Possibilities of Innovations and Reformations in Yakṣagāna: Some Thoughts - Part 10

• Just as a person has a mother tongue that lends itself for his natural expression, a certain pitch is natural for a singer. This sahaja-śruti, i.e., natural pitch is usually comfortable for the singer and he can bring out the best of his creativity and melody. Singing is an art – mere vocal acrobatics including speed, leaps and jumps are unaesthetic. Acrobatics may help an artiste show off his strength but are certainly not artistic. While I am not against the usage of tāra-śruti (high pitch), its usage must be measured and should be a function of the sequence and the character to be represented[1]. Some think that singing at high pitch and at great speeds is an achievement. No art would actually require constant singing at tāra-śruti only. This can at most be called a display of vocal strength but certainly not of aesthetics. The music rendered by the bhāgavata should have the dramatic effect – nāṭyāyamānatā. The variations in voice and kākus used should go well with the emotion[2]. Bhāgavatas should also keep in mind the nature of the character they are accompanying. In most cases, high-pitched singing does not go well with female characters and might work well only for war sequences. It is important, in my opinion, to stick to the middle octave.

• As mentioned earlier, flute, violin and nāgasvara, if used creatively, can help add different flavours to the emotion, reduce strain on the bhāgavatas and can, as a whole, leave the audience with richer aesthetic experience. With this, Yakṣagāna-saṅgīta will certainly become more appealing.

• To inculcate the suggested refinements, quite an amount of preparation and practice is needed. It requires the artistes to take greater responsibility with respect to their art. This will also contribute towards deepening the profundity of the art.

• The tendency of fitting in biḍtigè and imposing dastus on to every word without paying heed to Rasa or aucitya seems to be on the rise over the years. It appears to have become a signature feature of Yakṣagāna-saṅgīta. This wasn’t the case in the past. Rasaucitya should direct the usage of biḍtigès. Dastus and biḍtigès go well only with some instances of sambhoga-śṛṅgāra, hāsya and certain varieties of vīra. They are not appropriate for the episodes filled with karuṇa, vipralambha-śṛṅgāra, adbhuta, bībhatsa, and śānta rasas. In some places, ciṭṭè-svaras may be employed keeping in mind the overall aesthetics.


Sāttvika is related to sattva – our very existence. Sattva connected with the ātmā and in theatre art Rasa is the ātmā. Universal emotions, i.e., those that are not delimited by time and space are presented through the four modes of abhinaya. Sthāyi-bhāvas and vyabhicāri(sañcāri)-bhāvas that constitute the cittavṛttis are best expressed through sāttvikābhinaya. This is the heart of art. Art can, in fact, be called sattva-saṃsphūrti –inspired, motivated and rooted in sattva. Kalānubhava – art experience is the state of sattvodreka that can result in the tranquility of mind and help the connoisseur enjoy Rasa. A lot needs to be said about sāttvikābhinaya but words cannot capture it. Also, since it is directly related to our experience, there is nothing much to be said about it, either. I have spoken at length about this aspect in other articles and will refrain myself from repetition.

Today, people have the impression that āhārya is the strength of Yakṣagāna. It is quite natural to feel so because, today Yakṣagāna has retained its grandeur only in the aspect of āhārya. Several artistes, who are also my friends say that if a Yakṣagāna artiste speaks without wearing his costume, it will have no effect at all. Just as the popular saying goes – śālūmātreṇa paṇḍitaḥ – he is a scholar only because he wears a shawl, it appears as though veṣamātreṇa yākṣikaḥ is also true i.e., only through costumes he is recognized as a Yakṣagāna artiste! Unfortunately, artistes and connoisseurs of Yakṣagāna today seem to focus more on the external-most aspect of art and have forgotten its essence. Sattva should pervade the other modes of abhinaya.

Āṅgika and vācika can help in evoking sattva. Instead of getting into unnecessary arguments and verbosity on the stage, it is more important for the bhāgavata to capture the emotion of the character through his singing – this will help sāttvikābhinaya. Only when the artiste gets into the heart of the character can he bring out sattva through his abhinaya. In āṅgikābhinaya too, different parts of the face including the eyes, eye-brows, eye-lids, lips, check, and chin come in handy for sāttvikābhinaya, rather than the movement of all other limbs of the body. Mere hèjjègārikè (footwork) cannot help in kindling of sattva. Different karaṇas, cārīs, nṛtta-hastas, abhinaya-hastas, aṅgahāras, and maṇḍalas must be aesthetically employed; moreover, loka-dharmī is more conducive for sattva, while extreme stylization is detrimental. Movements should be performed with deep mental involvement – any movement, including the karaṇas, when performed only with mechanical perfection does not help kindle sattva.

