– Written by Dr. V. Raghavan
South Canarese Yakṣa Gāna presentation is based on Nāṭyaśāstra – noted way back in 1930’s
A review of “Sanskrit Drama – Its Aesthetics and Production” By Dr. V Raghavan. This book is one of
the must reads for Art Historians-Researchers-Students which enlightens and initiates them to world
of Samskrita Dramaturgy and its classical connection with prevalent dance and dance-drama forms of
India. Most importantly, it explores and propounds influence of Bharata’s Nāṭya Śāstra on the theatre
forms present in China, Cambodia, Thailand, Malaya, Indonesia and even Japan. The in-depth
scholarly essays also gives hints to the politico-cultural developments of Modern India as well.
About the writer and the book: Dr. V Raghavan(1908-1979), was a multi-faceted scholar in various fields
of Indology who took special interest in Dramaturgy and literary criticism. His critical acumen produced over 100 books and 1100 content rich papers. This particular book, though published posthumously in 1993, contains essays published between 1930 till 1981 in various journals and magazines. These essays span his intense study period from student days until the end of his life. Focusing mainly on the Samskrita Drama tradition and its various aspects, Dr. Raghavan also identifies its connection with regional theatres such as Kuchipudi Yakshagana, Kudiattam, Kathakali, Karnataka Yakshagana and Bhagavata Mela. (Refer: Contents Page image)
Publisher: Samskrita Ranga, Madras
Occasion: During the Valedictory function of Dr. Raghavan’s 81st birthday celebrations.
Foreword written by: Prof K R Srinivas Iyengar(1908-1999) who was a senior most critic-poet, versatile scholar who held prestigious posts.
Introduction by: Prof K K Raja received its first copy and wrote the introduction.
Type of Book: Collection of scholarly essays.
In this review, I will mainly focus on the essay named Yakṣa Gāna– Old Drama of South Karnataka(Page 359-373).
Essay that pointed Yakshagana’s classicism:
This essay was written and published in 1933-34. Being the first of its kind, this scholarly article has
highlighted the existence of Caturvidha Abhinaya, Dharmis, and Vṛttis among other aspects of Bharata’s
Nātyaśāstra in Yakṣagāna. This essay is acknowledged later on by researchers Vidvan Kukkila Krishna Bhat and Dr. Padekallu Vishnu Bhat in their scholarly articles on Yakshagana. In the article ‘Yakṣagānadalli Śāstrīyate’(1980), Kukkila Krishna Bhat endorsed Raghavan’s views and extended his study along the lines of Nāṭyaśāstra. Dr. Padekallu Vishnu Bhat has identified 5 notable time periods of research on Karnataka Yakṣagāna and Raghavan’s essay gets an important mention in the first period (1895-1945). In addition to this, Dr. Padekallu notes the lack of exposure to this study.
Raghavan’s observations regarding Yakshagana of South Karnataka:
• Yakṣa Gāna is essentially a folk art, but influenced by the refined sophisticated Dance and Drama arts
of the Samskrit Nāṭya Śāstra. It has absorbed the technique of abhinaya(gesturing), music, tala and
the appropriate dance patterns as detailed in Samskrita Nāṭya Śāstra.
• The Samskrit word Yakṣagāna is referred in Govind Dikshitar’s music treatise ‘Sangīta Sudhā’ which
mentions the Yakṣa Gāna as one of the forms of music.
• The Tamil name Terukkoottu corresponds to the Vithi Nataka of Andhra and Bayal Attam of
Karnataka, all the three being Yakṣa Gāna.
• Etymology and a possible phase of evolution is explained briefly in terms of the Andhra Yakṣa Gāna
and Terukkoottu. Details given by Telugu Pandit Brahmaṣri Vetlur Prabhakar Shastriyar is
• A 17th century Telugu work on poetics called ‘Appakāvyam’ says that the Yakṣa Gāna compositions
are in the Ragada(Kanarese Ragaḷa) metre.
• Corresponding to the operatic South Indian open air Drama called Yakṣa Gāna, Terukkoottu, Vithi
Nataka there is a North Indian variety called ‘Carana Gita’, which Raghavan was note able to know
• Referring to structure of the lyrics in Sanskrit Drama called Pārijātaharaṇa written by Umapati,
Raghavan says that Yakṣa Gāna is certainly older than 300 or 400 years.
• As at the Andhra Kuchipudi and at the Tamil Sulamangalam and Uttukkadu the actors of the Kanarese
Yakṣa Gāna are called ‘Bhagavatars.’
• As in Tamil, so also in Kannada, they call a set and its performance a ‘Mēḷa’.
• Observing the Badagu Tiṭṭu performance, Raghavan says that Yakṣa Gāna is chiefly a South Kanara
Art. Observing the influence of Bharata’s art in Karnataka in Belur and Halebidu sculptures he infers
that the Yakṣa Gāna also got its music, abhinaya and nṛtta dance from Nāṭyaśāstra.
