Yakshagana literally means the people(gana) who are the yaksha (nature spirits). Yakshagana is the scholastic name (used for the last 200 years) for art forms formerly known as kēḷike, āṭa, bayalāṭa, and daśāvatāra. The word Yakshagana previously referred to a form of literature in Kannada and even now in Telugu. Performance of this Yakshagana literature or the play is called āṭa. It is now no longer believed that the word Ekkalagaana refers to Yakshagana.
Karavali Gandu Kale Yakshagana
Yakshagana performance in progress
Yakshagana has a separate tradition of music, separate from Karnataka Sangeetha and the Hindustani music of India. Yakshagana and Karnatak Sangeetha may have a common ancestor are not decedents of one another.
A typical Yakshagana performance consists of background music played by a group of musicians (known as the himmela); and a dance and dialog group (known as the mummela), who together enact poetic epics on stage. The himmela is made up of a lead singer (bhagawatha)—who also directs the production—and is referred to as the "first actor" (modalane vesha). Additional himmela members are players of traditional musical instruments, such as the maddale (hand drum), the pungi (pipe), the harmonium (organ), and the chande (loud drums). The music is based on ragas, which are characterized by rhythmic patterns called mattu and tala (or musical meter in Western music).
A Yakshagana performance typically begins in the twilight hours, with an initial beating of the drums of several fixed compositions, called abbara or peetike. This may last for up to an hour before the actors finally arrive on the stage. The actors wear resplendent costumes, head-dresses, and face paints.
A performance usually depicts a story from the "Kavya" (epic poems) and the "Puranas" (ancient Hindu texts). It consists of a story teller (the bhagawatha) who narrates the story by singing (which includes prepared character dialogues) as the actors dance to the music, portraying elements of the story as it is being narrated. All components of Yakshagana—including the music, the dance, and the dialog—are improvised. Depending on the ability and scholarship of the actors, there will be variations in dances as well as the amount of dialog. It is not uncommon for actors to get into philosophical debates or arguments without falling out of character. The acting in Yakshagana can be best categorized as method acting. The performances have drawn comparison to the Western tradition of opera. Traditionally, Yakshagana will run all night.
Yakshagana is popular in the districts of Dakshina Kannada, Kasaragod, Udupi, Uttara Kannada and Shimoga . Yakshagana has become popular in Bengaluru in recent years, particularly in the rainy season, when there are few other forms of entertainment possible in the coastal districts.