Ekavyakti-Yakṣagāna: The Concept, Practice and Philosophy

Introduction

It is natural for artistes to try their hand at bringing novelty to their art. It is rather common to see new experiments and novel presentations being tried out in every form of art. Sanātana-dharma considers the world to be the poetry of the divine. Art is, after all, a part of this Deva-kāvya and we have added beauty to our life-poetry - jīva-kāvya - by innovating from time to time. Bhaṭṭa-nāyaka, one of the prominent commentators on the Nāṭyaśāstra writes the following benedictory verse:

namas-trailokya-nirmāṇa-kavaye śambhave yataḥ|
pratikṣaṇaṃ jannāṭyaprayogarasiko janaḥ||

My salutations to Śambhu, the poet who created the three worlds. Every moment, the people who watch his divine play on the world-arena are fed with rich Rasa.

When such is the case, it is not surprising that Paḍuvalapāya Yakṣagāna, a traditional theatrical art, has undergone changes from time to time. Artistes have tried to add novelty to the art. Senior artistes and stalwarts such as Dr. Shivaram Karanth, Keremane Shambhu Hegade, Mahabala Hegade, and others have paved newer paths that have led to successful presentations in the genre of Yakṣagāna. This being the case, perhaps I have not trodden an unwarranted path by conceptualizing Ekavyakti-Yakṣagāna, which is meant for a specific purpose and is not as diverse and multi-dimensional as the work done by the earlier stalwarts.

Our presentations are not the first ones in the genre of Ekavyakti-Yakṣagāna. Back in 1956, G R Pandeshwara had composed what he called ‘eka-pātra-yakṣagāna-prabhanda’. The title of the composition was ‘Mārāvatāra’ and he wanted to present it on stage himself. We hear that Nāṭyācārya Kulkarni Srinivas had even staged it under the aegis of his organization Nṛtyabhāratī. This prasaṅga which runs to seventeen pages has pada/padyas (songs-verse) and segments of arthagārikè in prose as well. The theme chosen here is the coming of Manmatha with the sole purpose of disturbing Śiva’s penance and Śiva reducing him to ashes. Pandeshwara wisely brought in only Manmatha as the character and made it a solo presentation of Yakṣagāna. This was the first step in the direction of Ekavyakti-Yakṣagāna but it was filled with a lot of vācika that was largely in the intellectual dimension (as opposed to an emotional one). It had limited scope for āṅgikābhinaya and there was not much scope for many episodes in the prasaṅga. Nevertheless, if a capable artiste takes it up, the prasaṅga can be staged for about twenty to thirty minutes and has a good chance of being successful. It starts with two or three nāndi-padyas. What follows is about fifteen pages of prose passages with only twenty-five to thirty lines of geya (song, poem). There’s an imbalance in the proportion of prose and poetry. A talented bhāgavata can certainly render these few lines and enrich them with emotions through his singing. This was the first attempt in the direction of shaping an Ekavyakti form of Yakṣagāna and it had all the desirable characteristics, yet the art did not proceed further. It was probably due to the play of Time or the non-availability of capable artistes. There was no adequate answer—either theoretical or practical—given in response to the question ‘What next?’ As far as my knowledge goes, the attempts at creating this genre died down without causing much impact.

In the year 1999 or 2000 there was news going around that Bannanje Sanjeeva Suvarna had presented a few Ekavyakti-Yakṣagāna compositions. I did not have the opportunity to watch his performances live. It was around the same time that Prof. Udyavara Madhavacharya presented his Ekavyakti-Yakṣagāna performance titled Pāñcālī, which I happened to watch. The presentations of Sanjeeva Suvarna and Prof. Udyavara Madhavacharya resemble the eka-pātrābhinaya-nāṭakas and the ekāhārya presentations that we see in in Sadir and other regional classical dance forms. A solo performer switches from character to character to represent different episodes though she is in the same costume throughout the performance. Sanjeeva Suvarna wore the traditional Yakṣagāna costume for the presentation of the prasaṅga Pañcavaṭī. He portrayed the māyā-mṛga, Sītā, Rāma, Lakṣmaṇa, Rāvaṇa, Jaṭāyu, and such other characters. Prof. Madhavacharya’s conception was presented by Dr. Kedlaya, who portrayed the characters of Draupadī, Arjuna, Śrīkṛṣṇa, Bhīma, Duśśāsana, Śakuni and Duryodhana in strī-veṣa[1]. The two presentations are certainly noteworthy. They had used traditional lyrical compositions of Yakṣagāna – they were segments chosen from popular Yakṣagāna prasaṅgas. The style of rendering songs and the rest of the himmeḻa too were also like the traditional ones.

