The Āṅgikābhinaya of Baḍagutiṭṭu Yakṣagāna (Part 1)

Most people are under the impression that the term Yakṣagāna is only a reference to the particular form of theatre art that is found in the Karāvaḻi-Malènāḍu region—i.e., the coastal regions—of Karnataka. This kind of colloquial attribution of the term to the particular art is also justified to some extent because the majority of the artistes and connoisseurs hail from these above-mentioned regions of Karnataka. That said, Yakṣagāna is a broad term that includes several regional theatrical forms and the term is not limited to one specific art-form of a particular region. Yakṣagāna can be termed a jātyekavacana, i.e., a term in singular that indicates a collection or a group. Today, Yakṣagāna is used to exclusively refer to the regional forms of Karāvaḻi and Malènāḍu of Karnataka because it is performed and relished to the maximum extent in these regions.

Yakṣagāna underwent rejuvenation, acquired its current form and came to prominence during the early days of establishment of the Vijayanagara empire in Karnataka. Around this time, the Sage Vidyāraṇya had taken great measures to protect Sanātana-dharma in South India. The five brothers – Harihara, Kampana, Bukkarāya, Mārappa, and Muddappa, popularly known as sodara-pañcaka, had brought people together as a united force to resist the Islamic invasions. Thanks to the efforts of these men, Sanātana-dharma, which was thus protected, developed to hitherto unseen dimensions[1].

Kūcipūḍi-Yakṣagāna of Andhra, Yakṣagāna of the Eastern coast of India, and Cindu, Māla, and Jāmbava-Yakṣagāna that are found in the Telangana region are all related to Karnataka’s Yakṣagāna. The Bhāgavata-meḻa of Kūcipūḍi that later moved to the Thanjavur region of Tamil Nadu, particularly to places such as Melaṭṭūru, Sūlamaṅgalaṃ and Ūttukkāḍu are also genetically similar. Tèrukkūttu that is popularly practised throughout Tamil Nadu belongs to this family as well. This Yakṣagāna-esque form of Tamil Nadu has regional variants which are popular under the names tèṅgalè, vaḍagalè and so on. Kūḍiyāṭṭam[2], Kṛṣṇanāṭṭam, and Kathakalī[3] of Kerala also fall into the same genre. Similarly, the Mūḍalapāya-Yakṣagāna that is in practice in the old Mysore region (in the provinces of Tumukur, Arasikere, Hasan, Mandya, Bangalore, and the vicinity of Chitradurga); Ghaṭṭada Korè found in the region between Mysore and Mandya; Doḍḍāṭa which is practised in the region to the North of Tungabhadra in Karnataka; Keḻikè which is famous in Kolar and some regions of Andhra – all fall under the umbrella term Yakṣagāna. Mūḍalapāya-Yakṣagāna bears a lot of similarly to the Yakṣagāna found in the Karāvaḻi (coastal) regions. In fact, the prasaṅga-sāhitya (pāṭhya, poems and script) style of bhāgavatikè (singing) and āhārya (costumes, jewellery) are similar in the two forms.

As mentioned earlier, though Yakṣagāna is an umbrella term, it is largely used in reference to the Tèṅku, Baḍagu and Baḍa-baḍagu (of the Uttara Kannada district) forms of Karnataka.  People living in the Karāvaḻi and Malènāḍu regions are associated with Yakṣagāna in one way or the other. They have great reverence, interest and passion towards the art. Yakṣagāna has added a lot of value to the lives of people residing in this region and has in fact helped hold Sanātana-dharma at the grassroot level. In fact, people belonging to all strata of the society have worked towards one or the other dimension of the art form. Today too, entire society has contributed towards conserving the traditional values enshrined in the art and have helped towards its growth. In this sense, the people living in the above said region have a mutual symbiotic relationship with Yakṣagāna and each has organically nurtured the other.


As far my knowledge goes, there is a lot of variety in āṅgikābhinaya - the movement vocabulary - in the Baḍagutiṭṭu Yakṣagāna.[4] This also gets attested when we closely examine the movement vocabulary in all other regional forms of Yakṣagāna of Karnataka. We will, therefore, focus on some elements of āṅgikābhinaya of Baḍagutiṭṭu Yakṣagāna in the present essay.

No form of Yakṣagāna found in Karnataka has retained technical terms to refer to movements, i.e., they have not retained the terms defined in the śāstras. Some may say that Yakṣagāna only has hèjjè, maṇḍi, dhigiṇa, lāga, kuñcèṭṭu, giraki, uḍi, kattari-kālu, jāruguppè, tirgāsunaḍè, daddīṅgiṇa, salāṃ-hèjjè, kiru-hèjjè, and kai-karaṇa (hasta, mudrā, etc.). Many may even say that Yakṣagāna is not a classical art because it hasn’t got its form crystallized and thus falls under the category of jānapada (‘folk’ in Western terminology). However, this kind of categorization is not correct. Classicism or śāstrīyatā does not come merely because of the name given to an art or to its components. While it is true that the āṅgikābhinaya of Yakṣagāna might not have retained the names of movements as used in the Nāṭyaśāstra, it certainly does not mean that it does not have the capability to incorporate the movement vocabulary of the Nāṭyaśāstra.

