drama.

Yaksha Manjushi is headed by Vidya Kolur, daughter and disciple of one of the living legends of Yakshagan, Kolyur Ramachandra Rao. They have presented more than 300 performances in India. It has a vibrant set of young performers drawn from diverse backgrounds. "I am an MBA student in Mangalore. But I love this art form and hence I find time for it," declares Deepak Peejavar, the artiste who played Ram in the performance.

This semi-opera theatre relies on natya and natana, or drama and dance, in equal measure. The music based on classical Carnatic ragas, is realised through songs sung by the bhagvata

(narrator). Thus the Hindi Yakshagana has attempted to render the vachika - songs and dialogues - in Hindi. This is indeed the first notable attempt of its kind.

"We availed of the services of a Hindi pundit for the translation," recounts Vidya Kollur on this radical experiment. "However, we had to depart from the tradition in doing away with the extempore dialogues and making do with a prepared script."

Despite this break with convention, the performance stood out for the excellent histrionics of the artistes in the given prasanga (theme) of Surpanakha's humiliation in the Ramayana. That was indeed a testimony of the success of this experiment. It must be conceded though, that for the native Hindi speaker, the dialogue rendition had the discernible accent of Kannada. The performance was from the Thenku Thettu or the southern school of Yakshagana.

The entire experiment needs to be seen in the context of a vibrant art tradition crying for national recognition. Perhaps the larger motive of reaching out needs to be commended.

Reaching out

"Rendering the Yakshagana in Hindi is an attempt to take it out of the ambit of the Kannada-speaking world," justifies Krishna Bhatt, President of the Delhi Kannada Sangha, and the hosts for the event. The performance will be spread across different locations in North India. Perhaps, even though innovation and experimentation in art are proof of its versatility, one also needs to be cautious and critical. As the well-known Kannada poet and playwright, Shiva Prakash remarked, "One shouldn't be dismissive of change, but it should not mutate the very identity of an art form."

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