Yakshagana: Karnataka’s signature folk-dance

Folk dance is an art through which a community expresses its serenity, culture and traditions. Dance being a part of man’s life from primitive to the most cultured community, appears to have evolved even before he began to speak or paint. India is such a diverse country that each state within the country has no less than 2 folk-dance each. Most of the prevailing systems of Indian classical dances which are governed by elaborate techniques and shown high degree of refinement have had their origin in the dances of the common people, which still survive in as virile state as ever in tribal hamlets and peasant huts.

Yakshagana, one such folk dance of India originates from Karnataka. The word ‘Yaksha’ is believed to signify the Yaksha tribe, who are a community of great artists, and the word ‘Gana’, in this context, means the song about the Yakshas.

India, the land of great cultural heritage with a vast variety of races and conditions has been a veritable treasure house of dance forms for untold centuries. It has given birth to varied forms of dancing, each shaped by the influences of a particular period and environment.

A trip to the coastal belt would be incomplete without watching the Yakshagana – an elaborate dance-drama performance unique to Karnataka.  


Yakshagana is as old as the 6th century and is considered to be a form of dance dramas. The influence of Vaishnava school of thoughts dominates this art form. The word Yakshagana means the songs of the Demi-Gods. This dance-form also includes some elements from Natyashastra too. Historically, it was performed in the open areas of temples to celebrate the end of the harvesting season to relax the villagers, by only male dancers, throughout the night. Even female characters were played by the males. But by the time it delved into the stage performances, female artists were encouraged and the duration was shortened too.

The three main elements of this dance form are: The Music, The Costume and The Troupes.


Vachika Abhinaya has central importance in this dance-drama followed by the main character, Bhagwatara, singing the song. Bhagwatara introduces all the main characters of the performance. The conversation between two characters is shown in the form of verses.

The performers wear interesting and colourful costumes, and elaborate headgears. The stage design and unique rendering is similar to that of Western Operas.

The songs, known as Prasangas are a combination of musical notes, lyrics and syllables. Gandharva Gana music system is the base of these songs. Musical instruments like Chande, Pungi, Maddalam, cymbals and Elathalams are used. The flavor of folk-art oozes out of these instruments.


The Yakshagana costumes are unique to art. As in, the crown-like headgear, chest kavach, wooden armlets and belts, and anklets in feet are used to make the outlook attractive. Kachche is the garment that is worn in the lower half, while the upper half is mostly decorated with the above ornaments. The female character drapes a saree and other appropriate ornaments. Colorful stones and pieces of mirror are used to decorate the wooden ornaments, adding more color to it.

All the jewellery worn is yellow and glittery in nature. The clothes are of deep red or yellow colour and have a shiny surface. Yakshagana costumes were designed for the light of torches: stage light of olden days.

Prominent Personalities of Yakshagana

Over the centuries, this folk dance started to spread to other surrounding states and gave rise to the great artists in this dance-form. Chittani Ramchandra Hegde, is considered to be a legend in Yakshagana by the young performers. He is the first Yakshagana artist to receive ‘Padma Shri’. He performed throughout the world during his time.

 Naranappa Uppur was one of the notable backgrounds Yakshagana singers of the 20th century. He authored ‘Yakshagana Adhyayana’, a book dedicated to ancient heritage of Yakshagana, which include Yakshagana syllabus for learners also.

In 1984, he had a heart attack during his live performance and later succumbed on the same day.

 Kalinga Navada, also known as ‘Yuga Pravartaka’, is popular for his innovations in the presentations of Yakshagana songs.

– Aditi Teredesai

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