The Ekavyakti-Yakṣagāna we have devised is quite different from these two. Our presentation and Pandeshwara’s composition are conceptually similar to some extent. It was only after we presented Bhāminī and Śrī-kṛṣṇārpaṇa on the stage that I came to know about the book Mārāvatāra and procured a copy. Thereby I learnt about the attempts made by Dr. Pandeshwara. My attempt has been independent of those in the similar genre and is quite different from what Dr. Pandeshwara presented. Back then, I hadn’t included gadya-sambhāṣaṇa - prose conversation in the presentation. The primary focus was on strī-veṣa with the āṅgika and vācika of the sukumāra kind. Our focus was more on bringing sāttvikābhinaya through lasya.  Therefore, it was naturally different from his conception.

Let now us see the philosophy, concept, and practice of the Ekavyakti-Yakṣagāna that we have devised.

 

The Philosophy

Bharata’s Nāṭyaśāstra tries to examine the possibilities of presenting different kinds of rūpakas on the stage. It has defined ten kinds of rūpakas. The eleven major elements of the Nāṭyaśāstra work together to present the genre of theatre art called bahuhārya, which by its nature contains several characters, i.e., is of the bahu-bhūmikā. This does not mean that ekāhārya and ekabhūmikā presentations that have a single character in the same costume throughout, have no place in the Nāṭyaśāstra. Bhāṇa which is one among the daśa-rūpakas is after all, an eka-bhūmikā-prayoga, i.e., mono character production. Yet all discussions carried out by Bharata are about nāṭya and not nṛtya. Indeed, nṛtya too must employ the eleven major elements of the Nāṭyaśāstra but it is a product of one particular dimension of the daśa-rūpakas. It belongs to the sub-variety called the upa-rūpakas. In nṛtya, an artiste does not display all the four components of the caturvidhābhinaya to their fullest extent. Narration of an entire story or the delineation of all aspects of a character is not important here. Dhanañjaya, the author of Daśa-rūpaka and Dhanika, the commentator on the treatise, say that nāṭya leads to Rasa while, nṛtya stops at the level of bhāva. This is, however, debatable. In nṛtya, a solo dancer will need to take on bahu-bhūmikas, i.e., multiple characters. Therefore, it might be difficult for him to establish the sthāyi-bhāva successfully. Moreover, an artiste who does not possess much talent might not be able to successfully depict different characters without the aid of character-specific costumes and stage properties. He may feel as though he is performing a śatāvadhāna and might find it hard to make impact on the audience. It is possibly for this reason that in the presentation of nṛtya, a sincere connoisseur cannot derive the kind of satisfaction he gets through nāṭya, unless the artiste performing nṛtya is highly talented. Moreover, the lay find nāṭya more appealing than solo nṛtya.

 

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] Prof Madhavacharya had incorporated something similar to the  pyjama costume popularly used in Sadir (Bharatanatyam). He also had a newly designed headgear, a śirobhūṣaṇa, which he had named kamala-mundalè [a detailed discussion about kamala-mundalè and its design can be found in pages <> of this work]

 

Author(s)

About:

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.

Translator(s)

About:

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

Prekshaa Publications

The Mahābhārata is the greatest epic in the world both in magnitude and profundity. A veritable cultural compendium of Bhārata-varṣa, it is a product of the creative genius of Maharṣi Kṛṣṇa-dvaipāyana Vyāsa. The epic captures the experiential wisdom of our civilization and all subsequent literary, artistic, and philosophical creations are indebted to it. To read the Mahābhārata is to...

