Dr K Shivarama Karanth (1902 – 1997), with his wide spectrum of activities, outstanding achievements and very special capacities and energy, can be considered as a representative of Kannada culture and a symbol of the dynamism and variety of the life of Coastal Karnataka. He was a novelist, science writer, essayist, travelogue writer, opera – ballet composer, critic, art expert, humourist, lexicographer, author of children’s literature and what not! He has also tried his hand at and made special mark in freedom struggle, politics, theatre, cultural organization, environmental movement, art organization, education and of course many more fields.
Yakshagana is one of the important areas of Karanth’s activities. He has given a lot of his time, mind and energy to this field. Attracted towards it from his boyhood, he made a deeper study of it since the 1940s and started writing on it. His work ‘Yakshagana Bayalata’ (1957, Revised Edition 1963) is the first major work on the art. It created a new awareness and knowledge about the art. He wrote another book on Yakshagana in 1975 in English and in Kannada. Another of his work on Yakshagana came out in 1995. Besides, he has published a number of essays, papers and articles on the art in English and Kannada.
His interest in the field was not restricted to writing. His ‘Kinnara Nritya’ ballet of 1950’s was basically inspired by Yakshagana. As a Guru of the Yakshagana training center at MGM College, he took active part in imparting art education, and also directed the experimental yakshagana ballet “Yaksharanga”, which won national and international acclaim. He used to train students until his last day at the age of ninetyfive.
A seminar organised by Sri Karanth (1958) at Brahmavar was the first of its kind. Since, he organised a number of workshops, and seminars on Yakshagana.
Dr Karanth’s interest in Yakshagana was mainly from the aesthetic point of views. He had studied its various aspects closely. He was concerned about the mutilation of the traditional beauty of the art. He concentrated his study and work on Yakshagana on the Northern (Badagu) style.
Yakshagana received national and international acclaim mainly due to Sri Karanth’s efforts. Modern institutional set up for and training, setting up a solid foundation for research and criticism, crating awareness about the art, exploration of the experimental theatre in Yakshagana – are his major contributions. He is a maestro to be ever remembered.