Ekavyakti-Yakṣagāna: Structure and Content (Part 3)

There were quite a few questions and uncertainties that bothered Mantap. Who do we converse with, when there are no puruṣa-veṣas on the stage? There is no other female character either. How is it possible to present certain sequences without the presence of a bench or a chair that can work as ratha[1]? How will an ekavyakti-strī-veṣa be received if it lacks even the prose conversations that are typical to the art form? The artiste will just need to reply to the pada and padyas rendered by the himmeḻa! This will be a departure even from the framework set by Shivaram Karanth. Will we be able to capture the audience for even an hour? Though Mantap tried to uproot these concerns, they sprouted again and again in his mind. Several times he exclaimed – ‘Let us retain at least a kedagè-mundalè-veṣa (a romantic male character), sir!’ I answered only in the negative to all his requests and proposals. I was certainly not against having multiple characters, prose conversations, or retaining a few stage props such as a ratha. But, we were trying our hand at ekavyakti-strī-veṣa and wanted it to be particularly rich in sāttvika; we had to ensure that everything else worked towards achieving this. We wanted to bring out the best of caturvidhābhinaya in such presentations. Once śuddha-sattva is in full flow, the presence or absence of other things becomes irrelevant.

By about March or April 2000, the Ekavyakti-yakṣagāna titled Bhāminī took shape. We attempted to bring all the eight nāyikās (aṣṭa-nāyikās) on the stage for the first time in the history of Yakṣagāna. I refined the padyas that I had composed in the past and also came up with a storyline that could string the aṣṭa-nāyikās together. Padyas were composed for this purpose and set to music. Vidvān Ganapati Bhat took the responsibility of setting the padyas to rāga and tāla and also joined the himmeḻa as the bhāgavata. I explained the concept in all its detail to Mantap along with the meaning of the padyas and even enacted some sancāri-bhāvas within my limited capacity. Having discussed this, we met at Gadikai Sri Keshava Hegade’s house in Uttara Kannada district. We had rigorous practice and trial sessions for three days. We had our first trial show in his house – the audience consisted of learned connoisseurs. Following this, we had the first large scale show of Bhāminī at Ravindra Kalakshetra, Bangalore. Between the years 2000 and 2008, our team presented over seven hundred shows. Following this, Ekavyakti-yakṣagāna completed over thousand five hundred shows. We creatively designed novel compositions such as Śrī-kṛṣṇārpaṇa, Yakṣa-darpaṇa, Jānakī-jīvana, Yakṣa-kadamba and Yakṣa-navodaya. We also went a step ahead and introduced Yugala-Yakṣagāna – duet presentations. I wrote compositions such as Vijaya-vilāsa and Haṃsa-sandeśa, which were successfully staged as duet presentations.

There was quite a lot of opposition to our experiments. Many were agitated because they hardly understood the concept and at times, were clouded by their personal preferences. Some were even worried that Yakṣagāna was getting ‘corrupt’ with attempts like ours. We even engaged in debates with scholars and traditional connoisseurs of Yakṣagāna. Alongside criticism, we received tremendous appreciation as well. The sea of encouragement and support swept away all criticism. We also received constructive feedback from various scholars and connoisseurs and that helped us better our presentations. We also learnt much from our stage experiences and made suitable aesthetic changes from time to time. We also had many discussions with scholars and learned connoisseurs, which helped us mutually clarify several concepts. In this manner, we were able to establish a model for Ekavyakti-yakṣagāna presentations. It was welcomed with much warmth by the audience and they variously supported our endeavors as well.

In the following sections of the article, I would like let the readers know about the various stages of evolution of Ekavyakti-yakṣagāna and different aspects related to the art form.


The Structure and Content of Ekavyakti-yakṣagāna Presentations

As mentioned earlier in the essay, Ekavyakti-yakṣagāna is rich with all aspects that characterise nāṭya. It was also our aim to bring out the full potential of strī-veṣa. We felt it was important to add classicism to the caturvidhābhinaya that traditionally existed in Yakṣagāna. We had to bring some changes to the prasaṅga-pāṭhya (stage text), bhāgavatikè, movements, costumes and the stage set-up to ensure that they complied with the framework provided by rasa-dhvani-vakratā-aucitya. We wanted to make our presentations impactful and entertaining for the audience. I was particular that none of these changes should affect the impromptu aspects of traditional Yakṣagāna, especially, āśu-bhāṣaṇa. As the saying goes, we should not end up selling the image of the deity to perform a festival in its honour[2]. The new form I conceived was neither meant as a competitor to the traditional bayalāṭa nor as a replacement. In fact, our experimentation had the potential to add value to traditional Yakṣagāna.