 The kaṭṭu-mīsè (tied moustache), kirugaṇṇu (semi-closed eyes), and big muṇḍāsu used in the Baḍagutiṭṭu of the Kundapura region should be done away with for sāttvikābhinaya to come out effectively. Moreover, unnecessary constraining of the body in the name of ‘jāpu’ is not conducive for sāttvikābhinaya either. Similarly, the large number of ornamentations and the heavy costumes that the artistes of Tèṅkutiṭṭu artistes don also hampers sattva. Rendering the pada/padyas at high speeds is not conducive for sāttvikābhinaya at all.

There are some elements in the Baḍagutiṭṭu of Uttara Kannada that are conducive for sāttvikābhinaya, but the variety is low here too. Merely using the same old and cliqued phrases of speech and movement does not help; it only brings monotony and boredom.

Singing pada/padya in extremely slow speeds – ati-vilamba-kāla – only disrupts the chandaḥ-padagti and bhāṣa-padagati; it brings absolutely no clarity in the words or their meanings. Some artistes blindy believe that such extreme slow speeds are good for sāttvikābhinaya. However, it is quite evident that low speeds, in fact, work the other way round – they hamper sāttvikābhinaya. Pure ālāpana is more conducive for sāttvika. Similarly, singing at high pitch can have a negative effect too.

Artistes of the Baḍagutiṭṭu of Uttara Kannada, in the name of sāttvikābhinaya, seem to be performing padārthābhinaya only! Artistes must focus on vākyārthābhinaya to bring out sattva. Padārthābhinaya constitutes literal translation of every word of the composition into gesture language. Mere translation requires no creativity or originality. Padārthābhinaya involes, many a times, parroting the same old practised meanings – this becomes mechanical. Vākyārthābhinaya, on the other hand, requires great amount of creative talent and is always novel. The meaning of the words, after all, can be learnt from a dictionary. However, the meaning of the sentence can be suggestive – it can lead to different emotive interpretations. The world does not create newer words every day. However, using the large set of existing words, newer and newer sentences can be constructed.

Sāttvikābhinaya requires the artiste to be erudite and matured. He needs to possess holistic understanding of his medium of art. His maturity can help his art mature as well. Bringing in more and more elements of sāttvika also makes the art more and more matured. The mummeḻa and himmeḻa are merely the structural elements of sattva – these structural elements must work hand in hand to evoke sattva.

All the debates and discussions regarding Yakṣagāna will automatically get resolved if the artistes and directors internalize sattva. The answers to all our queries, examinations and analysis lies in sattva. Relying upon sāttvikābhinaya will help Yakṣagāna naturally overcome anaucitya. It will help the art make its mark in the national and international arenas. Moreover, it will win the hearts of conscious connoisseurs and will gain the love of those deeply rooted in the cultural values of the country. We should work towards achieving this goal.


Many are scared of refinements and modifications, as they feel that such attempts will ‘spoil’ the traditional art of Yakṣagāna. Many are anxious, agitated, and actively oppose changes in the art form. Only those who have understood the philosophy of Rasa, and know the importance of form and content of art, will welcome ideas for refinement. All concerns expressed by such matured artistes and connoisseurs may be examined with care. However, those who oppose refinement are usually motivated by personal biases leading to blind attachments and animosity – they appear to lack eye for sublimity. All forms of art need to cater to different strata of the society – they must survive at different levels at the same time. Art should progress from the gross to the subtle, from the form to the content and from bhāva to Rasa. Therefore, no art can live long unless it undergoes healthy modifications to deepen and heighten the aesthetic experience it delivers. Art devoid of dynamism is like stagnant water – it looks and smells disgusting and may breed disease-causing microbes. Our life needs to undergo changes to be meaningful; therefore, art, which is a reflection of life, needs to undergo changes as well. I have attempted to write this article with this understanding. The thoughts put out in the article should be objectively analysed by artistes and connoisseurs and implemented as far as possible. This is only a meagre attempt to discuss about a few aspects of Yakṣagāna and contemplate upon the possible changes; I have not been able to touch upon several other aspects; moreover, I have not been able to delve into the details of their implementation. We have examined the possible refinements that the four modes of abhinaya can undergo to make Yakṣagāna an even more beautiful form of art. As mentioned at the beginning of the article, Rasa should be the guiding principle for all kinds of refinements and modifications. I hope that people give up their biases and work towards enriching their art.

This series of articles is 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. The second edition was released in December 2022

[1] Those who are capable of effortlessly singing at higher pitches are welcome to do so. However, they must make sure that such singing does not distort the song or cause discomfort to the listeners. In some rare cases, singers might find it most comfortable to sing at high pitches only – they might be able to bring the best of their creativity there. However, such exceptions cannot be formalized as rules.

[2] Music rendered by a solo vocalist is of a different kind. There are not actors or dancers dependent on him and he can express his creativity hardly depending on other parameters. Solo singing is ekārtha presentation, i.e., the singer takes the lead role. In a pṛthagartha and bahvāhārya presentation like Yakṣagāna, the singer, i.e., the bhāgavata should keep in mind the holistic aesthetics of the theatre. Bhāgavata is, in a sense, the pramācārya of vācikābhinaya.





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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