Possibilities of Innovations and Reformations in Yakṣagāna: Some Thoughts - Part 9

Yakṣagāna artistes should bring in newer maṭṭus and saṅgatis that can cater to all different emotions[1]; to do so, they must take refuge in the classical rāgas. The maṭṭus of Yakṣagāna are usually designed to begin from the pañcama and go higher. Their movement is largely in the higher octaves. This was necessary in the past because music had to be heard by a large number of people in the audience in the absence of microphones. However, a singer should have the capacity to explore a rāga at least in three octaves; this is certainly possible, thanks to the presence of microphones. One need not worry about the pitch of the percussion instruments. A capable and well-trained (male) bhāgavata can traverse the three octaves if he fixes the base pitch as C or C#; this can also be used as the pitch of the accompanying percussion instruments. This will not affect the music of cèṇḍè and maddaḻè. We will also need to keep in mind that, not all emotions can be evoked by percussion instruments that have a metallic kaṇi on them. Therefore, it is important to have music rendered in the mandra too, to embellish certain softer emotions.
 

•  When compared to the rāgas of Hindustani music, is slightly difficult to find lālitya in many Carnatic rāgas.  Kalyāṇī, Kāmbhodhi, and Sāverī are usually employed in Yakṣagāna to evoke śṛṅgāra-rasa. However, rāgas such as Dvijāvantī, Navaroj, Jañjūṭi, Yaman-kalyāṇī, Māṇḍ, Pahāḍī, Bihāg, Deś, Khamāc, Kāphī, Mohana-kalyāṇī, and Bṛndāvanī are gentle and graceful by nature;[2] they are also endowed with musical curves and pleasant twists; in fact, most rāgas in the above list are inspired by the Hindustani tradition and have the potential to evoke śṛṅgāra-rasa; thus, have become the favourites of Yakṣagāna artistes. Rāgas such as Hamsānandi and Kānaḍā have also entered the music vocabulary of Yakṣagāna – they can lend themselves for the expression of soft emotions and melt the listener’s heart. We can also adopt Bāgeśrī, Bibhās, Bhaṭiyār, Bahār, Basant, Hamīr, Tilaṅg, Māru-bihāg, Kalāvatī, and Megh. Similarly, the following rāgas can be borrowed from the Carnatic system of music – Cārukeśi, Vācaspati, Sarasvatī, Gauri-manoharī, Sarasāṅgī, Cakravāka, Kīravāṇī, Naṭha-bhairavī, Gānamūrti, Vakulābharaṇa, Sālagabhairavī, Śubhapantuvarālī, Ṣaṇmukhapriyā, Siṃhendramadhyama, and Latāṅgi. In fact, many of these are already in vogue and have become integral parts of the repertoire in the Tèṅkutiṭṭu. It is probably only Ganapati Bhat who is using the largest variety of rāgas in Baḍagutiṭṭu Yakṣagāna today. He keeps in mind the potential of specific rāgas to evoke specific rasas and uses them creatively. Shivarama Karantha had introduced several changes in Yakṣagāna-saṅgīta and much of it is relevant even today; he emphasized upon safeguarding the purity of rāgas. There is immense possibility in bringing variety in the maṭṭus of Yakṣagāna-saṅgīta and they can be used to evoke specific rasas. Svara-kalpana and rāga-ālāpana can also be suitably adopted in Yakṣagāna music. When dastu (jatis) are employed in the art, why should we not bring in svara-kalpana and rāga-ālāpana as well? We will only need to make sure that ignorance and arrogance should not come in the way. Only when personal biases and ego are kept aside, will the art form become more beautiful. As mentioned quite a few times before, Rasa and aucitya should be used as yardsticks to determine the kind of changes necessary.

Cèṇḍè and maddaḻè are instruments best suited for Yakṣagāna. However, both are laya-vādyas, i.e., percussion instruments. It would be beneficial to include a couple of svara-vādyas, i.e., melody instruments for accompaniment. Inclusion of flute and violin is highly recommended. Shivarama Karantha not only introduced the violin but also brought in saxophone. While the usage of violin adds great value, saxophone, which is alien to Indian music, does not seem to gel well with Yakṣagāna-saṅgīta. Flute, on the other hand, is melodious and can intensify emotion. Flute music feels native to the Indian soil. In fact, nāgasvara goes well with cèṇḍè and can be aesthetically used as accompaniment. It would not be wrong to say that nāgasvara suits Yakṣagāna-saṅgīta better than flute. Though Saxophone is considered to be an equivalent of nāgasvara by some, it cannot bring about the nuances and subtle gamakas that the latter can produce. In general, flute and violin can provide good support for bhāgavatas. Artistes who accompany Yakṣagāna should be well versed with the maṭṭus. They must understand the specific style of singing for the art and also know by-heart, the lyrics of the songs.[3]

• It has almost become a tradition for the bhāgavatas of Yakṣagāna to scream at higher octaves – rather, this is the lasting impression that the art has left on its connoisseurs. It appears as though all the creative talent of the bhāgavatas is consumed in singing at the higher octaves. It has almost become a (bad) habit for the bhāgavatas and other accompanying artistes to get into a kind of competition in the second half of the prasaṅga – they compete with each other to traverse higher and higher pitches during their rendition. Some artistes, connoisseurs, and critics justify this practice as adherence to pramparā and sampradāya. They also say that high-pitched singing helps to heat up to the climax and to speed up the presentation. An objective examination reveals that the kind of justification provided holds no water. Moreover, singing at high pitches is not even an aesthetic requirement for prasaṅgas. Often, a lot of time gets consumed for presenting the first half of the prasaṅga. Artistes become verbose in their speech and transgress the bounds of aucitya. They end up speaking so much that their speech lacks suggestion and does not cater to the evoking of Rasa at all. Nṛtta, even though unnecessary for certain episodes, is brought in the first half; it can potentially rupture the aesthetics of the art. With the loss of time in the first half, there is little time left in the second half to portray the climax of the story. Artistes of the mummeḻa and the himmeḻa are under pressure to complete the prasaṅga. The main bhāgavata tries his best to speed up the presentation. This gives little scope for bringing in rich emotions and does not leave a deep impact on the audience. The avamarśa and nirvahaṇa sandhis end up being badly managed and look like an assorted collage of distinct ideas. Several sequences that are inherently rich in emotion and values don’t get enough time to be elaborated. This is true of full-night concerts as well as performances that are designed to span limited time. This kind of imbalance in the speed of presentation of the two halves is evidenced even in the performances of reputed artistes, who are otherwise known for their aesthetic sense. Such practices should be done away with.

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] Technically, there is not much of a difference between maṭṭus and saṅgatis, except for their names. An appealing saṅgati crystalises into a maṭṭu.

[2] Readers who would like to know more about the rāgas used in Yakṣagāna may refer to the book ‘Yakṣagāna-saṅgīta’ authored by Rajagopalacharya; the recently published work ‘Yakṣagāna-gāna-saṃhitè’ authored by Vid. Ganapati Bhatta Yellapura may also be referred.

[3] We have employed flute and violin as accompaniments for our Ekavyakti productions. The aesthetic value added by these instruments is tremendous. As our productions are essentially based on female characters, we have not included nāgasvara although it goes well with cèṇḍè.


 

 

Author(s)

About:

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.

Translator(s)

About:

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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