Yakshagana (Tulu: /Kannada: , yakshagana,) is a theater form that combines, dance, music, dialogue, costume, make-up and stage techniques with a unique style and form. This theater style is mainly played in the coastal districts and Malenadu regions of Karnataka, India and traditionally played for whole night, till sunrise next morning.
Yakshagana is the recent (200 years) scholastic name for what are known as kelike, ata, bayalata, dasavatara (Kannada: ). It is believed to have evolved from pre-classical music and theatre during the Bhakti movement. Yakshagana is popular in the districts ofUttara Kannada, Udupi, Dakshina Kannada, Shimoga and Kasaragod district . Yakshagana has become popular in Bangalore over the recent years, particularly in the rainy season, when there are few performances in the coastal districts. It has drawn comparisons to the Western tradition of opera. Actors wear costumes and enact various roles. Traditionally, Yakshagana would go on all night. It is sometimes simply called as ಆಟ "play" in both Kannada and Tulu. Yaksha-gana literally means the song (gana) of a yaksha, which was a term for exotic tribes of ancient India.
Yakshagana consists of a himmela "background music group" and a mummela "dance and dialog group", which together performYakshagana poetry. Himmela consist of a bhagawata "singer" who is also the director (also called the first actor, modalane vesha),maddale, harmonium for drone (pungi was used earlier) and chande (loud drums). The music is based on Carnatic ragas characterised by melodic patterns called Mattu and Yakshagana Tala. Yakshagana Talas are believed to be based on patterns which later evolved into Carnatic talas.
A Yakshagana performance begins at the twilight hours with the beating of several fixed compositions on drums called abbara or peetikefor up to an hour before the actors get on the stage. The actors wear resplendent costumes, head-dresses, and face paints.
A performance usually depicts a story from Indian epic poems and the Puranas. It consists of a narrator (Bhagvatha) who either narrates the story by singing or sings prepared character dialogues, backed by musicians playing on traditional musical instruments as the actors dance to the music, with actions that portray the story as it is being narrated. All the components of Yakshagana, music, dance and dialog are improvised. Depending on the ability and scholarship of the actors, variation in dance and amount of dialog may change. It is not uncommon for actors to get into philosophical debates or arguments without going out of the framework of the character being enacted. The acting can be categorised as method acting.