Ekavyakti-Yakṣagāna: The Concept, Practice and Philosophy


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]




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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