Possibilities of Innovations and Reformations in Yakṣagāna: Some Thoughts - Part 4

Usage of coloured screens in the background and bringing in sceneries on the stage prove to be obstacles in evoking Rasa. Similarly, tying banners or displaying advertisements are aesthetic impediments. Many a times, the sponsor, the patron or the academy that is hosting the show wishes to prominently display his name at the background. This has to be strongly discouraged. It suffices to have a screen of the navy blue or black shade as the backdrop. It is not appropriate to seat the himmeḻa – the music ensemble – behind the actors, facing the audience. It would be better if they sit either to the left or to the right of the stage. In the past, the musical ensemble that accompanied regional dance forms of India used to be seated behind the artistes just as it is followed in Yakṣagāna today. The Nāṭyaśāstra too documents something similar[1]. In the recent decades, however, the music ensemble is made to sit towards the left-side of the stage. This is good from an artistic point of view. The śāstras and experience tell us that sitting in the sukhāsana with legs crossed is the posture best suited for playing musical instruments and vocal rendition. In the past, musicians stood while playing certain instruments, especially in the royal courts and during temple processions. They did so because of certain constraints and not because such posture produced richer music. If the himmeḻa sits behind the actors and the dancers, musicians will not be able to observe the expressions and gestures of the artistes – this is detrimental to the aesthetics. Further, the himmeḻa seated at the back, come in the way of observing the details of āṅgika and āhārya of the artistes. Therefore, it would be ideal if the musicians can be seated towards the side of the stage. In the past, because Yakṣagāna was a bayalāṭa, people were seated all around, and visibility from all sides was important. It was reasonable to have the himmeḻa seated behind the artistes for such performances. It is rather illogical and quite impractical to have the himmeḻa sit behind the artistes when the art is being performed on the proscenium stage. It was probably Dr. Shivarama Karanth who first got the music ensemble seated towards the side of the actors in Yakṣagāna performances.

Like mentioned earlier, some artistes feel the need of retaining only the ancient bayalāṭa form of Yakṣagāna. They don’t seem to realise that people’s lifestyle should also remain as in the past, if the older structure of an art form needs to be retained.  Now, to go back to bayalāṭa, the aspirations, beliefs and practices in the daily life of the common man will also need to change. Indian aesthetics and artistic traditions have always adapted themselves to the needs of the particular space and time.

It is not difficult to make Yakṣagāna entertaining on the proscenium stage. By appropriate usage of lights, Yakṣagāna presentations can be made aesthetically appealing. Addition of mattavāraṇis[2] to the stage as described in the Nāṭya-śāstra, is certainly valuable. It is important to strike the right kind of balance between the use of technology and conserving the tradition. Artistes and connoisseurs will need to make wise decisions. Mere adherence to the form, while ignoring the content is as much a disaster as are personal biases.



Āṅgikābhinaya refers to creative expression through the body. It involves gross and subtle movements of all the minor and major parts of the body. Training the various aṅgas, pratyaṅgas, and upāṅgas are extremely important. All kinds of movements on the stage including nṛtta together constitute āṅgikābhinaya. The Nāṭyaśāstra, for the purpose of training the body, recommends various vyāyāmas of aṅgas and upāṅgas, i.e., exercises connected with major and minor body parts. Furthermore, sthānakas, cārīs, nṛtta-hastas, karaṇas, maṇḍalas, aṅgahāras, gati-pracāras and abhinaya-hastas are defined by the text. The vyāyāma of aṅgas and upāṅgas includes movements of the head, neck, eyes, eyelids, eyebrows, chin, cheek, lips, mouth, shoulders, waist, shanks, thighs, knees, stomach, chest, sides, toes, ankle, heel, foot and other parts of the body. Cārīs and nṛtta-hastas refer to the movements of the body below and above the waist, respectively. Karaṇas are akin to phrases in a language and involve movement of the entire body. Aṅgahāras are series of karaṇas and cārīs strung together. Maṇḍalas are movements used in the depiction of war scenes and are combinations of cārīs.  Abhinaya-hastas are hand gestures used for communicating ideas and emotions. Gati-pracāras refer to the different kinds of gaits carried out on the stage. These from the essential components of āṅgikābhinaya.

Movements can be classified into two broad categories based on the flavour of their execution. Sukumāra is the soft, graceful and gentle flavour, while uddhata is vigorous and energetic. Sukumāra movements are rich in kaiśikī-vṛtti and the uddhata ones are endowed with ārabhaṭī-vṛtti. Tremendous variety in movements is possible when these flavours are asapted to different tāla cycles and different speeds. Similarly, there can be diversity in footwork and gati-pracāras. I have written an essay exclusively about āṅgikābhinaya in Baḍagutiṭṭu Yakṣagāna and hence, will not elaborate here.

As with every other regional theatre of India, today, the āṅgikābhinaya of Yakṣagāna has been merely reduced to hèjjègārikjè, i.e., footwork. Eka, ādi, aṣṭa, trivuḍè, jhampè, rūpaka, maṭṭè, and korè are the tālas employed in Yakṣagāna. As per the requirements of the veṣa, artistes perform footwork at various speeds. They seem to be under the impression that this constitutes nṛtta and seem to have the illusion that mere footwork is holistic āṅgikābhinaya. To further fuel this fire of stupidity, the maṇḍi of Baḍagutiṭṭu and giraki of Tèṅkutiṭṭu are extremely famous and appreciated by the lay.

