Ekavyakti-Yakṣagāna: Structure and Content (Part 4)

It was a common scenario for conservative-minded audience of traditional Yakṣagāna to brush aside our presentations as falling into the Bharatanāṭya genre. They did so without even watching it. In fact, even some of those who witnessed our shows reacted the same way as well. People who made such comments probably did not even have an exposure to Sadir or Dāsiyāṭṭam and they had no knowledge of Tāphā. Yet, there does not seem to be an end to their comments. The two main reasons behind this are –

  1. The beauty and sophistication present in our Ekavyakti-yakṣagāna presentations that included the finesse in lyrics, music, ensemble and movements. The artistry and the aesthetic appeal that the kaccè sari has on the audience
  2. Adaptation of several elements of cārīs, nṛtta-hastas and karaṇas in our movement vocabulary.

The movement vocabulary described by Bharata in the Nāṭyaśāstra is common to all the theatrical forms of Greater India. These elements add beauty to every regional form of dance and add life to all traditional theatrical forms of art. Dr. Padma Subrahmanyam has identified the presence of several movements of the Nāṭyaśāstra in traditional Yakṣagāna vocabulary. For example, Mattalli, Ardhamattali, Samotsaritamattalli, Apakrānta, Janita, Lalita, Valita, Recita, and Ardharecita are the karaṇas present in a modified form in the Yakṣagāna repertoire. Similarly, there are some traces of Alāta, Nūpurapāda, Baddhā, Ūrūdvṛtta, Cāśagati, Alapallava, Ulbaṇa, and several other movements present in the Yakṣagāna movement vocabulary.

Smt. Sundari Santhanam guided and tutored us in the Nāṭyaśāstra movements. In fact, the fundamental vyāyāmas of aṅga and upāṅgas add to the beauty of Yakṣagāna movements. It is noteworthy that Mantap does not repeat any of the movements and creatively moves around the stage without bringing any boredom to the audience. He fills the raṅga and the prasaṅga with his aesthetic movements. The adoption of such Nāṭyaśāstra movements probably made people call the art as Bharatanāṭyam. It is interesting to note that Yakṣagāna artistes today employ the footwork of Bharatanāṭyam though they have not consciously attempted to do so. However, conscious connoisseurs will need to note that, in our presentation, there is absolutely no footwork that is borrowed from Bharatanāṭyam. Recakas enable to bring in intricacies to movements. The sthānakas, cārīs, and nṛtta-hastas can lend themselves for depicting different emotions at varied speeds. We also did away with nṛtta, which mostly appears out of context in regional dance forms. We ensured that every movement caters to Rasa and is true to the character that is portrayed. Further, there is no nṛtta that is exclusive to Yakṣagāna. All movements are suggestive of the sancārī and because of the dramatization (nāṭyāyamānatva), they become a part of dance. Therefore, content and form are inseparable.[1]

I have provided more details about āṅgikābhinaya in other writings of mine and will not elaborate it here.  

We can take a look at vācikābhinaya next. The vācika used in Yakṣagāna is of three kinds, namely – pāṭhya-sāhitya of the prasaṅga, the lyrics of the music sung by bhāgavatas, and the impromptu utterances of the character on the stage. Let us first take a look at the prasaṅga-sāhitya.

Bhāminī, Śrī-kṛṣṇārpaṇa, Veṇu-visarjana, Jānakī-jīvana and some parts of Yakṣa-kadamba (related to the characters of Pūtanā, Ambā, Kuntī and others) are my compositions. Yakṣa-darpaṇa has borrowed its script from Sabhālakṣaṇa and other Yakṣagāna-pāṭhyas (except for the Dikpālaka-vandana). The borrowed ones for Yakṣa-darpaṇa include Viṣayè of Candrahāsa, Dākṣāyanī of Dakṣādhvara, and Prabhāvatī of Sudhanvārjuna-kāḻaga. Yakṣa-kadamba too has segments taken from prasaṅgas that were already in vogue in traditional Yakṣagāna (for example, Māyā-śūrpanakhā of Pañcavaṭī). The production Yakṣa-navodaya is an aesthetic collage of the works of D V Gundappa, Kuvempu (K V Puttappa), D R Bendre, Ti. Nam. Sri (T N Srikantayya), K S Narasimhaswamy, and several other poets of the Navodaya period (renaissance of Kannada literature in the early twentieth century). The works Vijaya-vilāsa and Haṃsa-sandeśa belong to the Yugala-yakṣagāna genre. We have adopted many existing prasaṅgas for our presentations with hardly any change. (I might have slightly altered the lyrics in one or two places and in some cases I have added and deleted segments of the lyrics). My compositions, by their very nature, have been made suitable for raṅga-prayoga (staging).

