A theatrical performance that is rich in prose-like spoken language, employs gesture language that isn’t stylized and has āṅgika that largely divorced from pure nṛtta can be called nāṭya; such a theatrical performance is closer to loka-dharmī. In another case where vācika takes the form of lyrics (which are largely in metrical patterns) set to a rāga and to a rhythmic pattern, and when āṅgika becomes stylized like in nṛtta, the performance assumes the form of a nṛtya. When the delineation of the entire sequence of episodes of a story takes prominence, nāṭya takes shape; when detailing and focus on a particular episode—loosely, ‘zooming in’—becomes the main purpose of presentation, nṛtya comes into picture. In other words, the dominant element of nāṭya is story narration – kathanāṃśa and that of nṛtya is story elaboration – vyākhyānāṃśa. It is natural that the narration of a story involves several characters and episodes; these are staged one after the other, giving the impression that the presentation is proceeding at a high speed. On the contrary, when the number of episodes and characters is limited, more attention can be paid to detailing emotional subtilities. The depiction of the episode can be slower and more elaborate. These characterize a nṛtya presentation.
Although nṛtta doesn’t come with a storyline, it enraptures the hearts of the young and the old alike. The main reason behind this is the beauty of āṅgika and the ullāsa (exuberance, energy) that remains as constant through the presentation. Nṛtta, which is simple in its form, appears to pull the audience towards itself. It makes the spectators jump with joy and inspires them to try doing a few steps as well. This is, in a sense, the soul of folk forms of art (jānapada-kalā). This kind of dance can be quite complex as well. Nṛtta that is executed in this fashion may fall under the category viṣama as described by Someśvara. Such forms find semblance in spirit with the variety of poetry called citra-kavitva (roughly translated as ‘creative literary acrobatics’/ ‘figurative poetry’). Owing to their complexity, they are difficult to be imitated by the uninitiated. They cause amazement to the audience, who are awestruck upon witnessing such a performance. This kind of non-referential dance can cause heightened entertainment to the audience – this is at the level of the form and structure.
It is slightly harder for nṛtya to have its sway on the audience and to appeal to the masses, in the sense that the spectator needs to have a cultured heart and a great degree of sahṛdayatā (a heart to appreciate art; connoisseurship). He must have enough learning to be able to grasp the emotional landscape of the character being delineated and needs to possess some training to appreciate the artiste’s creative elaboration of different sequences. This is not straightforward for a neophyte. For intense connoisseurs, on the other hand, nṛtya can be a source of everlasting joy as it can reveal layers and layers of dhvani (suggestion).
Nāṭya can entertain the masses just as nṛtta does. Itivṛtta, i.e., the theme that is fundamental to nāṭya—the weaving together of episodes for depicting the storyline, the variegated incidents, and the spectrum of characters that comes as a part of the presentation—can effortlessly capture the minds and hearts of the audience. These elements of nāṭya, when blended in the right proportion with loka-dharmī with sattva as its undercurrent, can sway even the uninitiated spectator and take him to the peaks of Rasānanda. It is only a matured and trained mind with its capability of understanding the nuances of nṛtta, nṛtya, and nāṭya that can appreciate all the three in the right proportion.
Abhijāta-nṛtya (Classical Dance) and Yakṣagāna
When we analyse classical forms of dance and Yakṣagāna keeping the aforementioned points in mind, it becomes evident that Yakṣagāna found in Karnataka is quite different from the various dance forms of India. It edges towards being classified under the genre of nāṭya and less under nṛtya. In its spirit and essence, it is a form of nāṭya, for it has loka-dharmī as its primary mode of communication. As is expected from a theatrical presentation, it kindles joy in spectators from all backgrounds. Today, with the flood of movies and television programs rich in loka-dharmī, viewers tend to see Yakṣagāna and cinema in contrast with each other. When perceived thus, Yakṣagāna appears to be closer to the nāṭya-dharmī compared to movies and television shows. Common man today finds the latter more appealing in contrast to Yakṣagāna.
Today, Yakṣagāna has two paths to choose from. The first one is to tread the path paved by cinema and television and bolster itself with more loka-dharmī. This would amount to sacrificing über-worldly depictions (alaukika-varṇanā) and losing out on classicism while taking refuge in something more realistic. This, in fact, leads it towards modern plays. Even if this path is trodden by artistes, one cannot guarantee that Yakṣagāna will become more robust and come closer to the hearts of the laity. Movies and tele-serials have taken birth employing a great amount of technology. If Yakṣagāna were to imitate their style, it will be unable to compete because of its very nature of being a theatrical art. There is an upper limit until which technology can be added to Yakṣagāna without letting the art lose its innate nature; further, one must keep in mind the aucitya of the art form before blindly using technology.
The second path is to incorporate techniques of nāṭya-dharmī in Yakṣagāna. This does not mean, however, that Yakṣagāna should be turned into a form of nṛtya and delimit itself solely to the framework of classical dance. It can take in the best elements of nṛtya and still remain Yakṣagāna. It is with this vision that I conceived Ekavyakti-Yakṣagāna (solo form) and Yugala-Yakṣagāna (duet form), which can act as pointers in the direction of blending nṛtya with Yakṣagāna. Learned connoisseurs can vouch for the models that I have experimented in collaboration with Yakṣagāna artistes. If artistes go along these lines, the broader form of Yakṣagāna can itself get bolstered. In addition, there is also the possibility of turning Yakṣagāna exclusively into a form of classical dance. Artistes and connoisseurs with an objective approach can identify the basic material for these in the Ekavyakti-Yakṣagāna productions we have staged. When the following aspects are blended in the right proportion into the existing form of Yakṣagāna, it will metamorphose into a classical theatrical form of art. The elements are – mārga-karaṇas and deśī-karaṇas as described in the Nāṭyaśāstra and the Saṅgīta-ratnākara, some elements of Southern and Northern classical music that can add to the exuberance of the himmeḻa (music ensemble) of Yakṣagāna, and the triad of rasa-dhvani-aucitya; these, when incorporated, can add a lot of beauty to the form.
The lyrics (verses and songs – padya and pada) of the Yakṣagāna-prabhanda is metrical in nature and is full of alliterations; they follow different rhythmic patterns; this reveals that nāṭya-dharmī is inherently present in Yakṣagāna. It is also evident that vācika, i.e., the delivery of (unscripted) dialogues, is an integral part of the art – amongst other things, this helps in adding detail to the musical rendition of lyrics. It also adds value to the emotions expressed through gesture language and makes the art more impactful. Vācika that involves prose (spoken language) adds, makes the presentation intimate and crystallizes the episode depicted in the hearts of the connoisseurs. This, in fact, characterizes most upa-rūpakas. In the daśa-rūpaka tradition, both prose dialogues and poems (verses) are composed beforehand by the poet. Only dhruva-gītas are added to the theatrical presentation; these lend themselves beautifully to dance. It is quite the contrary in Yakṣagāna. Verses and songs are pre-composed by the poet and are musically rendered on the stage by the bhāgavatas (singers of the himmeḻa). Rendition of prose dialogues by the character is impromptu and is as per the manodharma of the artiste; this is to be done without compromising the aucitya of the character and the vision of the poet. This does not, however, mean that the daśa-rūpaka tradition and the upa-rūpakas are at loggerheads with each other. There is merely a difference in emphasis. Only when one pays attention to these details and examines the art with objectivity will it become clear how Yakṣagāna can be meaningfully enriched.
To be continued...
This series of articles is 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.