Possibilities of Innovations and Reformations in Yakṣagāna: Some Thoughts - Part 5

I hereby list a few suggestions for Yakṣagāna artistes, especially to enrich their āṅgikābhinaya and realise its value.

• It is important to ensure that the strī-veṣas are more graceful and gentle. This can be achieved by blending the movements of Yakṣagāna with the movement vocabulary of the Nāṭyaśāstra. Movements will need to be adapted to suit the nature of the character.

Āṅgikābhinaya of puruṣa-veṣa will need to go well with the personality of the particular character. The artiste has to keep in mind the characteristic features, age, emotion, importance, and social status of the character he is portraying. Sukumāra and uddhata modes of āṅgikābhinaya can be employed, and at times, an aesthetic blend of the two is important.

• Most Yakṣagāna artistes perform three kinds of āṅgikābhinaya, hardly paying heed to the aesthetics of the tāla and the song. They are –

  1. the abhinaya performed to the accompaniment of pada/padya
  2. biḍtigè-cālū-kuṇita (i.e., nṛtta)
  3. body movements and gestures that accompany the delivery of speech.

Artistes must work within the framework of pātraucitya (being true to the character they portray), raṅgaucitya (propriety of the stage), and Rasaucitya (appropriateness that depends on the Rasa to be evoked).  They must keep the context and the nature of the character in mind at all times. If they don’t pay attention to those details, it will result in unnecessary elaboration of abhinaya to the accompaniment of pada/padya. Nṛtta will end up becoming mere footwork based on tāla cycles, violating aesthetics and the governing sentiment. Attention needs to be paid to laya, gati, lines[1], recaka and emotive usage of the body even while performing cālū-kuṇita. During the impromptu delivery of dialogues, artistes seem to compromise on nāṭya-dharmī. Especially when prose dialogues are presented, artistes donning the roles of great characters appear to care little for the dignity that their character demands and nāṭya-dharmī easily provides. Lack of in stylized speech appears vulgar. Artistes unconsciously end up in an ugly imitation of the world. Their tawdry language and crass mannerisms certainly do not constitute loka-dharmī. It should, in fact, be called adharmī, i.e., against the aesthetics of theatre art. Artistes also have the tendency of repeating the same set of phrases and sentences, thereby causing boredom to the audience.

• Every artiste must practice rigorously to tune up all parts of his body. The vyāyāmas of aṅga and upāṅga that comes as a part of the Nāṭyaśāstra is imperative. Aṅga-śuddhi and aucitya are extremely important. Recaka is the soul of āṅgikābhinaya. All character roles have to keep these in mind.

Āṅgikābhinaya should be refined such that the beauty of the āhārya is not marred. Similarly, āhārya needs to undergo changes as suggested in the previous section. It needs to be flexible and comfortable while performing movements.

• Artistes of Yakṣagāna must incorporate karaṇas, cārīs, and nṛtta-hastas that are described in the Bharata-muni’s Nāṭyaśāstra. They may also refer to the treatises composed in the later centuries. These include Saṅgīta-ratnākara, Nṛtta-ratnāvalī, Nṛtyādhyāya, Nartana-nirṇaya, Saṅgīta-sārāmṛta, and others. Movements that can gel well with Yakṣagāna should be chosen and added to its vocabulary. Kuriya Vittala Shastri, Mudkani Narayana Hegade, Karki Paramayya Hasyagara, Shivarama Karantha, Matapadi Veerabhadra Nayaka, Shambhu Hegade, and Chittani Ramachandra Hegade have worked towards refining the āṅgika of Yakṣagāna. Their efforts in bringing novelty in the movement vocabulary is noteworthy. Each one of them has worked as per his own tastes and within his capabilities. That said, none of them seem to have had the holistic backdrop of the Nāṭyaśāstra in their mind while bringing about changes. Because of this drawback, though the improvisations made by the aforementioned scholars are welcome changes, they might not be reproducible and universally applicable. Furthermore, they might not contribute effectively towards emotive expression. Therefore, additions, modifications and improvisations in āṅgikābhinaya should take place as a result of deep and objective thought. Universal aesthetics need to be kept in mind. Changes should also be supported by different institutions and schools of thought. If not, the final outcome might not stand out well and might not reach the masses. The modifications brought about by Shivarama Karantha focused largely on improving lines and movements on the stage. He did not seem to pay attention to recakas, karaṇas and aṅgahāras. Sri Chittani introduced the same kind of movements for all kinds of characters; his work has its own charm. However, his attempts will need to be reconceptualized and reworked from the perspective of aucitya, reproducibility and robustness. When compared to these, the novel movements introduced by Bannanje Sanjeeva Suvarna and Krishnamurthy Thunga and the movements of the Nāṭyaśāstra incorporated by Mantap Prabhakar Upadhyaya are far more aesthetically appealing. They have borne in mind the importance of śāstra and have ensured that the movements are emotive. Mantap Prabhakar Upadhyaya creatively employs cārīs such as baddhā, mattalli and sthitāvarta, as well as nṛtta-hastas such as keśa-bandha, nitamba and ulbaṇa.