I had the following goals in mind –


• A pedagogy was to be developed for presenting strī-veṣa in a holistic and effective manner

•  Elements of music and dance  were to be aesthetically appealing and thus evoke Rasa

Vākyārthābhinaya was to take predominance and was to be filled with creative elaborations of emotions. This could lead to the adoption of the sancāri-bhāvas prevalent in classical dance forms of India

Padārthābhinaya, which is usually mechanical and merely literal translation of lyrics to gesture language had to be refined

Āhārya (costumes worn by the artiste) were to be designed such that the movements of the dance would stand out well. We were to make modifications to the costumes while keeping in mind the framework provided by Yakṣagāna

Strī-veṣa was to match the puruṣa-veṣa in its grandeur – it had to get the über-worldly appeal like the latter.


The foremost effort was in reviving and enhancing the kaccham sari so that it blended well with the attire of the puruṣa-veṣa and retained the unique identity of Yakṣagāna. A brilliant headgear along with a flexible plait was added. The plait was decked with bunches of flowers. The pallu of the sari was let loose and it came handy at various stages of abhinaya; it could even be wrapped around the waist when required. Jewels used included short but attractive bhuja-kīrtis (shoulder ornaments) and èdèya-hāra (long necklace on the chest) fixed with breast chains (akin to the stana-hāra described in śilpa-śāstra). We included kaṇṭha-hāra, tāra-hāra and ekāvaLī. We also used brilliant necklaces and special jewellery for unique characters. Ulūpī, a nāga-kanyakā was made to wear ornaments that were shaped like snakes and Citrāṅgadā a forest-dwelling, tomboy-like character was given the kasè-strī-veṣa. In addition, palms and feet were painted with alta (red pigment, ālaktaka in Sanskrit), which would aid in the enhancement of hastābhinaya and pāda-bedhas. This would have a greater impact on the audience. Various kinds of veils were designed – these were tailored to the nature of the character (this was especially noteworthy in the depiction of characters such as Yaśodhā, Rukmiṇī as a bride and the role an abhisārikā). Nowhere did we compromise the basic aesthetics of Yakṣagāna. Even the screen for tèrè-marè-kuṇita (dancing behind the curtain) was designed in tune with traditional Yakṣagāna. The image of Gaṇapati is symbolized in Yakṣagāna using a kirīṭa and a vīragāsè. We replicated it in the śirobhūṣaṇa of the strī-veṣa along with the pendant-studded plait – this brought in the suggestion of the face and trunk of Gaṇapati.

We ensured that the costume of Ekavyakti-yakṣagāna was designed to reflect the character that was being portrayed by the artiste. The manodharma of the aṣṭa-nāyikās was captured in the colour of the sari they wore. For example, a vāsakasajjikā who decks herself up to welcome her husband home was dressed in a green costume. Green could suggest her enthusiasm and eagerness to receive her beloved. Similarly, red was used for an abhisārikā to suggest her intensity of love; black for virahotkaṇṭhitā to depict her gloom of dejection; a mixture of red, yellow, and along with a check pattern to indicate the complex emotional landscape of a khaṇḍitā (she is infused with vīra and raudra); and white to suggest the peaceful nature of kalahāntaritā. The costumes for other prasaṅgas were also designed with a similar aesthetic view. The maturity of Yaśodhā, juvenile nature of Rukmiṇī, the courage and pathos of Draupadī, the transition from romance to detachment in the life of Sītā were all suggested by the specific costumes that were employed for their use.

We took great care in making the āṅgikābhinaya look beautiful as well. The movement vocabulary was essentially based on the pattern followed in the Baḍagutiṭṭu of Kundapura. We incorporated tèrè-òḍḍolaga—entry with a curtain dance (in Yakṣa-darpaṇa and almost all our presentations), salāmu-hèjjè—formal salutation dance (Yakṣa-darpaṇa), dance of the hunter— beṭèya-kuṇita and the movements of a journey— prayāṇada-kuṇita (used in Vijaya-vilāsa). We learned these from Bannanje Sanjeeva Suvarna and also adapted his designs of bālagopāla-kuṇita of the Daśāvatāra-stuti, the movements of the strī-veṣa that comes as a part of the prelude and choreographed the dikpāla-vandana that contains the eight kinds of tāla patterns. While doing so, we exhausted all the existing eight tāla patterns of YakṣagānaEka, Ādi, Trivuḍè, Maṭṭè, Rūpaka, Jhampè, Aṣṭa and Korè. Similarly, nāga-nartana was found to have another useful set of movements that we added to our vocabulary (can be seen in the Vijaya-vilāsa production). The movements shown by Sanjeeva Suvarna were creatively adapted by Mantap Prabhakar Upadhya; he also added some elements of lāsya out of his own creativity. During his presentations, Mantap brings in different flavours to the same set of movements, impromptu on stage. Such creative additions can especially be witnessed in his sancārīs (creative interpretations of lyrics and spontaneous elaboration).


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] in traditional Yakṣagāna, ratha is a simple stool that acts as a multipurpose stage prop

[2] devaṃ vikrīya yātrotsavamakārṣīt – they sold the deity to fund a festival in its honour





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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