Ekavyakti-Yakṣagāna: The Concept, Practice and Philosophy (Part 2)

Traditional forms of dance that have their roots in the upa-rūpakas are today called śāstrīya-nṛtya. There are several regional forms of śāstrīya-nṛtya (classical dance) such as Sadir, Tāphā, Keḻikè, Oḍissi, Mohiniyāṭṭam, Kūcipūḍi, Kathak, Maṇipuri, Gauḍīyā and Sattrīya. In fact, several of these dance forms are by-products of the original theatrical traditions. Kūcipūḍi, Mohiniyāṭṭam, Sattrīya and other forms stand as examples for these. These took their birth respectively from Kūcipūḍi Yakṣagāna Bhāgavatamela, Kathakalī (Kṛṣṇanāṭṭam and Kūḍiyāṭṭam too had their influence) and Sattrīya-raṅga-bhūmi. These have no longer remained the bahuhārya-nāṭyas that they originally were and have metamorphosed into ekāhārya-nṛtya. Sthāyi-dārḍhya (bolstering the sthāyi) requires the artiste to enact a single character throughout the program or at least dedicate one full piece for a particular character. All the four modes of abhinaya will need to work together to enrich the sthāyi. Nṛtya is dynamic, in the sense that there is constant switching of characters as per the needs of the episode. Nāṭya-dharmī dominates such presentations and Sāttvikābhinaya which is rooted in loka-dharmī naturally has lesser scope. Anukaraṇa (imitation) dominates such nṛtya and there is little scope for anukīrtana (exalted imitation). It becomes more important to depict the character than to enliven it. The audience for dance must have some knowledge of nṛtya-samaya, i.e., conventions of dance. However, neither the ones initiated into such learning nor the uninitiated ones seem to derive much pleasure out of such dance presentations. To compensate for this, nṛtta (pure dance) that involves non-representational and non-narrative movements, is introduced in classical dance presentations. Further, sancāris and the play of svara and laya bring variety to dance. As artistes have realised that it would be difficult to portray too many characters with the same intensity at all times, they tend to focus on one and peripherally touch the other characters as the context demands. Therefore, it is difficult to depict a long story with multiple episodes through ekāhārya-nṛtya. Even the episodes chosen here are popular ones and have only a few characters (and fewer major ones). They mostly contain based on abhinaya of choreographies based on nāyaka or nāyikā.

The Ekavyakti-Yakṣagāna we have devised is different from the various kinds of deśī-nṛtya and like mentioned before, is different from presentations attempted under the same name. We have retained the system of nāṭya of Yakṣagāna and more than making it congenital with any form of nṛtya. I should, however, hasten to add that it is not very easy for the Ekavyakti presentations to retain all the elements of its parent theatre.

As per my conception, the artiste remains as one character throughout the performance. In some longer presentations such as Śrī-kṛṣṇārpaṇa and Yakṣa-kadamba, the artiste performs the role of one character only in every segment. His costume suggests the character role he is playing. As he cannot switch roles, the storyline chosen for depiction should be tailored to keep the particular character in focus. Therefore, the episodes in the story will need to be thought out well and, in most cases, will need to be limited. Moreover, as we have limited ourselves to one character only, other characters need to be established through the lyrics of the song (padya, gīta) or prose conversations (gadya) with the support of the bhāgavatas. Even when speech of this kind is introduced, the artiste does not switch to another character or perform abhinaya to the particular song; he instead reacts to what he hears to establish the presence of another character. To give an example, in the production Śrī-kṛṣṇārpaṇa, the artiste portrays the role of Yaśodhā. All the mischief of Baby Kṛṣṇa is depicted only by the reactions of the mother. Similar is the episode where Draupadī is portrayed. Kṛṣṇa comes to her rescue when she is abused by Duśśāsana. Here too, the artiste remains as Draupadī and through her reactions establishes the entry of Kṛṣṇa. In the production Jānakī-jīvana, the artiste plays the role of Sītā, and all other characters such as Rāma, Lakṣmaṇa, Rāvaṇa, and Vālmīki are established by the reactions of Sītā.

At the outset it might appear that there are some shortcomings in this manner of presenting episodes because the artiste is not allowed to switch from one character to another. In classical dance presentations, on the other hand, it might appear that a lot of variety can be brought at the levels of āṅgika and sāttvika as different characters are depicted. A closer examination will reveal that establishing every other character solely through the eyes of the character that the artiste is portraying has great advantage. Instead of making things literal, there is a certain amount of suggestion that is naturally introduced by the reactions of the character that the artiste is playing – i.e., vyaṅgya always gives rise to many layers of dhvani, which vācya cannot. It is strange that several artistes have not (yet) realised this advantage in the Ekavyakti form. This form of solo Yakṣagāna focuses on depth rather than width and establishes the sthāyi-bhāva of the particular character extremely well. The pre-requisite is that the performing artiste must be highly talented and capable of bringing great intensity in the depiction of the character. Unless he has the maturity and the potential, it is impossible to perform Ekavyakti-Yakṣagāna. Mantap Prabhakar Upadhya is inherently gifted and is a man possessing great talent. Although he found it difficult to adapt to the new form in the beginning, he realised later that this was the most natural and the best medium to bring out his complete potential. He became so immersed in this art form that he started feeling the presence of all other characters in a traditional Yakṣagāna presentation to be disturbing whenever he took part in such presentations.