Though we have followed the structure of Yakṣagāna-prabandhas for our compositions, I have ensured that the lyrics and metrical patterns are more classical. From the research of Prof Taltaje Keshava Bhat, the beḍaṃdègabba that Kavirājamārga and Kāvyāvalokana speak about was also called mèlvāḍa and this was the precursor to today’s Yakṣagāna-prabandha. I was convinced that this could well be possible and I composed prasaṅgas in that style. I have used haḻagannaḍa for padyas in kanda and vṛttas; Naḍugannaḍa for ṣaṭpadi, caupadi, sāṅgatya, and sīsa-padyas; and a mixture of the two for the geya-bandhas (songs) of Yakṣagāna (geya-bandhas had greater proportion of Naḍugannaḍa compared to Haḻagannaḍa). Hosagannaḍa was used for prose dialogues. Though the script of Yakṣagāna is traditionally in the same format, Sanskrit and Haḻagannaḍa are sparsely used. Also, the traditional script of Yakṣagāna only rarely has a pristine kanda and vṛtta. While Muddana’s poems are filled with śabdālaṅkāras and have an aesthetic structure, Parti Subba’s are rich in nāṭyāyamānatā (ability to dramatize) and are known for their simplicity. I retained the elements of beauty that suited my taste and that suited the aucitya of the art. I used many arthālaṅkāras and added the dimensions of the guṇas (linguistic merit) and rītis (styles), sābhiprāya-viśeṣaṇas (loaded adjectives) and of dhvani and guṇībhūta-vyaṅgya (suggestive imagery, subordinated suggestion). I composed poems in a manner that their structure was suited to the episode and the emotion to be depicted. My usage of words and chandas was a function of the Rasa to be evoked. Only learned connoisseurs can tell whether my attempts have succeeded or not.

The poems that I composed were set to classical Sanskrit/ Kannada meters such as Śārdūlavikrīḍitam, Mattebhavikrīḍitam, Utpalamāḻā, Campakamāḻā, Anuṣṭup-śloka, Acyuta, Indravajrā, Śālinī, Vaṃśastha, Aupacchandasika, Drutavilambita, Prabhāvatī, Vasantatilaka, Mālinī, Hariṇī and Mallikāmālā. I have also employed Bhāminī, Vārdhaka, Bhoga and Kusuma-ṣaṭpadis and also Sīsa, Sāṅgatya and, Teṭagīti. Kanda has taken a major share of poems. These go well with bèdaṃḍè-gabba too. We used about twenty-four types of geya-padas of Yakṣagāna. There is quite a large variety of metrical patterns used in the poems of Ekavyakti-yakṣagāna. The bandhas are true to the aesthetics of Rasa and dhvani.

