Considered one of the most vibrant living art traditions of the world, Yakshagana is a traditional theater form mainly prevalent in the coastal districts and adjacent areas of Karnataka
. This unique art form combines dance, music, spoken word, costume-makeup, and stage technique in a distinct way. It also exists in parts of Andhra Pradesh
, Tamil Nadu
Yakshagana is literally true people's theater, commonly staged in the paddy fields at night and the themes are usually from the Ramayana, the Mahabharata and mythological tales from the Puranas. Yakshagana enjoys immense popularity and its exponents are honoured just as great stage artistes, especially in rural areas.
In this form singing and drumming merge with dancing, and words with gestural interpretation. A performance begins with a puja to Lord Ganesh, followed by buffoonery by "Kodangis." A loud background music is provided by a chande and a maddale (various types of drums), and a tala (cymbals) handled by a team of three.
The Bhagavata who is the producer, the director and the master of the ceremonies sits among them. Good physique and excellent stamina are required of every actor, who has to sing, dance, act and converse the whole night. He should also have sound knowledge of Hindu scriptures. In every act, there will be gods, goddesses, kiratas (mischief mongers), kimpurushas (mythological figures) and demons. The main characters, known as "Kattu-veshas" appear after the Bhagavata.
The Ghattadakore, traditional art form of Karnataka, is closely connected with Yakshagana. A wide range of color costumes are used. It is usually held in open-air theaters after the harvest of the winter crop.
It is believed that Yakshagana is the outcome of the Vaishnava Bhakti movement. Yakshagana changed a lot in its themes according to the socio-economic changes of the 19th century.