Yakshagana is a popular folk theatre form of Karnataka with a long history of nearly four hundred years. It is a unique harmony of musical tradition, eye-catching costumes, and authentic styles of dance, improvised gestures and acting with its extemporaneous dialogue appealing to a wide range of the community. It is a vibrant, vigorous living form of theatre art.
A performance usually depicts a story from the Ramayana, the Mahabharata and the Puranas. In predominantly rural areas with little or no transportation, Yakshagana enjoys immense popularity and its exponents are honoured just as great stage artistes are.
Chikka Mela is a troupe of Yakshagana artistes that performs a short play based on a mythological subject. Unlike Yakshagana that is performed in the open air, Chikka Mela is performed door to door.
A typical Chikka Mela troupe consists of one male character (purusha vesha) and one woman character (sthree vesha) plus a background team of seven, which include the Bhagavatha, drummer and two assistants, as opposed to Yakshagana, which has a minimum of 12 characters.
They normally begin their performance at 6 pm and end at around 1 am. As they perform in the dark, they carry with them gas lights which provide brightness almost as good as daylight. The lights in fact add to the beauty of Chikka Mela and attract people.
In earlier days, when monsoon was believed to be the toughest time of the year, Chikka Mela was the only form of entertainment for people. With the rains restricting their movement, and in the absence of such pleasures as TV and computers, people could enjoy Yakshagana right in their homes. This way, children too would get a taste of the rich culture of the land.
Indian folk theatre is richly laden with rudiments of Indian art and culture. Once upon a time these performances were the only sources of recreation for the people. However today, with no dearth of options for our entertainment,we don’t depend on them for our enjoyment.
Hence it can be argued that there is no need to raise a hue and cry about their retention and revival. But if you watch the video posted above, you will realize that these are the very elements which manifest the uniqueness of every region of India. If we don’t preserve this individuality, we will very soon put an end to the diversity of India.
The onus is on us to encourage such troupes and retain the traditional folk art, because such arts as Yakshagana and others have brought the coastal regions of Mangalore and Udupi their unique identity.