Art for art’s sake in Kabballi wins people’s heart

Art for art’s sake in Kabballi wins people’s heart

Yakshagana artistes of Kabballi during a practice session. Photo/Shrinidhi Adiga

Scene 1: A hamlet in the morning. Near the bus stop, a villager speaks with his neighbour: “In the evening, I will perform in a bayalata (Moodalapaya Yakshagana). Don’t forget to attend it.”

Scene 2: A crowd is in a festive mood, busy decorating the temple for the annual festival.

A discussion goes on between two elderly people. “I can’t play Aanjaneya today. You have to do it. I have pain in my leg. I can’t manage both the roles.”

“But how will you perform the other role?”

“The moment I hear the beats from chande-maddale (percussions), performance builds itself.” 

Scene 3: The village entrance where the stage is being set up for the bayalata show. A villager introduces a character to a visitor.

“See, this person is our sthree veshadhari (female role player). Today, he plays Shabari.”  To which the artiste says, “I took on lead female roles. Like playing Seetha. Because of my age, I no longer do. I have limited myself to Shabari’s role.”

Scene 4: House of the bhagavatha. Fruit juice is offered to him. “No, I will not drink it because it will spoil my throat and I have a performance in the evening,” he declares. 

These scenes undoubtedly explain the villagers’ passion for yakshagana.

These are pictures from Kabballi, a village of 5,500 people, in Gundlupet taluk, Chamarajanagar district, where yakshagana has survived for generations and efforts are being made to preserve it. Performing yakshagana is ‘art for art’s sake’ for the folks of this hamlet. The hamlet was once called Chikkarajapura. A poet, Varadacharya, resided here. From kabbigara (poets) halli, it then changed to Kabballi.

In Kabballi, three generations of villagers have been staging the Moodalapaya Yakshagana prasanga, Vaali Sugreeva Kaalaga, for their annual temple festival to celebrate Cheluva Narayana Swami.

This folk form is also known as aata, attadata, bayalata, kunitha and nataka.

According to scholars, Moodalapaya has a 500-year-old history. Harmonium, mrudanga and mouth organ were the main musical instruments. The poets of Moodalapaaya Yakshagana thrived here.

 Earlier, the art flourished across 15 districts in the state — in Shivamogga, Mysuru, Mandya, Hassan, Bengaluru rural, Dodaballapura — its decline soon followed due to lack of encouragement. Unlike Paduvalapaya (the yakshagana of coastal Karnataka), this form has not seen revision.

Wise old man

Bhagavatha Bangarachari (82), who has been nominated for this year’s Parthisubba award from Yakshagaana Academy, teaches this form to the villagers. “My father and grandfather taught it to the villagers. Learners gathered near the temple during the night after domestic chores. It’s practised even today. The interest, however, for the art form has come down now,” Bangarachari, says. 

Kabballi also has the distinction of being the only village in the region where the art form has managed to live. “Villages close by, like Urugalli and Kodagapura, once had it, not anymore,” says Phalaniswami, who has conducted a research on the cultural practices of Gundlupet taluk. 

“In Bargi, villagers indulged in attadata. They set up two-floored stage. The upper floor was known as devaloka and lower one was bhooloka. This was to play out a prasanga (play text) like Airavatha. The elephant was made out of bamboo and placed in devaloka. Arjuna would then bring it to bhooloka. People en masse watched this show. It all stopped 30 years ago,” Bangarachari recalls.

Welcome all

Irrespective of caste, the residents from an agrarian background take part in this yakshagana. Their practice begins at 10 pm and goes on till 2 am. Head of the village, Goudike Ramanna says, “My father played Rama and now, I do.” The villagers even have their own himmela (background music) troupe. During Navarathri, this troupe performs yakshagana songs at the temple.  “We have very few youngsters in our troupe. They do not show much interest in this art form. Most of our artistes have crossed 60. This art may stop with our generation,” rues Ramanna.

Along with thousands of visitors from nearby villages, 83-year-old Kalmane Manjappa, a yakshagana teacher and Sangeet Natak Akademy-awardee travelled from Tiptur to Kabballi to watch the performance. “It’s great that the villagers here have been trying to preserve the tradition. They perform what they have learnt from their ancestors and enjoy it,” Manjappa pitches in. 

Narasegowda, a teacher-cum-artiste-cum-research scholar who learned of the yakshagana show in Kabballi through WhatsApp, came from Madhugiri of Tumkur district. “Villagers have not changed the text, dance, raga or stage. They are committed to the basic form. And they are passing this on to the next generation. Hats off to them,” says Narasegowda.

Kabballi’s folks are not behind awards.

What’s apparent is their commitment to pass on the yakshagana form. 

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