Yakshas is a term used for the exotic tribes in Indian mythology who are semi gods or extraterrestrials and they guard the wealth of the earth. Gaana means song / music. So, Yakshagaana literally means song of the Yaksha. This performing art form is a traditional folk dance-drama. It is a unique theatre form with a rare combination of dance, music, song, scholarly dialogues and colourful costumes. With roots in Sanskrit literature and theatre, Yakshagaana has a recorded history of more than five centuries.
Yakshagaana performances are staged in open-air theaters and are a night long event. Though women are now part of some Yakshagaana troupes, usually men portray all the roles, including the female roles. Traditionally, Yakshagaana mela (troupe) travels from one place to another after the winter crop has been harvested.
Each Yakshagaana performance classically depicts a story from Indian epics - Ramayana, Mahabharata, Bhagavata, and more. The Yakshagaana costumes and makeup are unique to the art. Large head gear, ornaments, clothing rich in colour, detailed facial makeup, and musical beads on the legs. The show consists of two parts - singers and instrumentalists in the background called Himmela, and the foreground actors called Mummela.
The performance starts with the traditional invocation to lord Ganesha with dance and music. Bhagavata, the narrator, narrates the story by singing, backed by musicians playing on traditional musical instruments - chande (drums), maddale, harmonium, taala (mini metal clappers) and flute. The actors dance to the music, with actions that portray the story as it is being narrated. The dialogues are traditionally impromptu and are rendered by the actors spontaneously with the flow of the song.
This vibrant performing art mesmerizes its audience with the tradition of presenting a narrative through mime, gesture, dance, dialog, song, decor and music as a single dance-drama.