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Yakshagana: Unique art form takes center stage in America

Photos by N.S. Prasad.


Atlanta, GA, May 19, 2016: Havyaka Association, Atlanta (HAA) and Nrupathunga Kannada Koota (NKK) treated Kannada audiences to an ancient and unique dance form, Yakshagana, presented by Shri Idagunji Mahaganapathi Yakshagana Mandali Keremane (R) on April 22, 2016 at the IACA Auditorium.  Timothy Jetty, Vice Consul (PS to CG) from the Consulate General of India presided as the chief guest of the event.

The Yakshagana prasanga “Seethapaharana” depicting the kidnapping of Sita by Ravana from the Ramayana was performed by Guru Keremane Shivanand Hegde and his team of 10 members.

“The keremane group performing Seethaparahana was true professionalism and complete nostalgia. Seeing our Uttara and Dakshina Kannada culture in theUSwas astonishing,” commented Rita Havanur, a NKK member.

Havyaka Association of America is a non-profit organization registered in 1982. Havyaka Association of Atlanta is part of the GA chapter. “Through this association, we promote charity events and cultural arts that enhance havyaka heritage. Yakshgana is one such cultural folk drama that combines different genres of music with dance, dialogue, colorful costume and makeup,” said Dr. Annapoorna (Anu) Subrahmanya Bhat, president of the Atlanta chapter. “The performance was superb, choreography was excellent. Our chief guest, Vice Consul Jetty who is non-kannadiga and our non-kannadiga friends also enjoyed the program, because of excellent facial and body expressions of actors.”

All sponsors of the event were recognized by HAA. Pradeep Vittalmurthy, chairman of NKK and his team thanked all the artists, members of NKK, Drs. Anu and Subra Bhat, sponsors, IACA, Anand Bhai from Meher Impex and Chopaati for their support.

In an exclusive interview, the team lead, Shri Keremane Shivanand Hegde spoke to NRI Pulse about the prestigious troupe and its origins, while giving an insight into the mystical dance form, Yakshagana. Here are the excerpts.

Tell us about your team – the origins and plans for the future?
We are a 15-member group of artists. My grandfather was born in 1908 and established the Mandali in 1934. Lots of things have changed over 80 years- social, technical, financial, generational- but the Mandali was successful in molding itself to changing times, keeping the tradition and the visions of my grandfather intact. My uncle Dr Keremane Mahabala Hegde and Shri Gajanana Hegde were excellent artists and along with my father and grandfather, were the early pillars and gurus for the unique Keremane style (gharana) that is followed by most of the artistes of the art form today.

It started with like-minded people coming together for a noble cause. Gradually the Mandali become a professional troupe propagating and setting up milestones in yakshagana. During my grandfather’s time, there was no formal training centres for artists. One had to tour with the troupe and a master to become an artist. In 1986, my father started a training centre in our village and thus an academic setup was established in the area.

Earlier, yakshagana was performed through the night. My father Keremane Shambhu Hegde brought time-limited shows to the stage wherein the production became more concentrated in terms of its content owing to the changing generation and lifestyles. By the time I was in charge, directed performances were coming into the picture (But even till this day extempore speech, creativity on stage in dance, expressions and the way a story moves forward have been an inseparable part of yakshagana).

The mandali took the informal discussions that used to happen among artistes in a private space to the public space by organizing discussion forums at various occasions. There also have been changes in costume in terms of its material, design and also changes in musical instruments. In the earlier days, success of a play was driven by the characters and the people enacting it. But today a play becomes successful for its narration through team effort, dance choreography and direction. Now, along with strengthening the roots of yakshagana, the Mandali is looking at it through the perspective of Indian theatre traditions and training students accordingly.

The Mandali has more 7000 performances to its credit and is a pioneer in propagating and preserving the art form. To educate, protect and propagate yakshagana and to give it an international recognition is the aim of the Mandali. I would like to be an artist, organizer, director, guru or whatever his pursuit needs me to be.

For current and upcoming project details please visit:

Proposed projects –!vision-objectives/c1r0m

Activities –!activities/cee5

Appeal –!an-appeal/c2224

Please describe Yakshagaana and its significance as an art form.
Yakshagana is a traditional dance drama of coastal Karnataka which has about 500 years of history. Gorgeous costumes, dance, music and dialogue take you to a world of celestial beings, hence the name yaksha (artists from heaven) and gaana (song, epic). A yakshagana performance typically begins in the twilight hours and depicts stories from the Ramayana and Mahabharata through extempore dialogue, dance and abhinaya. A typical yakshagana performance consists of background music played by a group of musicians (known as the himmela) and a dance and dialog group (known as the mummela), who together enact poetic epics onstage. It is somewhat like kathakali of Kerala. The performance troupe is called mela or mandali, which is a traditional repertory and travels from village to village. Yakshagana is performed in paddy fields throughout the night. Presently it is staged even in indoor auditoriums with certain modifications.

Our mandali has a training centre at our village Gunavante and also conducts lots of activities. We have launched numerous projects regarding educating and popularizing the art form. For further details, visit our website and feel free to talk us. Today, in this modern world, our thoughts and relationships with society and nature are not in pace with materialistic development. There is need for conscious efforts at building stronger bonds between nature, culture and society. We have rich art, culture and stories that date back to thousands of years. Different cultures that have cherished and perished in this lineage have different stories to tell us and our children. This heritage will solve the problem of identity crisis and connect children of today and tomorrow to societies and to nature as a whole. I am proud to be a part of this.

How many states did your team travel to perform this time?
We were invited to perform at the 39th Cleveland Thayagraja Aradhana Mahothsvam. Our team of 11 started our performances in San Diego on March 13. We were successful in reaching large audiences and a lot of non-Kannada speaking people told me personally that they did not find language barriers to understand the story and the theme. We also performed in Minneapolis, Indianapolis, Detroit, Columbus, Atlanta, Saint Louis, San Jose, Los Angeles and Irvine.

With members of the audience after their Irvine performance. Photo courtesy Rachana Bekal.

How do you feel about the Atlanta visit in particular?
This is our troupe’s second visit to Atlanta. We performed in Atlanta back in 2006 when we were invited to participate at the AKKA festival in Baltimore with my father. Our first Atlanta performance was at a temple when we won the immense appreciation of a large crowd.Atlanta has a lot of Kannadigas, so we are always eager to perform here. We are thankful to NKK and Dr Subramanya Bhat and Smt Annaporna Bhat and other supporters. Atlanta is one of the best places we’ve performed in.

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