• Itivṛtta(themes) of all Dramas of Yakṣa Gāna are fights and warfare which depict stories of vira and
raudra rasa from our Puranic legends. While analyzing this characteristic of the Itivṛtta(Prasanga),
Raghavan notes the resemblances and differences among the chosen themes in Terukkoottu and
Kathakaḷi. Thus he says, Kanarese Yakṣa Gāna and Malabar Kathakaḷi are ‘Tandavic’.
• Ahāryābhinaya: Many of the makeup and masks described by Bharata can be found in Yakṣa Gāna.
But the tastes and fashions of the modern stage have spoilt the female make-up of Yakṣa Gāna and
this spoils the impression in the mind of the spectators. Saying so Raghavan criticizes the modern
Dress worn by Sati in Girija Kalyana and admires the old-type costume worn by Minakshi in Minakshi
Kalyana. [sic] We can enjoy a pure old folk-art in all its simplicity and power; we can see a highly
refined modern Drama but we cannot withstand hybrid products. Surely the Yakṣa Gāna make-up is
as epic as its theme and gives us the atmosphere of epic grandeur [sic].
• His elaborate explanation of the costumes of various characters helps us to understand the multiplicity of the variety he observed in stage performances.
• Pūrva Raṇga: Raghavan notes the Vinayaka Stuti in the green room, Subbaraya stuti, Bāla Gōpāla,
Peeṭhikā Strī etc Kathāpīṭhikā sung by the Bhagavatha is linked to the sthāpanā in Samskrit
• Hastābhinaya: Raghavan opines that Yakṣa Gāna must have originally been a very faithful form of
Bharata’s theatre in respect of Abhinaya. Render every word of it through abhinaya i.e.
‘pratipadārthābhinaya’. He says, but now it has become impoverished in respect of Abhinaya as like
in Terukkoottu. It has approached modern Drama in having a lot of prose-dialogue between actors. He
suggests the abhinaya in Rākṣasa Oḍḍōlaga and Kashi Raja Putris’ Jalakēḷi were true to Nāṭya Śāstra
which used various hastas.
• Nṛtta : Yakṣa Gāna is remarkable for its pure dance i.e. nṛtta. Next to the make-up, the speech and the
song, the greatest and perhaps the most beautiful part of the Yakṣa Gāna is its nṛtta. In detail he explains the Oḍḍōlaga nṛtta, Maṇḍi, karaṇas such as Dandaka Rechita, Krāntaka, Dōlapāda, Samya (in
Samskrit) or Kōlāṭa of Gandharva-Apsara-Hasya characters in Rukmāngada Caritre. Most importantly
observing the Yuddha nṛtta, Raghavan says, Bharata’s nyaya and sāttvati and ārabhaṭi vṛttis can be
realized on seeing the idealized fight -actions and the fight-dances of the Yakṣa Gāna
• Gita and Vadya: While describing the musical aspects of Yakṣa Gāna, technique of playing the chande
receives a special exclamation.
• Vācikābhinaya: Strewn copiously with good Samskrit idioms and occasionally exalted by gem-like
Samskrit verses, the dialogue is fully communicative of Rasa.
This kind of in depth analysis was possible because Raghavan witnessed a set of performances(8
prasangas) of two Mēḷas namely South Kanara Yakṣagāna Dramatic Co. and Sri Perdur Ananth
Padmanabha Swami Daṣāvataram Dramatic Co which was organized in Madras in the year 1933. So this
article becomes an important historical document of Yakṣa Gāna travelling outside the Kannada speaking region of India. Also in the end of this pretty detailed essay Raghavan describes and analyses the artistry of main artists of the troupe. Out of them artist Ganapathi Prabhu gets a notable mention. Raghavan says:
‘I am told that he(Ganapathi Prabhu) is the best in the whole of South Canara. He is almost fifty(back in
1930’s) now and is as agile in his dances as the youngest of his troupe. His lilts of the neck, the Griva
Recakas, and the movements of the chest and the hands are very fine. When he plays Dhīrodatta and
Dhīra-Shanta or sublime heroes like Rukmāṅgada his movements are very graceful. . ’. Likewise rest of
the artists are all mentioned in the last two long paragraphs. Awestruck by the Yakṣa Gāna performances with all its grandeur, Raghavan exclaims that Yakṣa Gāna achieves the purpose of Nāṭya remarkably. Continuing he remarks that moral tone, fine truths and classic philosophical ideas make Yakṣa Gāna a true form of liberal education which brings the illiterate and the ignorant the essence of wisdom of rishis. Thus, a very close attention given to every aspect of Yakṣa Gāna performance shows that Raghavan had an engaging discussion with the artists along with detailed observation of their performance.