The names of several movements of Yakṣagāna are cognates of Sanskrit words. For example, the word giraki is a translation of the Sanskrit word bhramarī. Similarly, lāga is derived from laṅghana, tirgāsunaḍè is from āvartita-gati, kattari-kālu is from svastika-pāda, and èrugu is from pluti. Later treatises such as Bharatārṇava of Nandikeśvara, Nartana-nirṇaya of Paṇḍarīka-viṭṭhala, and Saṅgīta-sārāmṛta of Tulajāji contain several deśī names for movements. Dvāḍha, lāga, alaga, khuluhulu – these and other terms are found in these texts. These regional names of movements are used as technical terms.  Moreover, the dance forms of Sadir and Tāphā, which are today called Bharatanāṭyam have retained Tamil names for all aspects of āṅgikābhinaya. For example, aḍavu, jāraḍavu, nāṭṭaḍavu, kudiccamèṭṭaḍavu, and mèyyaḍavu are the names of movements used in Bharatanāṭyam.

A closer examination reveals that it is not just the names of movements of Yakṣagāna that bear semblance to those in Nāṭyaśāstra, the movements themselves are also close to what is described in the treatise. Many movements of the Yakṣagāna match the definitions in the Nāṭyaśāstra quite accurately, while some other movements have changed slightly in their form; some others might have derived inspiration from the Nāṭyaśāstra and might have adapted themselves to the regional tastes in a metamorphosed forms. The analysis that I’m going to undertake in the essay is within my limitation and I beg the indulgence of the readers.


Many scholars have written in great detail about Paḍuvalapāya-Yakṣagāna, i.e., that which is practised in the KarāvaLi regions of Karnataka. The writings are invaluable and large in number too. Though such is the case, it is quite surprising that there are few articles on āṅgikābhinaya. Some articles in Yakṣagāna-makaranda (Compiled by Sri. Muliya Mahabala Bhat), some parts of Vilokana (by Dr. Raghava Nambiar), Yakṣagāna-hastābhinaya-darpaṇa (by Dr. G S Hegade), large sections of Kukkila Sampuṭa (Compiled by Dr. Prabhakar Joshi), some segments of Yakṣagāna-padakoṣa (by Dr. Prabhakar Joshi) are noteworthy in this regard. These works talk about āṅgikābhinaya, especially regarding footwork - hèjjègārikè - to some extent but there are many other dimensions that seem to have been omitted. The main reason behind this is that the scholars and critics who have written on the subject have not been full-time and life-long practitioners of the art of Yakṣagāna.[5] Therefore, they have not documented all aspects of āṅgikābhinaya in their works. Moreover, it is hard to put down āṅgikābhinaya in words, because it operates in the visual realm. It is quite difficult to express all the movements of an artiste through the auditory medium of colloquial words. Furthermore, unless we associate a concept from the Nāṭyaśāstra that is equivalent to what is seen in practice in Yakṣagāna today, not much of precise, concise and convincing documentation is possible. I request the readers to keep these aspects in mind before going through my humble attempt at analysing the āṅgikābhinaya of Yakṣagāna.


To be continued...

This series of articles are authored by Shatavadhani Dr. R Ganesh and have been rendered into English with additional material and footnotes by Arjun Bharadwaj. The article first appeared in the anthology Prekṣaṇīyaṃ, published by the Prekshaa Pratishtana in Feburary 2020.

[1] Those interested may refer to Shatavadhani Dr. R Ganesh’s Kannada work Vibhūtipuruṣa-vidyāraṇya for more information in this regard.

[2] Kūḍiyāṭṭam is amongst the oldest theatre forms of Kerala and it congenital with the earliest ancestor of Yakṣagāna of Karnataka

[3] One can also say that Kathakalī is, in a sense, an offspring of Kṛṣṇanāṭṭam

[4] This is also true with respect to the sub-genre, Baḍa-baḍagu found in Uttara Kannada district of Karnataka.

[5] Hereafter in this essay, the word Yakṣagāna is used to refer specifically to the Baḍagutiṭṭu variety.





Dr. Ganesh is a 'shatavadhani' and one of India’s foremost Sanskrit poets and scholars. He writes and lectures extensively on various subjects pertaining to India and Indian cultural heritage. He is a master of the ancient art of avadhana and is credited with reviving the art in Kannada. He is a recipient of the Badarayana-Vyasa Puraskar from the President of India for his contribution to the Sanskrit language.



Arjun is a writer, translator, engineer, and enjoys composing poems. He is well-versed in Sanskrit, Kannada, English, Greek, and German languages. His research interests lie in comparative aesthetics of classical Greek and Sanskrit literature. He has deep interest in the theatre arts and music. Arjun has (co-) translated the works of AR Krishna Shastri, DV Gundappa, Dr. SL Bhyrappa, Dr. SR Ramaswamy and Shatavadhani Dr. R Ganesh

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