Even though Yakshagana emerged as a unique art form today, it has multiple existences in Karnataka. Doddata, Sannata, Moodalapaya and Paduvalapaya are its regional variations. Moodalapaaya is performed in northern parts of Karnataka and Paduvalapaya is popular in coastal Karnataka which includes the districts of Dakshina Kannada, Udupi, Shimoga, Chikkamagalur, Coorg and in the adjoining areas like Kasaragodu of Kerala State. The coastal Yakshagana again has two main variations called tenku tittu ( i.e. Southern style) and Badagu Tittu ( Northern style). Both styles have a night long stage performances with music, dance, costumes and dialogues. Talamaddale is another form, which has only spoken world.
Dr. Purushothama Bilimale, eminent Folklorist in his paper presented at the IGNCA Conference on Mahabharata during Jaya Festival in New Delhi explains the re-creation process of Mahabharata Katha in Yakshagana.
It is a not an easy task for a scholar to comprehend the Mahabharata re-creation process in Yakshagana due to its diversity and magnanimity. There are about thirty-six professional troupes performing more than 4000 Mahabharata centered Yakashaganas every year and also little more than 1500 amateur troupes annually performing an average of 1000 Mahabharata based episodes. We could also listen to more than 1500 Talamaddale performances all over the year. Thus there will be around 6500 Mahabharatas are created every year in a remote and tiny place by the people. At an average of 300 audiences per performance, there are about 20, 00,000 people watch and enjoy Mahabharata in and around coastal Karnataka.
The Mahabharata re-creation process has four important levels:
First, there are Prasangas or episodes, which are texts written by various authors, during the early decades of 17th century. As listed below, there are about 170 independent episodes are currently available on Mahabharata.
Secondly there are musical texts, selected by the Bhagavata during performances, which are intricately produced lyric compositions based on these episodes in various meters set to different talas.
Thirdly there are verbal texts, which elevates the first text into a visual text via second text. A performance of verbal art is something more than words. It includes the artistry of voice and body. Hence crosses the linguistic level. During this phase, the actor is independent to use all of his resources like scriptures, plays, literature, society, politics, and practically everything. His makeup and dance styles visualize the Mahabharata story on a tiny stage. This creates an interesting pattern of Mahabharata, which is very unique to each performance. That is why people watch Mahabharata again and again.
And finally, the audience text, where various types of audience from different castes and classes creates or interpret their own Mahabharata narratives while watching performance on stage.
The relation between all these four levels are again multiple and complicate in nature.
Aesthetics of artistic stage performances:
Perhaps one of the greatest contributions of Mahabharata performance in Yakshagana can be their role in the development of aesthetics of artistic stage performances. Costumes and make-up constitute an important aspect of the visual non-verbal communication in Yakshagana Mahabharata. The audience will recognize distinctions within the costumes and makeup worn by various characters on the stage. This points to another level in which the colors work as a sign – they project different categories within the new world created on the stage.
One of the fundamental features of these costumes and make up are its symbolic nature of representation. The very nature of the theme that Yakshagana deals with – the epic world populated by gods, demons and super human characters-would preclude any possibility of realistic presentation. The various colors project different categories to which these characters belong. Dharmaraya, Karna and Arjuna will have same red colors with kingly headgears, where as Bhima and Dushyasana have gorgeous red-based colors, for their quick-tempered angry personality. Young Abhinanyu has sharp red colors with fire symbol on his forehead, Duryodhana, will have heroic colors with demonic blue lines.
One of the most obvious developments of Yakshagana Mahabharata in the last two decades has been a movement away from ritual towards entertainment. This process of de-ritualization with the decreasing religious appeal, the change in the context, theme and message change has been secularized Mahabharata. This change gets expressed in the way characters like, Karna and Dhuryodhan. These characters are no more wicked and evil but recognized as pratinayakas (anti hero). The learned artists through a process of reinterpretation radically altered the traditional meaning and emphasis is being laid on humanizing wicked characters. Thus Karna some time portrayed as the champion of downtrodden, Hidimba speaks about the liberation of woman, and Dhuryodhana as a protector of ancestry. The artists highlights their worthy qualities and even provides justification for their wicked deeds. As a result, instead of highlighting the religious message, which is the main theme of the written text, the emphasis in the performance text, falls on the tragic predicament of the protagonists.