Not to ignore in this essay is the set of 8 black and white photos of Ganapathi Prabhu, Chandayya,
Krishnappa, Annayya, Kittappa and Seenappa and 2 line drawings. (Refer: pictures given)
The list of essays present in the book and their critical observations:
1) The Indian Classical Theatre(1968)
2) Sanskrit Drama Past, Present, Future(1962)
3) Aesthetics of Ancient Indian Drama((1956-58)
4) Music in Ancient Indian Drama(1954-56)
5) Producing Sanskrit Plays((1959-64-67)
6) Production of Sanskrit Plays – its value for Contemporary Theatre and problems of
7) Sanskrit Drama in Performance(1981)
8) Sanskrit Drama and Performance(1957, 67)
9) Hindu Theatre(1933)
10) Theatre Architecture in Ancient India(1931-33)
11) A note on the name Daśarūpaka(1933)
12) Bhāṇa and Lāsyaṅgas(1945, 63)
13) Uparūpakas and Nāṭyaprabandhas(1958, 64)
14) Nāṭyadharmi and Lokadharmi(1933,34)
16) Kūḍiyāṭṭam – Its form and Significance as Sanskrit Drama(1962)
17) Kathakaḷi and other forms of Bharatanāṭya outside Kerala(1933)
18) Yakṣagāna(of Andhra)
19) Yakṣa Gāna – Old Drama of South Karnataka( 1933, 34)
20) Bhāgavatamela Nāṭaka(1937)
Few Major findings by Dr. Raghavan in the above mentioned essays:
• While Greek Drama was growing in the 6th century B.C during the celebration for the festival of
Dionysius, Indian Drama had also developed since dance, music, dialogue etc. are already in the Vedas
and historians of Indian Drama have held that Indian Drama had native origin, a religious and ritual
origin. In support of this, 2 examples are given: 1) Naṭa Sūtras mention in Pāṇini’s Aṣtādhyāyi 2)
Mouryan minister-poet Subandhu’s drama Vāsavadattānāṭyadhārā written in 4th Cent.
• Raghavan observes the shift from all-Samskṛta-less-Prākṛta plays to all-Prākṛt plays from 10th Century
onwards. Analysis using Kashmirian poet Jayanta’s concept of ‘Āgamaḍambara’ and Rajashekhara’s
all-Prākṛt play Karpūramanjarī
• The whole of Far-East and South-East-Asia is connected with ‘one unified theatre-tradition’.
• The Ancient Indian Drama explores the possibilities of expressing the idea through symbolism and
convention, not aim at impossible realism. When saying so he points at the stage props, curtains etc.
and finds conventional Nāṭyadharmī technique as very unique in Indian Drama tradition.
• Quoting Śāradātanaya in his Bhāvaprakāśa, Raghavan notes a historical fact that Nāṭaka form from
Daśarūpaka is the latest theatrical presentation evolved from all the earlier and imperfect varieties like
Vīthi, Anka etc.
• Name Daśarūpa applies to all types of Drama. The number 10 stands to signify ten kinds of Dramatic
tendencies or aspects in Drama. He comes to this conclusion analyzing Bharata, Kohala and
Abhinavagupta’s explanation of Rūpaka Lakṣaṇa.
• In detail description of Nṛtyaprabandhas as described in Abhinavabhārati, Śṛngāraprakāśa and other
texts, Raghavan notes the Uparūpakas as precursors to our modern day Bharatanāṭya repertoire. Ex:
Varnas, Padas etc.
• He says, Gītagovinda(12th Century) has not only inspired numerous Samskrita imitations but led to the outburst of a class of musical dance-drama in the local languages, sometimes mixed with Samskrita,
in different parts of the country. The compositions of Sankaradeva of Assam, of Umapathi in Bihar, of Bhagavata nāṭakas and Yakṣagāna and Kṛṣṇanāṭṭam and Kathakali of Andhra, Karnataka, Tamil
and Malayalam areas – all turn to the Gītagovinda as the ultimate source and inspiration. He mentions
Nandanār Caritam, Rāmanāṭakam, Skandapurāṇa Kirtanas and Bhāgavata Daśama Skanda Kirtanas
are in the ‘chitra’ vaireity of Raga Kavyas(a type of Uparūpaka).
• As explained by Bharata, Vṛttis are the ‘Mothers of Kavya’. The prayoga or presentation of ten types
of Dramas are based on these Vṛttis. The super long essay Vṛttis has six sub headings. 1) Introduction
2) The origin of Vṛttis 3) What is Vṛtti? 4) The Vṛttyaṅgas 5) Number of Vṛttis 6) The history of Vṛtti
in Kavya. This essay has been published in parts over the span of 2 years. The extent of study in this
topic is very vast and approaches the subject from different angles.
Thus, the book Sanskrit Drama-Its Aesthetics and Production written by Dr. V Raghavan is indeed a helpful guide to researchers in the field of Indian Dramaturgy.
Regional Resource Centre for Folk Performing Arts,