I did not compose any citra-kāvyas. Śabdālaṅkāras (figures of sound) even when employed are not complex. There are only simple cases of Chekāṇuprāsa, Lāṭānuprāsa, Anuprāsa, Antyaprāsa, and Ādiprāsa found in my compositions. Similarly, Yamaka and Sabhaṅgābhaṅgaśleṣas (pun) are only a few. The poems I composed abound in arthālaṅkāras (figures of sense). Upamā, Rūpaka, Utprekṣā, Atiśayokti, Svabhāvokti, Ullekha, Apanhuti, Samāsokti, Paryāyokta, Arthāntaranyāsa, Dṛṣṭānta, Nidarśana, Parikara, Parikarāṅkura, Vyatikreka, Virodha, Adhika, Smaraṇa, Bhrāntimat, Ananvaya, Sama, Viṣama, Tulyayogitā, Viśeṣokti, Adhika Yathāsaṅkhyā and Ākṣepa are some of the alaṅkāras that I’ve employed. In fact, it is difficult to bring in arthālaṅkāras in nāṭya-sāhitya (poems written for theatre performances), especially in those that must be set to tāla and are rich in śabdālaṅkāras. That is the reason why abhinaya and melodic singing have to make up for the missing arthālaṅkāras. My intention, however, was to make sure that my poems would be engaging, entertaining, and beautiful even when they are read independent of dance and music. The three guṇas – ojas, prasāda, and mādhurya have also been used appropriately as required by the context and emotion. In these compositions, the pāñcālī-rīti is predominant and gauḍa and vaidarbha-rīti can be found at certain places. There is lot more poetic beauty in the compositions used for Ekavyakti-yakṣagāna than what is found in the compositions meant for classical dance. Learned connoisseurs can also identify different structural aspects of a rūpaka. Sandhi, sandhyaṅgas, patākā-sthānas, and other such elements that are usually present in theatrical presentations are incorporated in my compositions. In sum, all the effort I have put in making my compositions as close as possible to the dṛśya-kāvya (visual poetry) tradition will be fruitful if they are found to be appealing to sahṛdayas.


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] This bears semblance to what Ānanda-vardhana says about alaṅkāra and Rasas:

rasabhāvādi tātparyamāśritya viniveśanam|

alaṅkṛtīnāṃ sarvāsāmalaṅkāratvasādhanam|| (After 3.42 Parikara-śloka)

The figures of speech (alaṅkāra) should cater to rasas and bhāvas only then will they qualify as real embellishments.

rasākṣiptatayā yasya bandhaśśakyakriyo bhavet|

apṛthagyatnanirvartyasso'laṅkāro dhvanau mataḥ|| (2.16 kārika)

Only that is admitted as a figure of suggestive poetry (alaṅkāra) whose employment is rendered possible just by the emotional suffusion (rasākṣipta) of the poet and which does not require any other extra effort on his part.

(Translation by Dr. K Krishnamoorthy)

vivakṣātatparatvena nāṅgitvena kadācana|

kāle ca grahaṇatyāgau nātinirvahaṇaiṣitā||

nirvyūḍhāvapi cāṅgatve yatnena pratyavekṣaṇam|

rūpakāderalaṅkāravargasyāṅgatvasādhanam|| (2.18–19 kārikas)

The sole consideration that it is only a means to the delineation of sentiment and never an end in itself, the necessity of employing it at the right time and of abandoning it at the right time; the absence of over-enthusiasm on the poet’s part in pressing it too far, and finally, his keen watchfulness in making sure that it remains a secondary element only – these are the various means by which figures (alaṅkāra) like metaphor (rūpaka) become accessories (of suggested sentiment).

(Translation by Dr. K Krishnamoorthy)

[2] These are all various meters of classical Kannada literature, having their roots in Sanskrit.





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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உயர் இந்தியாவில் தலைமுறைகள் பல கடந்தும் கடவுளர்களாக போற்றப்பட்டு வழிகாட்டிகளாக விளங்குபவர்கள்.
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इदं किञ्चिद्यामलं काव्यं द्वयोः खण्डकाव्ययोः सङ्कलनरूपम्। रामानुरागानलं हि सीतापरित्यागाल्लक्ष्मणवियोगाच्च श्रीरामेणानुभूतं हृदयसङ्क्षोभं वर्णयति । वात्सल्यगोपालकं तु कदाचिद्भानूपरागसमये घटितं यशोदाश्रीकृष्णयोर्मेलनं वर्णयति । इदम्प्रथमतया संस्कृतसाहित्ये सम्पूर्णं काव्यं...


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


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


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


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

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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...


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...


“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...