For our Ekavyakti presentation, it was necessary to take refuge in śṛṅgāra, which is hailed as the Rasa-rāja. It is only in śṛṅgāra that all other rasas find their fulfilment. To understand this, it would be a good idea to take a look at our Bhāminī and Vijaya-vilāsa presentations. This is evident even in the pieces Raṅganyātakè bārano and Viṣayè of the production titled Yakṣa-darpaṇa. It is possible to fill in a lot of details to themes that have śṛṅgāra as their fundamental Rasa. śṛṅgāra is the only Rasa that has this potential. Strī-veṣa lends itself beautifully to śṛṅgāra and no puruṣa-veṣa can compete with it. It would not be wrong to say that gadya is masculine and padya is feminine. Excessive embellishment is inappropriate for gadya – over ornamentation risks turning gadya into a parody. Also, gadya does not lend itself to be sung or enacted in slow speeds with great amount of detailing. However, padya can digest any amount of ornamentation. Further, in padya, there is much scope for intricate work both at the level of form and content. Given Mantap Prabhakar Upadhya’s preference for finesse and detailing within the framework of Yakṣagāna, it was a blessing in disguise for us that strī-veṣa suited Ekavyakti-Yakṣagāna perfectly.

Based on the discussions so far, it is rather natural for the following questions to arise. Is it possible for a solo puruṣa-veṣa to perform Ekavyakti-Yakṣagāna? Will it be appealing? While it is not impossible, this amount of detailing is certainly difficult to bring out. Too much of filigree work will look out of place in puruṣa-veṣa. Nevertheless, it is quite possible to impress the audience with a puruṣa-veṣa presentation that lasts for about an hour or at the most an hour and a half. Talented artistes can certainly try it out.

 

The Birth and Background of our Ekavyakti-Yakṣagāna Presentations

I had great interest in nṛtya, nāṭya, nāṭaka, and cinema from my early days. I always contemplated upon the purpose and importance of loka-dharmī and nāṭya-dharmī and their relation with svabhāvokti and vakrokti respectively. This led me to understand the correlation between mārga and deśī as well as the principles that are common to both. As I learned more and more about Nāṭyaśāstra, I realised the inherent essence and concordance of India’s regional theatrical forms. Kathak, Kūcipūḍi, Mohiniyāṭṭam <>, and Sattrīya developed as independent solo dance forms, breaking off from their parent theatrical forms. On similar lines, if we could create a solo Yakṣagāna form, it would become a first-of-its-kind solo dance form of Karnataka. However, if we were to develop this as a dance form, the strengths inherently present in Yakṣagāna will not be showcased. Impromptu abhinaya, spontaneous delivery of dialogues, and being true to the character portrayed – all this would be lost, should we employ the genre of nṛtya. This led me to decide that it was important to retain the element of nāṭya while creating a new solo form. Without capable artistes who could be part of himmeḻa and mummeḻa, this would merely be a dream! I sought the help of some classical dancers but they lacked the kind of exposure to Yakṣagāna needed for such presentations. Several dancers who practice regional classical dance forms lack a proper understanding of aesthetics, fail to look beyond tāla, and have not realised the interdependence of āṅgika and sāttvika. Besides, they have their own interests, commitments, and pursuits. In such a situation, it was Mantap Prabhakar Upadhya who stood by me.

I first met Mantap when he was a part of our Kāvya-citra-yakṣagāna program. He shared his long-cherished desire with me. “I would like to portray a strī- veṣa even when I am sixty years of age and capture the audience with the same intensity that I am doing now. The way things look today, there is no scope for artistes who don strī-veṣa to survive on the stage for too long. Much importance is given for appearance and movements, so aged artistes will not be able to pull off the character effectively. Further, strī-veṣa is a rarity in most Yakṣagāna presentations. Also, there is not much that a strī-veṣa can do on stage in the existing framework of Yakṣagāna – it is just one kind of character among several. Strī-veṣa is merely a glamour element that comes in between puruṣa-veṣas, as though to string them all together. Strī-veṣa comes on stage like a bolt of lightning and then vanishes in a second. These days, the presentation of strī-veṣa is also dictated by the whims and fancies of a few artistes. At times, feminism hijacks the presentation and although women are at the forefront, the classical nature of the feminine is lost. I wish to portray a graceful female character that is true to the nature of women. Often, if a strī-veṣa enters the stage, the spectators take a break from watching the show and head towards the tea stalls. Is there an aesthetic reply we can give to this?”

When he posed this question, I suggested that he could attempt Ekavyakti-Yakṣagāna, rich in sattva and conceived keeping only Rasa in mind. I explained the structure of the prasaṅga called Bhāminī and the manner in which it must be executed. I had composed the padyas for this prasaṅga years earlier. I was pleasantly surprised when Mantap agreed to this. He had made up his mind to try this presentation but he was not completely free of doubts. It is only when an artiste tries out something novel will his questions find answers by themselves or will get subdued in due course!

 

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.


 

 

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...