Kalladi Koraga Shetty (1900-1969) is a well known name, and an important personality in the history of Yakshagana organisation. Termed as a ‘revolutionary organiser’, Sri Shetty brought new dimension to it, and created history, emulated by many later.
Born at Kalladi of Ira (Kundavu) of Bantwal Taluk, Shetty was drawn towards Yakshagana, by mere chance without any family background of it. Koraga Shetty tried his hand at business by running a grocery shop for about a decade. Then came the big turning point. In 1937, his relative Niddodi Uggappa Shetty motivated him to take up the responsibility of the Kateel Temple Troupe (Mela), which he did for 5 years. By that time Koraga Shetty was a ‘Arthadari’ in the Talamaddale form of Yakshagana and an ardent spectator for Bayalatas.

In the 1940s he started his own troupe Ira Somanatheshwara Yakshagana Mela, also popularly known as Kundavu Mela, as the place of the temple is called Kundavu. It was a big troupe, with ‘top stars’ of that time in it. It was a traditional ‘Harake’ organisation – a troupe giving free shows by command of a coonoiseur, who pays for it as an ‘vow’ or ‘service’ to the deity (‘Seve’ or ‘Harake’ as it is called). Shetty found that this type of organisation was not stable, was too dependent on the ‘Harakedara’ , landlords and shows were not guaranteed. Hence, it could nto be a profession to either artists or the troupe owner (Yajman as he is called – meaning head of the troupe). Then it struck to him – why not convert the troupe into a ticket show, a touring Yakshagana company, arranging entry of spectators by tickets. He took up the idea seriously and started the Ira Somanatheshwara Yakshagana Nataka Sabha – modelled on the drama companies of those days, the words ‘Nataka Sabha’ clearly showing the fact. (Interestingly Sri Nagody Vittaladasa Kamath started the first ‘Tent Troupe’ of the Northern style at the same time which functioned for two years.)

Kalladi’s Kundavu Mela became the icon of change in Yakshagana organisation. Comfortable seating, tent cover, new lighting system – all came and now the spectators could sit and enjoy comfortably. Instead of depending upon one person for patronage, Yakshagana now became dependent on ‘people’ by othr ticket system.

Another important ‘revolution’ which Koraga Shetty ushered was the Tulu Yakshagana performances. Hetherto Yakshagana was in Kannada only. shetty thought, why not have it in Tulu, the language of the majority of people in Dakshina Kannada district. The first episode thus produced was the famour Tulu epic ‘Koti Chennaya’, the story of two great heros. This was received very well and met with astonishing success, may be, even beyond the expectations of Sri Shetty. Later a number of Tulu Yakshaganas were brought to the stage. From here Kalladi never looked back. He set up a troupe system, on the basis of which a number of other troupes came up. Thus Koraga Shetty became the ‘Guru’ of the modern Yakshagana organisation.

His son Kalladi Vittal Shetty started the Karnataka Yakshagana Nataka Sabha, which created history in Yakshagana, both in performance and organisation. Vittala Shetty organised and managed the Karnataka Troupe for over three decades. He also started three more troupes.

At age f 75, Vittala Shetty is active now looking after the four Yakshagana troupes of Sri Kateel Temple, again a record in troupe organisation.

Koraga Shetty’s second son – Nagaraja Shetty set up a Yakshagana troupe, and managed it for few years (Nagaraja Shetty died at a young age). His grandson, (son of Vittala Shetty) Devi Prasada Shetty (Koraganna), took over the Karnataka troupe in about 1990 and managed it for few years. Now the troupe has been wound up, temporarily.

Thus Koraga Shetty’s contribution to Yakshagana is outstanding. He ‘democratised’ Yakshagana organisation by the ticket system, new set up and by starting Tulu Yakshagana. He is rightly called the ‘Visionary Yajman of Yakshagana’ by the great artist Sheni Gopalakrishna Bhat. Shetty ushered in an era, the legacy of which continues, even now.

Koraga Shetty passed away in 1969. As a person, he had many likeable qualities. There are many stories about his special ways of management, his respect for artists, his love and anger. He was a very ‘different organiser’ and ‘different person’, a person to remember.

Kalladi Vittala Shetty and Suratkal Jayarama Shetty (son-in-law) have done a commemorable job by setting up Kalladi Koraga Shetty Yaksha Prathistana, a foundation after his name which proposes to undertake constructive work in Yakshagana in the years to come.

– M Prabhakara Joshy

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