Art And Culture

UPSC Art & Culture Notes l


Yakshagana is a traditional folk dance form popular in coastal Karnataka districts and some parts of Kerala. It is considered that Yakshagana has originated as a product of the Vaishnava bhakti movement.

The article provides information about one of the signature folk dances of Karnataka – Yakshagana in the context of the IAS Exam.

The information is useful for preparing the Art & Culture section of the UPSC Syllabus.

The candidates can read more on Art & Culture topics for their upcoming exams from the links provided below:


  • Yakshagana literally means, “song” of the yaksha (demi-gods/spirits).
  • The mela or troupe consists of two main parts:
    • Mummela (foreground actors)
    • Himmela (singers and instrumentalists in the background).
  • It is a theatrical art form of Karnataka, originally an all-night performance where the mela travelled from one village to another.
  • It is also performed in the south Canara districts of Karnataka and Kasaragod district of Kerala.
  • Yakshagana is performed in open-air theatres.
  • It is usually performed in the village paddy fields after the winter crop has been harvested.
Yakshagana troupe - Performance

Source – The Hindu

Elements of Yakshagana

The Act

  • Each performance typically focuses on a small sub-story (known as ‘Prasanga’) from ancient Hindu epics of Ramayana or Mahabharata.
  • The show consists of both stage performances by talented artists and commentary (performed by the lead singer or Bhagavatha) accompanied by traditional music.
Who is a Bhagavatha?

  • The Bhagavatha, part of the himmela, is the lead singer and narrates the story through songs, while the dancers/actors (mummela) enact the stories drawn from the Ramayana, the Mahabharata and the Puranas.
  • Bhagavatha is the chief narrator of the story.
  • Bhagavata sings in his magical high-pitched voice, invoking the Gods for the successful completion of the evening’s performance.

The Music

Musical instruments used in Yakshagana include:

  1. Chande (drums),
  2. Harmonium,
  3. Maddale,
  4. Taala (mini metal clappers) and
  5. Flute among others.

The Dress

  • Costumes used in Yakshagana are unique and elaborate.
  • Large size headgear, coloured faces, elaborate costumes all over the body and musical beads on the legs (Gejje).
  • Kavacha decorates the chest, armlets for the shoulders and belts are made up of light wood and covered with golden foil.
  • Performers need a great physique to perform with heavy costumes for several hours, and also strong voice and acting/dancing skills.

The Language

  • Yakshagana is generally presented in Kannada, but also performed in Malayalam and Tulu languages on certain occasions.

The Troupes

There are several popular troupes (known as Melas) performing Yakshagana throughout the year. Some leading melas include:

  1. Saligrama mela,
  2. Dharmasthala Mela,
  3. Mandarthi Mela,
  4. Perduru Mela

What is ‘Pagade’ of Yakshagana?

  • It is a headdress or kirita.
  • The Pagade is not readymade to be placed on the head.
  • The crown worn by characters which have both heroic and playful characteristics is a work of art by itself.
An artist wearing a Yakshagana Pagade

Source – The Hindu

Other Art Forms of Yakshagana

Yakshagana was formerly known as Bayatala by some people in Karnataka. The sister art forms associated with Yakshagana are listed below:

  1. Therukoothu of Tamil Nadu,
  2. Kutiyattam and Chakyarkoothu of Kerala,
  3. Veedhinataka of Andhra Pradesh

Other Forms of Dance-drama or Folk Theatre

There is a wide variety of folk music, dance and drama forms. They can share common themes and concerns. Depending on the purpose of celebration, its characteristics also vary.

When it is performed and by whom?

  • The agricultural communities perform folk music and dances to celebrate
    • The rhythms of daily life
    • The turn of the seasons
    • The highlights of the agricultural calendar
    • Important events (births and marriages)
    • Sowing of the wheat crop
  • Fishing communities
  • Other local communities
Name of the folk dance-drama Details of the dance/art form
Giddha Spontaneous energy;

Folk dance of women in Punjab region of Pakistan and India

Ghoomar Rajasthani women
Garba Gujarat;

Dance in a circle with batons

Dandiya Ras Gujarat men;

A more vigorous version of Garba, leaping and crouching in twirling patterns

Lavani Maharashtra
Nautanki Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar
Bhavai Gujarat
Tamasha Maharashtra
Jatra West Bengal, Odisha and eastern Bihar
Yakshagana Karnataka
Theyyam Kerala

Yakshagana and Gombeyatta

  • Gombeyatta is the traditional string puppet of Karnataka.
  • They are styled and designed like the characters of Yakshagana, the traditional theatre form of the region.
  • The episodes enacted in Gombeyatta are usually based on Prasangas of the Yakshagana plays.
  • The puppets are highly stylised and their costumes and make-up are similar to Yakshagana.
  • The puppets of Gombeyatta resemble the actors of Yakshagana and the sets are also designed like the Yakshagana stage.

Variants of Yakshagana

It is found that two variants of Yakshagana exist. The characteristics/features of these two different styles of Yakshagana are listed and tabled below:

Badagutittu Tenkutittu
It is prevalent in Northern parts of South Canara, from Padubidri to Byndoor and North Kanara District. This style is prevalent in Southern areas of South Canara, that is, from Mulki to Kasargod.
Instrument used – a typical Karnataka chande drum. Instrument used – Kerala maddalam (traditional Kerala percussion instrument).
Popularised as shorter, and more modern form of Yakshagana. Their ornaments are made out of light wood, pieces of mirror, and coloured stones. Its less exuberant costumes, particularly the demon costumes, make it seem more like Kathakali than like Badagutittu.
Famous artist – Keremane Shivarama Heggade Famous artist – Sheni Gopalakrishna Bhat
Badagutittu style of Yakshagana Tenkutittu style of Yakshagana

UPSC 2021

Recent Development

Dakshina Kannada District Sahitya Sammelan has urged the Karnataka government to declare Yakshagana as a representative art form of the State.

FAQ about Yakshagana for UPSC


Who was the first Yakshagana artist to receive the Rashtrapati Award?

Keremane Shivarama Heggade is the first Yakshagana artist to receive the Rashtrapati Award. He is the founder of the Yakshagana troupe named Idagunji Mahaganapathi Yakshagana Mandali. He is an exponent of Badagutittu style of Yakshagana.


How is every character introduced in Yakshagana performance?

Every important character is introduced by lifting the theray (screen), which prepares the audience for the actual moment when these characters will emerge on stage in all their grandeur.

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