The rhythm of art & soul

The rhythm of art & soul
It was about 6.30 am when I stood staring at the building named “Yakshagana Kendra”. There was greenery on either side, with mist topping it like icing. About 20 children sat on the stage opposite, practising rhythm. The teacher sat amidst them, helping those who went wrong with their steps. In the adjacent room, the footsteps of those dancing the Yakshagana, along with the musical instruments, could be heard. I was at a unique centre called the Yakshagana Kendra in Udupi, which has taken the art of Yakshagana to newer heights. Along with experimenting with the art form it has also been training the younger generation in Yakshagana. 

A fine balance
These children come from various parts of the State like Thirthahalli, Chikkamagaluru, Hassan, Haveri, Kalaburagi, Bengaluru and Uttara Kannada. Currently there are 46 students in the Centre and most of them are from an economically backward background. Their accommodation and education is completely taken care of by the Centre. Along with the formal education, they are trained in the art of Yakshagana for four hours everyday.

Wondering how the children managed to balance arts along with their academics, I bump into Pradeepa. This class nine student has been at the academy for the last two years. His interest in Yakshagana stemmed from the fact that his father is a senior Yakshagana artiste. When I ask him if it is not difficult to learn and study at the same time, he says no and reveals that he wants to become a chartered accountant and Yakshagana will continue to be his passion. Like others in the Centre, Pradeepa goes home only during vacations.

Bannanje Sanjeeva Suvarna, a veteran Yakshagana artiste who has hobnobbed with stalwarts like Shivaram Karanth, Maya Rao and B V Karanth, is the principal of the Centre. An interesting point here is that Sanjeeva himself is an illiterate and an alumnus of the Centre as well. He joined the Centre in 1983 and subsequently, he was nominated as a teacher there. Initially only 10 students were taken in every year. Later, the strength and popularity of the Centre grew.

Most of the students who come here are the ones who are unable to complete their education due to financial constraints. “We figured that education was equally important and decided to offer formal lessons in addition to teaching Yakshagana. The Centre takes the responsibility of educating these children until PUC. Caste and religion play no role in selecting these children. It is strictly done on a need basis,” explains Sanjeeva.

Heralding change
The Centre follows gurukul system and there are three teachers in all. The teachers stay at the Centre and are accessible for children throughout the day. The training is stopped for a month during the final exams. “There are students who gain cent per cent and there are also those who score less. Our focus is on the latter group,strengthening them academically,” elaborates Sanjeeva. The students are grouped into three batches for training.

Resource persons at the Centre do not put pressure on the students for anything. The training helps children to mould their personality. Evey child is different and unique. Yakshagana helps them to evolve as better human beings. Parents come and visit parents only once a month. Some of the local educational institutions are supporting the cause by offering free education to these kids.

Sanjeeva recalls one of the many incidents that helped the Centre to overcome the discriminations of caste and creed. In the 1990s, when the Centre was carving a name for itself as a centre of art, a child who worked as a painter wished to join. When Sanjeeva welcomed him, he hesitated citing he is from a different caste. Though there was some resistance from other staff, Sanjeeva, who had inculcated the secular notions of Shivaram Karanth, stood by him and convinced others. The same boy has grown to be a popular Yakshagana trainer today.

Although the students here have been training for quite some time, they have not given too many performances. The Centre feels that most of the plays are not suitable for children to perform. There are also occasions when the Centre has modified certain plays to suit children’s mentality and has given performances at different places.

It also conducts Yakshagana classes for others on a regular basis. The Centre, which is known for its innovative efforts, is supported by government funds and benefactors.
(Translated by Deepika Nidige)

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