Quite a few nṛtta-hastas and many abhinaya-hastas are present in the movement vocabulary of Yakṣagāna. Following are the nṛtta-hastas discernable in Yakṣagāna today: latā, lalita, valita, udvṛtta, recita, ḍolā, talamukha, garuḍapakṣa and daṇḍa-hasta.

Abhinaya-hastas that are in vogue are: patākā, ardhapatākā, śikhara, muṣṭi, candrakalā, sūcī, kartarī, mṛgaśīrṣa, siṃhāsya, śilīmukha, triśūla, mukula, sarpaśīrṣa, haṃsapakṣa, alapadma, haṃsāsya, kaṭakāmukha, ūrṇanābha, padmakośa, tāmracūḍa, bāṇa, sandaṃśa, karkaṭa, tārkṣya, añjali, kapoti, śaṅkha, cakra, pāśa, kīlaka, matsya, khaṭva, kūrma, and varāha. The vocabulary of the abhinaya-hastas is quite exhaustive. However, their  application in Yakṣagāna is quite inaccurate.

In the Baḍagutiṭṭu Yakṣagāna, the following bhūmi-cārīs and ākāśa-cārīs are in practice – samapāda, sūcī, adhyardhika, eḍakākrīḍita, mattalli, janita, atikrānta, apakrānta, ūrdhvajānu, ḍolapāda, and bhramarī.

Nṛtta-karaṇas that are in vogue in Yakṣagāna include samanakha, ūrdhvajānu, mattalli, vaiśākharecita, vivṛtta, vinivṛtta, vivartitaka, atikrānta, pārśvakrānta, talasaṃsphoṭita, garuḍapluta, sarpita, skhalita, siṃhavikrīḍita, krānta, talasaṅghaṭṭita, janita, ūrūdvṛtta, lolita, śakaṭāsya, argaḻa, gaṅgāvataraṇa, and cakramaṇḍala.

Quite a few movements of Yakṣagāna follow the definitions of the Nāṭyaśāstra quite accurately, while some others have undergone modifications with time.

In addition to these movements of the mārga, there are traces of deśī movements in Yakṣagāna such as taṭṭaḍavu, kudicca-mèṭṭaḍavu, nāṭṭaḍavu and ābhāsabhaṅga. These correspond respectively to diddittai, kummcèṭṭu, salāmu-hèjjè and jāruguppè respectively. In addition to these, deśī-cārīs such as jaṅghā-laṅganikā, ūru-veṇī, and saṅghaṭṭita are practiced in Yakṣagāna.

Tèṅkutiṭṭu Yakṣagāna does not seem to possess the āṅgika-śuddhi (refinement, precision, and beauty in movements) that the Baḍagutiṭṭu of Kundapura has. The āṅgikābhinaya of the Harāḍi and Maṭapāḍi schools of Baḍagutiṭṭu are amongst the finest.

Traces of the following movements can be found in Baḍagutiṭṭuudghaṭṭita (corresponds to ‘òndanè hèjjè’ in Yakṣagāna and mèṭṭaḍavu in Bharatanāṭyam), kudiccamèṭṭu (corresponds to kuttikālu in Yakṣagāna), sārikā (corresponds to jāruguppè in Yakṣagāna), tirgāsu-naḍè (corresponds to āvartitagati in Yakṣagāna); different deśī forms of vidyutbhrānta-karaṇa such as utpluti, bhramarī, bāhu-bhramarī, antar-bhramarī, skanda-bhrānta, and kara-sparśālaga-bhramarī can be seen as well. (They correspond to girakis called dòḍḍa-lāga, cakra-suttu, bala-suttu, and èḍa-suttu of Tèṅkutiṭṭu Yakṣagāna.)

On closer examination, we might be able to find traces of several other karaṇas as well. Though the list of movements looks long, they are not frequently used. Moreover, the variety of movements in nṛtta is also limited. As mentioned earlier, nṛtta and the movements of Baḍagutiṭṭu are better than its Southern counterpart i.e., Tèṅkutiṭṭu. Sadly, we must admit that the āṅgikābhinaya of Yakṣagāna has not developed variety when compared to the the deśī forms of dance such as Sadir, Tāphā (Bharatanāṭyam), Oḍissi and Kūcipūḍi. People might argue that the vācikābhinaya of Yakṣagāna will compensate for the paucity in the movement vocabulary. They might also feel that āṅgikābhinaya is not really important in theatrical art and the overall effect of caturvidhābhinaya matters the most. These arguments, however, do not hold water.

The movement vocabulary of Yakṣagāna is richer, more beautiful and more communicative than that of Kathak and Kathakalī. However, owing to lack of discipline in practice coupled with inadequate training, Yakṣagāna has not received the kind of wide-spread appeal it deserves.


To be continued...
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.

[1] In the past, the kutapa, i.e., the musical ensemble was required to be positioned behind the actors and facing the audience, to allow for the acoustics of the auditorium. In the absence of amplifiers, the only way to ensure that the audience could hear the music was by positioning the ensemble behind the actors. Today, thanks to technology and acoustic construction of theatres, irrespective of the place where the musicians sit, their voice can be heard around the auditorium.

[2] side-wings or extended stages of small size






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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