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Jyothi Venkatachalam

Yakshagana is one of the most important folk theatres of Karnataka and Kasargod in Kerala, which has brought fame to this region. Every village in Kasargod is familiar with this art and there are a good number of artistes. The Terukkuthu of Tamilnadu, Koodiyatam and Chakyarkuttu of Kerala, Yakshagana was originally known by different names such as Bayalata (in Kannada Bayalata means play played in open air). The stories of Yakshagana were drawn from the Ramayana, Mahabharata, Bhagavatha and other mythological episodes.

Almost all ancient arts are having a common world, in one way or other related to God worship. Ethical values are better inculcated in the minds of people through entertainment. Yakshagana no doubt is an ancient performing art. Some are of the opinion that Yakshagana evolved from the ancient form of Bhutha worship (Theyyam).

Bhutha worship is popular in South Canara of Karnataka and Kasaragod District of Kerala. In the process of evolution, Yakshagana also was influenced by the folk dance, song and Sanskrit drama, and also from Bharata's Natyashasthra. South Canara District and Kasargod District of Kerala (erstwhile South Canara District prior to state re-organization) is the motherland of Yakshagana. Parthisubba, one of the pioneers of Yakshagana, is the gift of this district. It is a theatre form of South India.

Performed as a temple art over the years, Yakshagana still forms an integral part of the cultural programmes presented during temple festivals in the Kasaragod region. Yakshagana 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 add humor and finally a fortune teller was included. '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. It is popular with the rural audiences. At the heart of Yakshagana are the poetic songs sung by the main musician called Bhagavata, who controls the pace of the performance.

The acting or performing area or stage as it is now called was usually an open ground in front of a temple, a clearing in a paddy field or a space near the house of the patron. Mango leaves, flowers, garlands, coconuts, banana leaves and colored paper were used to decorate the stage where the performance took place. This decoration looked simple and at the same time gave a festive look.


Improvised dialogue 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 actor to actor. Most presentations are based on the stories from the great Hindu epics, the Mahabharata and Ramayana, and the Purana and concern serious events from the lives of well-known epic figures. Humor is added in the performance by the clowns through comic antics and witty remarks. Yakshagana performers wear huge headgears, elaborate facial make-up, colorful costumes and ornaments which together give a superhuman appearance to the character presented. The themes of the plays are taken from the epics, Ramayana and Mahabharata.

Usually the art form is presented in Kannada, though it also is performed in Malayalam as well as Tulu (the dialect of south Karnataka). The accompanying orchestra includes percussion instruments such as chenda, maddalam, jagatta or chengila (cymbals) and chakratala or elathalam (small cymbals).

Jyothi Venkatachalam, director of Abhyasa School Of Dance, Club Tampa Palms, offers classes in Bharat Natyam, traditional folk dances, Indian percussion instruments (Mridangam, Dholak, Ghatam, Kanjira, Morsingh and Konakol). She can be reached at (813) 977-9039 or (813) 404-7899 or via e-mail at


Lavanya Dinesh

The Indian music system is referred to as “Raagdhari Sangeet’ or raaga-based music. The raaga or raag is a melodic entity – a combination of specific notes in a particular order, which make it unique and different from any other raaga. Raaga is the soul of Indian music. It is not just a tune or melody but a melodic mould, a continuum which is also an ever-changing and evolving entity.

A raaga acts as a tonal framework for compositions and improvisations. Typically, a raaga includes numerous compositions composed in many genres (both traditional and unconventional) such as Dhrupad, Dhamar, Khyal (vilambit – slow paced, madhyalaya – medium paced or dhrutalaya – fast paced composition), Thumri, Tappa, Hori, Kajri, Dadra, Chaturang, Ghazal, Geet, Bhajan, Abhang, film music, etc. Raagas allow vocalists/instrumentalists/composers to create a new song or melody all the time. Using the basic scale and rules of one particular raaga, any trained musician can generate an infinite variety of melodious phrasing and sequencing.

Every raaga in Indian classical music has certain fundamental rules prescribed by various texts. Here are some of them:

A raaga must have a minimum of five notes or ‘swaras’. The universally identified seven notes or ‘sapta-swaras’ in Indian music are SA (shadj), RE (rishabh), GA (gandhar), MA (madhyam), PA (pancham), DHA (dhaivat) and NI (nishad).

A raaga must always have the base note SA from which to start and almost always contains either MA or PA or both. SA and PA are constant notes, their relative position to each other never changes and they are called ‘prakriti swaras’ (natural notes). The swaras RE, GA, DHA and NI have two variants. They are either ‘shuddh’ (pure) or ‘komal’ (flat or minor). The MA note can be sung ‘shuddh’ or ‘teevra’ (sharp or raised). RE, GA, DHA, NI and MA are changeable and hence called ‘vikruti’ swaras. There also are various other fixed, natural, sharp and half-tone note variations, which form the complex system of microtones known as ‘shrutis’.

Every raaga has a structural framework of linear progression called the ‘aaroh’ and ‘avaroh’. The aaroah is the ascending scale of a raaga while the avaroh is the descending scale of the raaga. For example, the raaga Bhairav has the following scale: Aaroh – SA RE GA MA PA DHA NI SA and Avaroh – SA NI DHA PA MA GA RE SA.

There are three octaves or ‘saptakas’ (registers) that are taken into consideration in everyday practice and performance of a vocalist or an instrumentalist, an octave being a continuum of seven notes. They are the ‘mandra’ (lower), ‘madhya’ (middle) and ‘taara’ (higher) saptakas. The beginning note (swara) of the aaroh is SA and it belongs to the middle octave or madhya sapthaka. It is referred to as the ‘aadhara shadj’, meaning the foundation or base of reference from which the melodic structure is derived. The aaroh then ascends note by note and finally goes up to the upper SA of the taara saptaka or higher octave. This SA is referred to as the ‘taara shadj’.

There are numerous classifications of raagas based on their salient features and characteristics. The ‘Janya-Janaka’ raaga system theorizes that there are parent raagas making way for offspring.

These raagas that have emerged from the parent have minor differences either in the application of vikruti swaras or one to two notes being altogether omitted. This is called ‘varjya’ or omission. If only five notes are used in the aaroh-avaroh of the raaga, it is called ‘audhav’ (omission of two notes). The use of six notes where there is only one varjya swara is referred to as ‘shaadav’. When all seven notes are used, the raaga is called ‘sampoorna’. Some raagas for example are audhav in the aaroh (five notes) and sampoorna (all seven notes) in the avaroh (descent).

For example, raaga Khamaj is shaadav in the aaroh and sampoorna in the avaroh. This feature along with the use of komal, shuddh and teevra swaras in different combinations creates hundreds and thousands of raagas. Raaga Bhairav (a sampoorna raaga) uses komal RE and DHA, while raaga Ahir Bhairav (also a sampoorna raaga) uses komal RE and NI. Though all other notes are similar, these two raagas are imbued with totally distinct emotions with the switch of a single note position. This is the beauty of raaga-based Indian classical music.

To be continued.

Lavanya Dinesh is an accomplished performer and teacher of Hindustani classical vocal music. She regularly performs at musical venues both in India and the U.S. She has three album releases to her credit. The artist has worked as a music critic and feature writer for The Times of India and Deccan Herald and can be reached at

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