Friday 26 October 2012

Madhwacharya and Yakshagana

Madhwacharya is known all over the world as the pioneer of the Dwaitha system of philosophy. To millions of Hindus he is the avatar of Hanumantha and Bheema.
Scores of swamis, seers and others, including the Haridasas have eulogised him and sang peans in  their compositions. Madhwas rever him as the son of Vayu, the God of Wind. His contribution to the vast reportire of Dwaitha literature is immense and mind boggling. Hundreds of years after Jaya Theertha or better known as Teekachar wrote commentaries on the works of Madhwacharya, books and compilations on the Acharya continue to be written.
However, what is not  very well known is that the Acharya was not only a great philosopher but also the founder of the present day performance of  Yakshagana.
Please remember that the term Yakshagana is only a recent scholastic name given for a genre of arts called Kelike, Aata, Bayalaata and Dashavatara.
Historians and researchers trace the origin of Yakshagana to a native musical system known as Ghandharva Grama. This system is totally extinct now. The earliest mention of the term Yakshagana is around 1200 AD in the book Sangeetha Ratnakara of Saranga Deva. It was then better known as Jakka.
The term Yakshagana, which we use today, can be traced to Madhwacharya and his second direct disciple Narahari Theertha. (The Acharya ordained four disciples first into the Dwaitha pontificate. They are Padmanabha Theertha, Narahari Theertha, Madhava Theertha and Akshoba Theertha).
The Acharya and his disciples travelled all over India propagating the Dwaitha system. The Acharya travelled to Badari twice. In those days, such tours, called sanchara, were undertaken by foot. The Acharya and his large number of followers halted at several places enroute to their destinations in south and north India. During such times, some of the disciples were inspired by the Acharya and Narahari Theertha to enact some incidents from the Ramayana and the Mahabharata.
These performances were entirely based on the epics and here good always triumphed over evil.  The language used was also what was written in the epic. The Acharya too is supposed to have watched these performances and given suggestions.

Noted scholar Bannanje Govindacharya, in his speeches and writings, has said that Narahari Theertha had staged a performance around 1300 AD and this play was based on the dashavatara.
This performance became very popular and people flocked in large numbers to see it. Thus Narahari Theertha, with the blessings of the Acharya, started the first Yakshagana troupe which gave performances in Udupi. These performances were mainly called Dashavatara Aata. 
People of the coastal districts took to this form of  performance and slowly buy surely it spread far and wide and today it is better known as Yakshagana. People living in Kerala also adopted this form in their own distinctive style and this came to be known as Kuchipudi.
During the next few centuries Yakshagana took deep roots in and the coastal districts of  Karnataka.                
Did you know that the Wodeyar King, Kanteerava Narasaraja Wodeyar 2 in the early part of the 18th century authored 14 Yakshagana texts. His works on Yakshagana would have gone unnoticed but there were discovered in the Government library at Chennai a few decades ago. Another Wodeyar King, Mummadi Krishna Raja Wodeyar has written several Yakshagana texts. Even the Bheeshma of Carnatic music, Purandara Dasa has authored Yakshagana songs. Other Yakshagana poets include  Parti Subba, Ajapura Vishnu, Muddanna, Nagire Subba and others.
The first inscription about the Yakshagana is found at the Lakshminarayana temple at Kurugodu at Somasamudra in Bellary district. This inscription is dated to 1556 AD. Thes inscription says land has been donated to Yakshanagan  performers of  tala maddale programmes.  Yakshagana also finds mention in a palm leaf book Virata Parva by Vishnu. This manuscript was discovered at Ajapura  which is now known as Banavara. There is another palm-leaf manuscript  on Yakshagana called Sabhalakshana .
Yakshagana has drawn episodes from Torvi Ramayana written by Kumara Valmiki, a Brahmin who lived near Bijapur. The Vaishnava Bhakti movement of the Haridasas gave an impetus to the Yakshagana movement.  
No article on Yakshagana would be complete without mentioning the contribution of  Shivarama Karanth.  Today, Yakshagana has transcended all boundaries and is known all over India and abroad.
Even today, the Yakshagana draws heavily from the epics and this is a testimony to the influences that the Acharya and his disciples wielded.   

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