Prashanta Kumar, Ohio Sangbad: Yakshagana is a live traditional theater that is comparable to western Opera that originated in the Indian state of Karnataka. It combines music, dance, drama, makeup and elaborate costumes, extempore dialogues to present a story taken from Indian great epics Ramayana and Mahabharata. The word “Yakshagana” is derived from two Kannada words, “yaksha,” which means celestial beings, and “gana,” which means song or music.
The performance of Yakshagana involves a group of performers including actors, musicians, and a narrator. The narrator, called the “Bhagavata,” sets the scene and narrates the story while the actors act out the story through dialogues and dance. The music is provided by a group of musicians playing traditional instruments such as the maddale (a double-headed drum), chande (a percussion instrument), and the harmonium, together accompanying the narrator who is the vocalist.
The stories told in Yakshagana are usually drawn from Indian mythology like the Hindu epics Ramayana and Mahabharata. The performances are usually in night and can last till the early hours of the morning. Yakshagana has a rich cultural heritage and is an important part of the cultural identity of Karnataka.
Sri Dr. Rajendra Kedlaya is the founder and leader of Yakshahejje, a school that attracts Yakshagana enthusiasts from all across the United States. Dr. Kedlaya has effectively united them by promoting and instructing them in this art form, and he is both a teacher and a performer. He currently resides in Indianapolis and offers both in-person and online classes. For over ten years, Dr. Kedlaya has been teaching Yakshgana and has performed live nationally and internationally with his team on numerous occasions. For more information please contact Yakshahejje2012@gmail.com
This is a story selected from the Indian epic Mahabharata. It narrates the events of the great 18-day Mahabharata war between the Kauravas and the Pandavas, where 17 days have already passed, and only one day remains. The sole surviving Kaurava, who has been hiding, is said to be residing in a lake called Dwipayana. Upon receiving guidance from their divine Lord Sri Krishna, the Pandavas, along with Sri Krishna, approach the lake and summon Kaurava one by one to come out of the water and engage in battle. However, the defiant Bheema, who is responsible for the death of Kaurava’s brothers and the cause of their enmity, mocks Kurava and assures him that he will finish him in a moment, challenging him to come out of the water. When Duryodhana, undeterred, rises from the water, he summons everyone to join the battle. In the ensuing fight, Kaurava strikes Bheema on the head with a mace, causing him to fall to the ground. While Kaurava jubilant over his assumed victory, Dharmaja, Arjuna, Nakula, and Sahadeva are called upon by him to witness Bhima’s feat. Looking at Krishna, he inquires about the outcome. Kaurava asks Krishna whether it is Bhima’s defeat or his victory. Saddened, Dharmaja requests Krishna to bring Bheema back to life. Krishna revives Bhima, who had fallen unconscious, by holding his hand. As Bhima rises, he engages in battle once again with the Kaurava and crushes his thighs. In this manner, the Kauravas are defeated, and the Pandavas emerge victorious in the war.