Photo Essay: Coastal Karnataka’s Ancient Nighttime Performance

Once limited to men, Yakshagana — which features demons, comedians, and a singing narrator — has evolved with the times.

Rashi Arora

February 28, 2020

Photo Essay: Coastal Karnataka’s Ancient Nighttime Performance
Yakshagana (Rashi Arora)

In 2013, I was on a solo trip to explore Karnataka for nearly two weeks. My route began from the ancient historical city of Hampi and ended in the rainforests of Agumbe. On a lazy Sunday afternoon, I was walking the narrow lanes of coastal Kundapura after having a scrumptious fish thali at Shetty Lunch Home. I noticed a huge banner in bold vibrant letters that mentioned “Yakshagana.” A nearby shopkeeper told me about the classical dance form, usually performed in the coastal region of Karnataka. Yakshagana, which means the song (gana) of the Yaksha (nature spirits), is based on stories connected to Hindu epics, such as the Mahabharata and the Ramayana, or those of old famous warriors, like the Tulu twin heroes from the 15th century, Koti and Chennayya.