• Pots, plates, baby dolls, necklaces, ārati, and other necessary elements can be suggested effectively through nāṭya-dharmī and the props that have been vogue so far to represent these can be done away with. Similarly, it would be aesthetically more beautiful if bows, arrows, discus, mace, and swords are depicted through nāṭya-dharmī as well. Holding these weapons as physical objects can, in fact, come in the way of abhinaya. For cultivating nāṭya-dharmī too, fine tuning of āṅgikābhinaya is important


Mātu and Dhātu are the two components of vācikābhinaya. Gadya, padya, and gīta (pada) are the components of mātu. Śruti, laya, gāna and vādana constitute dhātu. We shall have a look at the vācikābhinaya of Yakṣagāna in the same order.

Impromptu speech on the stage is one of the unique features of Yakṣagāna. This, at times, is one of the strengths of Yakṣagāna and at other times a drawback. The freedom of speech that an artiste has on the stage can be misused if he is reckless. The erudition possessed by the artiste can, at times, metamorphose into an ugly display of scholarship. Reactionary arguments can disrupt Rasa. Instead of employing words as a means of creative expression, artistes at times enter into vulgar conversations. These unaesthetic and unwarranted tendencies seem to have crept into Yakṣagāna through tāLamaddaLe. Nevertheless, we should remember that a beautiful lotus blossoms only in dirty waters.

 Most artistes work within the aesthetics of the character role they are playing as long as they are performing abhinaya for music – pada and padya. But when they start giving free vent to their speech, they tend to go overboard and utter words that don’t suit the character they are portraying. They also end up becoming advocates for the character (rather than transforming themselves into the character). They aim at shutting the mouths of the other characters and derive great pleasure in ‘winning’ over arguments. Artistes seem to forget that they have to work hand-in-hand with all other characters to evoke Rasa. Artistes with a combative attitude enter into debates on stage. Instead of emoting the mental landscape of the character through their speech, artistes tend to show off their knowledge of the purāṇas and impress upon their own biased notions. Some of them even bring in their personal grudges and preferences to the stage, completely disrupting the aesthetics of the art[2]. Rasa can only be evoked when the artiste is dispassionate about the emotion he must delineate. The very purpose of art is to overcome personal likes and dislikes, selfishness and possessiveness. On the contrary, if art becomes a medium to fuel disharmony, display egos and proclaim victory and defeat, the real spirit of art is lost. If artistes become mentally attached to the character role they are playing, how can there be detachment? Rasa can certainly not be evoked.

While it is true that every art needs to have an intellectual dimension and artistes need to possess erudition and these should subserve the purpose of evoking Rasa, thereby leading to Ānanda. Erudition, scholarship and the intellect should not come in the way of aesthetic enjoyment and must seamlessly blend into the art.

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] Refers to body lines and the path of movement on the stage

[2] People of Dakshina Kannada seem to have natural inclination towards intellectual and analytical conversations and this has probably led to the tendency of entering into a verbal duel on the stage. This kind of combative nature was not present in the artistes of Uttara Kannada in the past.




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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