The history of Bayalata

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Bayalata is a form of dance drama that is extremely popular in Mangalore,Udipi and the South Kanara district in the state of Karnataka (India). It is a form of Yakshagana which is normally performed in the open air after the monsoon rains and harvest. Yakshagana is one of the very old and most important folk theater performances of Karnataka and Kasargod which has brought fame to this region. Kasargod incidentally was a part of Karnataka but later it was integrated with the neighboring Kerala state during the unification of Karnataka state. Some theories suggest that Bayalata was a combination of Yakshagana and Bhoota kola , which is nothing but worship of ghosts and spirits, very popular in the district. However, Bhayalata is a part of a ritual that had religious implications in the past when local deities were worshiped.

Every village in Kasargod Taluk and the neighboring Kumble taluk is familiar with Bayalata and there are a good number of artistes hailing from that region and also from the neighboring regions of Puttur and Sulya . The South Kanara district is largely agricultural and filled with paddy fields. Once the cultivation season gets over and the fields are empty of crops and dry, it becomes the ideal theater place for Bayalata to be performed. Normally,the neighbors and all the households around the place contribute and bring out benches and low tables which are arranged and carpets spread over them to make a stage for the artists to perform.

The stage would be about 20 feet by 35 feet ( although traditionally they were meant to be no larger than 15 feet by 25 feet ) giving the artistes enough space to move around. There will be contributions made from everyone in the neighborhood by bringing in flowers, mango leaves and tender plantain stems to decorate the stage. The show begins normally in the late hours of the evening before sunset by the Chende ( an elongated drum like instrument , popular in this region, which is locally made by artisans ) being played. Chende is an integral and very important part of Bayalata. The beating of chende also makes people from far away places become aware that aata , as it is popularly called , will be played somewhere close by, and people normally flock to the place.

It lasts through the night beginning at about 9 Pm and with a break in between goes on until the early hours of the morning. People carry mats, dhurries, bed sheets, pillows and sometimes even easy chairs and other essentials since it can get uncomfortable sitting on the rough unfinished fields. Children and old people have a snooze when they are too sleepy but the artistes perform with the same vigor and the most enthusiastic fans stay up all night watching them perform even if it was the fourth or fifth time, that they were watching the same theme or prasanga as it is called in Tulu language.

 Some more details about Bhayalata 

The stories of Yakshagana are normally drawn from our ancient scriptures like Ramayana , The Mahabharatha , Bhagavatha and from other mythological stories. The most played ones are also those belonging to the local folk lore like 'Koti Channaya' and 'Devi Mahatme' both of which are the most popular stories in the district. Almost all the episodes are normally about the struggle between the good and the evil and the ultimate triumph of the Good.

We see that most ancient arts a have some common features and roots and are normally related to God and worship. These moral Values are better etched in the minds of people through this form of entertainment. And Bhayalata is no doubt one of the most ancient performing art in the southern region of India that s popular to this day in spite of all other outside influences.. Some more details about Bhayalata Some scholars are of the opinion that Yakshagana evolved from the ancient form of Bhoota kola which I already mentioned earlier in this article .

As this art form evolved over a period of time, it was also influenced by the Folk Dances lie Tamasha , Songs, Sanskrit Dramas and also from other popular dance forms like Bharata natya, Kuchupudi,.. The dance drama of Bhayalata Yakshagana is broadly divided into two different categories namely Moodalapaya and Paduvalapaya. The Moodalapaya (means those from the eastern side ) is divided into Doddata (longer play) and Sannata ( shorter play ) which are both very basic and crude forms of Yakshagana, nevertheless thoroughly enjoyed by the locals.

The Paduvalapaya (means those from the Western side) is again divided into Thenkuthittu (Southwards) and Badaguthittu (northwards). The Badguthittu is very popular in North Canara , the Konkan coast line of Karnataka mainly in places like Gokarna, Kundapur ,Brahmavar etc ; and Thenkuthittu is the extreme south of South Canara District (including Kasargod ). These two groups are distinguished by the costumes used by the performing artistes and the dance style .

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The Performance

The term Yakshagana means music made by the divine creatures , and when it is a musical dance drama played in the open air it is called as Bhayalata (Open air drama). In Bhayalata music and speech go hand in hand and normally it is very loud. The main attraction of Bhayalata is some special stage crafts where characters like the main characters like Gods and fearsome Demons are presented in a supernatural atmosphere and the audience are carried to a world of fantasy. This is normally the much awaited vent in the Bhayalata and it is done in a very simple manner, without any of the modern day frills yet in a very effective manner and you have the audience whistling and showing their appreciation. When I was a child I remember I would be woken up at 3 or 4 am ( normally such episode would come sometimes during the end ) just so that I would watch the great event and go back to sleep , while others watched it all night.

