Yakshagana is a rare and unique traditional theatre of Karnataka in India with a recorded history of more than five centuries. It is a rich artistic blend of racy music, forceful dance, extempore speech and gorgeous costumes, combining the features of opera as well as drama and imparting moral education through mass entertainment.

Yakshagana is a sensory experience with the tense high-pitched drumming beats of the chande, mellow rhythm of the maddale (percussion) and the tinkling brass peal of the tala which accompanies the melodious singing of the story-teller – the “Bagawatha”.

Under the auspices of Shri Krishna Vrundavana and Houston Kannada Vrinda, Yakshagana Bayalata (Open-air field drama) was presented for the first time in the US in the parking lot in front of Krishna Vrundavana, on Synott Road, Sugar Land, by professional artists from “Sri Yakshadeva Mithra Kalamandali, Belvai, India who are touring the US.

Vasu Aithala and a team of Yakshagana enthusiasts from Houston brought this unique sensual experience to Houstonians on Saturday, July 28th.

The episode “Mahisha Mardhini” from “Sri Devi Mahatme of Sri Durga Saptashati of Markandeya Purana was presented portraying the everlasting conflict between good and evil, the fight between the Gods and demons and the supremacy of Mother Goddess Durga. It was set up in an open air stage which imitated the traditional look of “Rangasthala” with the young audience seated casually on the floor totally captivated with the show.

The vibrant entry of Demon Mahishasura (buffalo headed demon) playing with fire from the crackle and flash of resin powder thrown into fiery torches, the grand entry of Goddess Durga with eight arms, the excitement of a tiger walking on to the stage as a vehicle for Goddess Durga, the fierce battle between Mahishasura and Goddess Durga which concluded with the killing of Mahisha, were among the high watermarks of histrionics on display.

Magnificient fireworks during the show symbolized the spectacular performance.

More than five hundred people, both Kannada and non-Kannada speaking as well as a significant number of children enjoyed the performance. In keeping with tradition, hot snacks such as churmuri – chilli puffed rice were distributed during the show.

The well-known Bagawatha Patla Sathish Shetty was accompanied on the Maddale by Padmanabha Upadhya and on the Chende by the team leader Devananda Bhat.

Prof. M.L.Samaga as Lord Vishnu, Chandrashekara Dharmasthala as Shurpashaka, Devendra, Prashant Nelyadi as Malini and Devi, Mohana Bellippady as Mahishusara and Mahesh Maniyani as Dootha were aptly supported by local artists Meena Aithala as Aadi Maye, Sharath Akirekadu as Lord Brahma and Suhas Aithala as Lord Maheshwara.

Satish Rao of Udipi Café described it as a fantastic weekend and felt like he was back home in Hiriyadaka, a coastal town of Karnataka watching Yakshagana Bayalata. He called it a one of a kind event to remember for a long time to come. This sentiment was echoed by Dinesh Pejavar who said that having it outdoors was a brilliant idea and brought back fond memories of the bayalata performance in Pejaver some 60+ years ago!

According to Thara Narasimhan, the performance was “like watching the folklore in the paddy fields of India…the fireworks in between was an added bonus to the superb group of dancers, musicians and dramatists. The sight of a tiger walking on to the stage from the audience as a vehicle for Mahishasuramardhini was spectacular…and Mahisha’s atrocious behavior was simply outstanding.”

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