Shiva Rama Krishna

சிவன். ராமன். கிருஷ்ணன்.
இந்திய பாரம்பரியத்தின் முப்பெரும் கதாநாயகர்கள்.
உயர் இந்தியாவில் தலைமுறைகள் பல கடந்தும் கடவுளர்களாக போற்றப்பட்டு வழிகாட்டிகளாக விளங்குபவர்கள்.
மனித ஒற்றுமை நூற்றாண்டுகால பரிணாம வளர்ச்சியின் பரிமாணம்.
தனிநபர்களாகவும், குடும்ப உறுப்பினர்களாகவும், சமுதாய பிரஜைகளாகவும் நாம் அனைவரும் பரிமளிக்கிறோம்.
சிவன் தனிமனித அடையாளமாக அமைகிறான்....

ऋतुभिः सह कवयः सदैव सम्बद्धाः। विशिष्य संस्कृतकवयः। यथा हि ऋतवः प्रतिसंवत्सरं प्रतिनवतामावहन्ति मानवेषु तथैव ऋतुवर्णनान्यपि काव्यरसिकेषु कामपि विच्छित्तिमातन्वते। ऋतुकल्याणं हि सत्यमिदमेव हृदि कृत्वा प्रवृत्तम्। नगरजीवनस्य यान्त्रिकतां मान्त्रिकतां च ध्वनदिदं चम्पूकाव्यं गद्यपद्यमिश्रितमिति सुव्यक्तमेव। ऐदम्पूर्वतया प्रायः पुरीपरिसरप्रसृतानाम् ऋतूनां विलासोऽत्र प्रपञ्चितः। बेङ्गलूरुनामके...

The Art and Science of Avadhānam in Sanskrit is a definitive work on Sāhityāvadhānam, a form of Indian classical art based on multitasking, lateral thinking, and extempore versification. Dotted throughout with tasteful examples, it expounds in great detail on the theory and practice of this unique performing art. It is as much a handbook of performance as it is an anthology of well-turned...

This anthology is a revised edition of the author's 1978 classic. This series of essays, containing his original research in various fields, throws light on the socio-cultural landscape of Tamil Nadu spanning several centuries. These compelling episodes will appeal to scholars and laymen alike.
“When superstitious mediaevalists mislead the country about its judicial past, we have to...

The cultural history of a nation, unlike the customary mainstream history, has a larger time-frame and encompasses the timeless ethos of a society undergirding the course of events and vicissitudes. A major key to the understanding of a society’s unique character is an appreciation of the far-reaching contributions by outstanding personalities of certain periods – especially in the realms of...

Prekṣaṇīyam is an anthology of essays on Indian classical dance and theatre authored by multifaceted scholar and creative genius, Śatāvadhāni Dr. R Ganesh. As a master of śāstra, a performing artiste (of the ancient art of Avadhānam), and a cultured rasika, he brings a unique, holistic perspective...

Yaugandharam

इदं किञ्चिद्यामलं काव्यं द्वयोः खण्डकाव्ययोः सङ्कलनरूपम्। रामानुरागानलं हि सीतापरित्यागाल्लक्ष्मणवियोगाच्च श्रीरामेणानुभूतं हृदयसङ्क्षोभं वर्णयति । वात्सल्यगोपालकं तु कदाचिद्भानूपरागसमये घटितं यशोदाश्रीकृष्णयोर्मेलनं वर्णयति । इदम्प्रथमतया संस्कृतसाहित्ये सम्पूर्णं काव्यं...

Vanitakavitotsavah

इदं खण्डकाव्यमान्तं मालिनीछन्दसोपनिबद्धं विलसति। मेनकाविश्वामित्रयोः समागमः, तत्फलतया शकुन्तलाया जननम्, मातापितृभ्यां त्यक्तस्य शिशोः कण्वमहर्षिणा परिपालनं चेति काव्यस्यास्येतिवृत्तसङ्क्षेपः।

Vaiphalyaphalam

इदं खण्डकाव्यमान्तं मालिनीछन्दसोपनिबद्धं विलसति। मेनकाविश्वामित्रयोः समागमः, तत्फलतया शकुन्तलाया जननम्, मातापितृभ्यां त्यक्तस्य शिशोः कण्वमहर्षिणा परिपालनं चेति काव्यस्यास्येतिवृत्तसङ्क्षेपः।

