TRADITIONAL THEATRE OF KARNATAKA
Traditional theatre of Karnataka is neither a monolithic tradition nor is it confined to the literary works in the genre of drama. Scholars have been perplexed by the absence of explicit drama texts in Kannada in spite of the fact that it was deeply influenced by Sanskrit literature. Absence of a theatre is not an obvious corollary of the absence dramatic texts in Kannada’. There is an abundance of information to prove that the Kannada theatre has had a vibrant tradition all though the second millennium of the Christian era both in its folk incarnation as well as more formal versions.
‘Kavirajamarga’ the earliest scholarly text in Kannada makes a specific mention of theatrical forms such as ‘bedanDe’, cattANa’ and ‘pagaraNa’. All of them are theatrical forms and performing arts in practice even before the ninth century. ‘Vaddaradhane’ an ancient text says that ‘pagaraNiga’s don different costumes and wooden masks. It is said that these artists used to sing, act and talk. An eleventh century inscription found in a small village called ‘mugada’ in Dharwar district avers that a minister called mArtanDayya, added a drama theatre (nATakaSAle) to a Jaina basadi built by his grand father. Ancient literary texts in Kannada abound with references to such theatres and performances. A lexical work called ‘Abhinavabhidana’ written by Abhinava Managarasa gives a clear cut definition of the term ‘nATaka’. Unlike the more celebrated folk theatre which had its roots among the people, this theatre which was more formal was associated with royal courts. ‘Bahuroopi Chaudayya’, a well known Veerashaive saint –poet of the twelfth century was well versed in this art. ‘Bharatesha Vaibhava’ by Ratnakaravarni, ‘Keladinrupavijaya’ by Lingannakavi, accounts of foreign visitors to the Royal Courts of Vijayanagara and the description of a theatre in the royal palace of Mysore Wodeyars by Govinda Vaidya has given some information about the evolution of the formal theatre in Karnataka. However ‘Mitravindaa Govindaa’ by Singararya who was in the Royal Court of Chikadevaraya is generally acknowledged to be the first drama in Kannada.
Folk theatre has had a vibrant existence all over Karnataka, all thorough the centuries and the absence of literary texts has not hampered it in any manner. Many of its manifestations are genuine combinations of acting, dancing and singing. Artists were trained in all these disciplines.
The folk theatre of karnataka has flourished for centuries even though it is not possible to give specific dates.
‘Yakshgana’ is perhaps the most celebrated variety of folk drama and it has survived in big way in coastal Karnataka where it originated. Its counter part in the neighboring state of Kerala is known as ‘Kathakkali’. It is truly theatrical in every sense of the term what with its story line, interpretations, music, costumes and highly stylized modes of presentation. The three important religions of Karnataka namely Jaina, Shaiva and Vaishnava apparently have their own indigenous yakshagana traditions. The earliest extant Yakshagana dates back to 1564 A.D. according to Shivarama Karantha. Many Yakshaganas composed after this Work by ajapura vishNu are now available. The stage forms of other parts of Karnataka also have hoary traditions even though they are not well documented.
‘Yakshagana’ is prevalent in the coastal Karnataka and Kasagodu the neighboring coastal district of Kerala. Yakshagana variety prevalent in North Canara district is called ‘baDagatiTTu’ and the variety in the remaining districts is known as ‘tenkatiTTu’. ‘Yakshgana’ sans costume, stage and acting is called ‘tALamaddale’.
Some scholars have tried to find theatrical forms that are parallel to ‘Yakshgana’ in South Karnataka also. They have called it ‘mUDalapAya yakshagana’ or ‘doDDATa’. This is practiced in South Karnataka and the districts of Gulbarga and Raichur which are often designated as Hyderabad Karnataka. These are full fledged productions, based on complete texts, reveling in themes related to wars and love.
‘SaNNATa’ and ‘KrishNapArijAta’, the latter being a sub class of the former are practiced in the districts of North Karnataka such as Dharwar, Bijapur, Bagalakot and Belgaum. These are less demonstrative and relatively short and stereotyped. They adapt mythological, historical and social themes. Some scholars have subdivided ‘saNNAta’ in to two streams called ‘dAsarATa’ (Vaishnavaite) and ‘sharaNarATa’ (Shaivite) based on their religious affiliations. Some ‘saNNATas excluded both these categories and concentrated on social themes.
Puppet theatre is yet another ancient theatrical form present Karnataka even though it has a pan Indian spread. String puppetry shows performed by Killekyta community is very old. Leather puppetry is another variety with a lot of recreative value. These varieties are dealt with in detail in separate entries.
Of course it is difficult to give exact chronological details about these forms because we lack historical documents. However, they are definitely traditional as against the professional theatre of the early twentieth century.
Further Readings and Links:
1. ‘History of Indian theatre’ Volume-3, By Manohar Lakshman Varadapande,
2. ‘The Folk theatre of North Karnataka’ by B.S. Naikar, 1996, Karnatak University, Dharwar.
3. ‘The Tradition of Kannada theatre’, K.D. Kurtakoti, 1986 publishe by I.B.H. Prakashana, Bangalore for Karnataka Academy, Bangalore.
4. ‘Semiotics of Yakshagana’ By Guru Rao Bapat, 1998, R.R.C., Udupi
Sahitya’ By Chandrashekhara Kambara and others, 1978, I.B.H. Prakashana,