With Aha! International theatre for children festival on at Rangashankara until the 20th of this month, the highlight for us this year is most definitely the Yakshagana performance of "Jatayu Moksha" put up children from Udupi’s Yakshagana Kendra.
Yakshagana is folk theatre that combines dance, music, dialogue, costume and stage techniques with a unique style and form native to coastal Karnataka. Though I’ve been brought up in Bangalore, I have grown up watching and listening to Yakshagana performances during the annual Ganesh chaturthi celebrations in our native village or during our numerous holiday visits. With most Yakshagana performances based on stories from Hindu mythology, a Yakshagana performance typically begins during the twilight hours and extends through the night! The performance consists of a storyteller, called the Bhagavatha who narrates the story by singing as the actors dance to the music, perform the dialogues, there being ample scope for improvisation and on-the spot philosophical debates within the framework of the plot and the mythological character being played. Accompanied by his grandparents, who are true Yakshagana aficionados, this was the first time Abhay was watching young artists don the spectacular costumes and setting the stage on fire with their traditional yakshagana dance steps and spins while beautifully displaying the fierceness, gallantry and maturity of the adult characters they were portraying. We are indeed grateful to AHA children’s theatre for bringing our little one closer to our roots!!J
Ideally I would have liked to read a book on Yakshagana that explains the art form in an age appropriate manner, but since I couldn’t find such a book, I had to settle for a story closer to the plot of yesterday’s performance “Jatayu Moksha”. As a prelude to the show, I had picked up “Divine Beings’ by Amar Chitra publications, a mini-omnibus on non-human mythological characters like Jatayu, Nandi, Airavata, Shyama and Sabala, etc.
We read the story of the magnificent vulture, named Jatayu scripted by Mimi Chacko and illustrated by Arijit Dutta Chowdary. Not many of us were aware (at least I wasn’t!) that Jatayu was the son of Aruna, the Sun- God’s charioteer, Garuda’s nephew and Sampati’s brother. Not only that, Jatayu’s benevolence saved Dasharatha’s life and thereafter went on help his son Rama too. Most of us are aware of the story of Jatayu’s valiant efforts to rescue Sita from the evil clutches of Ravana and his resultant injury that moved Rama into performing his last rites with full honours… bringing in water from seven sacred rivers so that Jatayu’s soul is granted salvation. But to have the young troupe bring life to this famous story from Ramayana through the indigenous art form of Yakshagana was truly an unforgettable experience!