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The state of Karnataka boasts a fascinating variety of folk theatre. Groups of actors, from the rural strata, travel from one village to another, enacting plays in any street corner or elaborate mandapas.


The folk theatre of Karnataka, Bayalata (open air theatre) has derived its form from religious rituals. All folk performances are part of a ritual festival conducted in the name of the local deity. Dasarata, Sannata, Doddata, Parijata and Yakshagana are the five types of Bayalata commonly performed. In Parijata and Yakshagana a single narrator - sutradhar - controls the story, while the other forms comprise a chorus of four to five narrators, aided by a Vidhushaka or jester.

The Dasarata is performed by a group of dasas (mela) men and women who enact themes of Radha and Krishna with the aid of vibrant gestures. This popular style has been adapted by the Marathi theatre as Tamasha.  Sannata, or the small play, is an improvisation of the Dasarata. Sannata has a full-length story that spans around six hours, instead of several small stories. Sannata works on three distinct themes - the Vaishnavite theme, the Shaivite theme and the social theme. Unlike the other styles like the Yakshagana, Doddata and the puppet plays, Sannata brings the folk theatre to the social plane.

The Parijata, like the Sannata is also an opera, where the actor summarizes and explains the song. The key character is the Bhagvata, who doubles up as narrator and clown. The main story is based on the mythological romance of Krishna and Rukmani-Satyabhama. The Doddata is a combination of verse and prose. The performances are on an extravagant scale, with gorgeous costumes, grand stage and several characters shouting 'shabaash'.



Yakshagana is a typical dance-drama of the North Kenner and South Kannara districts of Karnataka (and also of Andhra Pradesh). It is an admixture of dance and drama. Its heart lies in 'Gana' meaning music. It is about 400 years old. Yakshagana is a true people's theatre, commonly staged in the paddy fields at nights and the themes are the same as all over India, the Ramayana, the Mahabharata and mythological tales from the Puranas. It enjoys immense popularity and its exponents are honoured just as great stage artistes are. The earliest Yakshagana manuscript goes back to 1651 AD. Yakshagana, like the other four styles of Bayalata, is performed during the night. The stage is set in front of a temple open to the audience on three sides. The story to be presented is called the Prasanga. The first character to enter is the clown. The language is Kannada and the themes are based on Hindu epics. The costumes are almost similar to the Kathakali ones and the style seems to have drawn inspiration from Kathakali. As prescribed in the Natya Shastra, it has the Sutradhara (conductor) and the Vidhushaka (the jester).


This narrative drama of Karnataka is predecessor of the Yakshagana, a colourful dance-drama of the region. Tal is a kind of cymbal and Maddale is a kind of drum. The chief narrator is called Bhagavata and his associates are called Arthadharis. Tal-maddale is a play without costumes, make-up, dance or acting and is performed in sitting position.


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