 The stage has to be carefully set before the performance begins. Normally the Bhayalata performance begins and ends with the prayer to Lord Ganesha. On the floor of the stage normally either to the side or at the back sits the Bhagavatha ( who sings all the verses for which the performers dance ) with his accompaniments. Bhagavatha is the most important person in this performance, who is the Narrator, Director and the person who literally takes it forward . Most people would like to know who the Bhagavatha is ? when a certain Bhayalata performance is mentioned and discussed, such is their clout !

He sings with the accompaniment of Taala (known as Jagate) and Mridanga (known as Maddale), Harmonium and Chakrathala ( this is a larger version of taala ). Along with all these musical instruments a high pictched 'Chende' ( drum) is used to give an added effect for those special moments. In olden days oil lamps and thudar ( a kind of light made by tying coconut fronds with jute strings and dipped in kerosene and lit )were used to light the stage. Bhayalata is a total theatrical performance because it has everything that is required of a performing art. It entertains one completely with many light moments and comic dialogues and is loved by both the learned and the illiterate population of the district . One can see people from all classes discussing the oncoming event together.

Systematic training in dance, music, dialogue and makeup (which is a very important part of dressing Dressing) is absolutely essential for an artist. Dialogue and makeup can be learnt only through years of practice. They need to learn to express the Navaras (Veera, Sringara, Karuana etc) and all forms of Abhinaya ( facial expressions and hand movements. Although , Bhayalata is often compared to Kathakkali , the expression of motions through the various Mudras peculiar to Kathakali is not observed here. All the actors who perform are accomplished with many years of experience and training.

The Characters of this art can be distinguished as Romantic and Demonical and are dressed accordingly. The Role of Karna, Arjuna ,Krishna etc are treated as romantic role, where only colorful and pleasing costumes are worn by the dancers. Whereas the demonic characters like Ravana, Mahishasur, Duryodhana, Kamsa etc have different facial makeup which is very intricate resembling that of Kathakali artistes. They often have ferocious make up around the eyes to convey to the public that they are bad, also huge mustache. Some of the very famous artistes carry this feature into their real lives as well.

The artists playing Satvika (saintly characters) and Sringara (romantic,playful and beautiful,attractive) roles use green shirts or tunics named Dagale . Rajasa ( kings and rulers) normally dress in Red tunics and Tamasa (the dark and shady characters) black tunics. The dress and the color is supposed to depict the character ,habit and behavior of the partcular role. The head gear is very important part of the dressing and it has its own distinctive features depending on various characters.. The main color used for the face decoration is in colors of white,red,green and shades of yellow. The entire look of the face is changed according to the nature of the character, one would never be able to recognise the person once he is wipes out his makeup.

Another very important feature of bhayalata is the women roles, which are all performed by men.They look so real that it is difficult to make out that they are men, so beautifully dressed and graceful are their expressions, body language and movements. As things stand today There are about 10 major troupes of Yakshagaga Bayalata in the District and many smaller ones as well. The major troupes have performers who have been in the troupes all their life and the troupes have the heritage of 100 to 150 years .

Nowadays due to urbanisation most of the paddy fields are getting converted into house sites and the Bhayalata troupe have to move further and further away from the larger cities to smaller villages. Funding is normally done by the village heads and through donations and normally people are more than willing to contribute towards this event since everyone realises that without support and encouragement the art would slowly perish. Many rich people book large halls and engage any one of the ten major troupe for a performance on special occasions like a wedding in the family when most of the family and friends gather and come together or also as a part of Harake , which means a vow taken in front of a diety.

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The Present status of Bhayalata

Although Bayalata is popular in places like South Kanara district ,there is a need for popularizing the art in other parts of the state as well. Bayalata Yakshagana is only played in coastal districts and in some areas of Shimoga and Chikmagalur in its traditional form in the open on fields and grounds. Yakshagana is one art that has undergone lots of experimentation during the recent years unlike other art forms. Art should not be for entertainment and fun alone, it should also contribute for intellectual growth and many of the top performers have been trying to make some positive contributions without taking away any of its traditional flavor.

This has made it richer and much more audience friendly since the performance has to reach the audience, and that is what is most important. There is also talk of making it into a subject for study since many scholars from Karnataka especially from South Kanara feel that there is a need for academic thinking of Yakshagana. They have been requesting the state government to support the art and the artists who manage with meager income.It is also imperative that the Yakshagana artists should be in a position to react to the queries concerning various aspects of Yakshagana. And for this to be possible, workshops should be organised and discussions should be held.

Finally, I would like to say that Bhayalata has a history of more than 400 years , may be even longer than that. But with patronage and the help of the concerned authorities it may not last long unless the artists are provided with some financial security. It is heartening that there are many private organisations in the district now trying to help them out by organising Bhayalata as part of seminars and almost all cultural events in the district normally have a compressed version of Bhayalata just to make outsiders aware of this amazing performing art. 


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