Nipunapraghunakam

इयं रचना दशसु रूपकेष्वन्यतमस्य भाणस्य निदर्शनतामुपैति। एकाङ्करूपकेऽस्मिन् शेखरकनामा चित्रोद्यमलेखकः केनापि हेतुना वियोगम् अनुभवतोश्चित्रलेखामिलिन्दकयोः समागमं सिसाधयिषुः कथामाकाशभाषणरूपेण निर्वहति।

Bharavatarastavah

अस्मिन् स्तोत्रकाव्ये भगवन्तं शिवं कविरभिष्टौति। वसन्ततिलकयोपनिबद्धस्य काव्यस्यास्य कविकृतम् उल्लाघनाभिधं व्याख्यानं च वर्तते।

Karnataka’s celebrated polymath, D V Gundappa brings together in the third volume, some character sketches of great literary savants responsible for Kannada renaissance during the first half of the twentieth century. These remarkable...

Karnataka’s celebrated polymath, D V Gundappa brings together in the second volume, episodes from the lives of remarkable exponents of classical music and dance, traditional storytellers, thespians, and connoisseurs; as well as his...

Karnataka’s celebrated polymath, D V Gundappa brings together in the first volume, episodes from the lives of great writers, poets, literary aficionados, exemplars of public life, literary scholars, noble-hearted common folk, advocates...

Evolution of Mahabharata and Other Writings on the Epic is the English translation of S R Ramaswamy's 1972 Kannada classic 'Mahabharatada Belavanige' along with seven of his essays on the great epic. It tells the riveting...

Shiva-Rama-Krishna is an English adaptation of Śatāvadhāni Dr. R Ganesh's popular lecture series on the three great...

Bharatilochana

ಮಹಾಮಾಹೇಶ್ವರ ಅಭಿನವಗುಪ್ತ ಜಗತ್ತಿನ ವಿದ್ಯಾವಲಯದಲ್ಲಿ ಮರೆಯಲಾಗದ ಹೆಸರು. ಮುಖ್ಯವಾಗಿ ಶೈವದರ್ಶನ ಮತ್ತು ಸೌಂದರ್ಯಮೀಮಾಂಸೆಗಳ ಪರಮಾಚಾರ್ಯನಾಗಿ  ಸಾವಿರ ವರ್ಷಗಳಿಂದ ಇವನು ಜ್ಞಾನಪ್ರಪಂಚವನ್ನು ಪ್ರಭಾವಿಸುತ್ತಲೇ ಇದ್ದಾನೆ. ಭರತಮುನಿಯ ನಾಟ್ಯಶಾಸ್ತ್ರವನ್ನು ಅರ್ಥಮಾಡಿಕೊಳ್ಳಲು ಇವನೊಬ್ಬನೇ ನಮಗಿರುವ ಆಲಂಬನ. ಇದೇ ರೀತಿ ರಸಧ್ವನಿಸಿದ್ಧಾಂತವನ್ನು...

Vagarthavismayasvadah

“वागर्थविस्मयास्वादः” प्रमुखतया साहित्यशास्त्रतत्त्वानि विमृशति । अत्र सौन्दर्यर्यशास्त्रीयमूलतत्त्वानि यथा रस-ध्वनि-वक्रता-औचित्यादीनि सुनिपुणं परामृष्टानि प्रतिनवे चिकित्सकप्रज्ञाप्रकाशे। तदन्तर एव संस्कृतवाङ्मयस्य सामर्थ्यसमाविष्कारोऽपि विहितः। क्वचिदिव च्छन्दोमीमांसा च...

The Best of Hiriyanna

The Best of Hiriyanna is a collection of forty-eight essays by Prof. M. Hiriyanna that sheds new light on Sanskrit Literature, Indian...

Stories Behind Verses

Stories Behind Verses is a remarkable collection of over a hundred anecdotes, each of which captures a story behind the composition of a Sanskrit verse. Collected over several years from...