Speaking for a form

Dr. Prabhakar Joshi is among the most important scholars in the field of Yakshagana and Talamaddale. An orator, poet, researcher, lexicographer and more, Prabhakar Joshi will receive the Patla Prashasthi-2019 on June 2 in Mangaluru, a big honour for Yakshagana artistes

Dr. Prabhakar Joshi is the among the foremost scholars and creative artistes in the field of Yakshagana-Talamaddale. His engagement with the art form is so intense that he can see it as an insider as well as an outsider. Though Yakshagana is restricted to coastal Karnataka, what it depicts and encapsulates is of pan Indian dimensions — philosophy, music, darshanas, folk, dance and poetry. Therefore, to be called a scholar of Yakshgana, one must have an in-depth knowledge of the above aspects. Dr. Prabhakar Joshi is a talamaddale arthadhari par excellence, an orator, critic, poet, writer, researcher, lecturer-lexicographer and also a percussionist (maddale-Chende). Therefore, to understand Dr. Prabhakar Joshi, is to comprehend the core aesthetic values of Yakshagana.

Dr. Prabhakar Joshi is a recipient of the “Parthi Subba Prashasthi”, the highest award conferred by Karnataka Government in the field of Yakshagana. He has currently been nominated for the Patla Prashasthi-2019, accorded by “Yaksha Dhruva Patala Foundation Trust”, a giant philanthropic organization spread all over the world. It is founded by an Yakshagana artist, Bhagavatha (Yakshagana singer) Patla Sathish Shetty. The trust mobilises funds to extend help to Yakshagana artistes who are in need.

Dr. Prabhakar Joshi is a liberal in his analysis of Yakshagana, but on no count will he compromise on its core values. The language of art must be communicated to the audience, and once that is achieved, says Prabhakar Joshi, what the rasikas perceive will be of superior quality. According to Dr. Joshi, Yakshagana is a very rich theatrical form with limited theatrical accessories. A wooden stage with four wooden wheels becomes the throne, chariot, and the litho to be used in the forest. The stage (rangasthala) can become a palace, forest, and battlefield all at once. He propagates that Yakshagana can borrow from other forms, but it has to be distilled into the Yakshagana idiom. For instance, if the story of Gandhi is enacted, he must not be shown as a wall poster, but should don the costumes of the Rishi in Yakshagana.

Born in the village of Mala, of Udupi district, Dr. Joshi was trained in Yakshagana of tenku tittu, fairly early in his life. He learnt the maddale from his grandfather, Anirudha Bhat. Yakshagana was Joshi’s breath even as a young boy. Also, amateur Yakshagana institutes like Mala Parashurama Yakshagana Sangha, Venkataramana Yakshagana Sangha and Anantashayana Yakshagana Sangha moulded the orator, thinker and analyst in Dr. Prabhakar Joshi, during his formative days. Dr. Joshi served as commerce lecturer at the Besant women’s college, Mangaluru and earned the love and affection of his students. His Ph.D. thesis is on “Krishna Sandhana Prasanga and prayoga”. “Krishna Sandhana” is a popular Yakshagana prasanga based on Udyoga parva of Mahabharatha. Joshi’s research work analyses its various facets, possibilities of interpretation of characters, and how some of the songs even influenced the people of Dakshina Kannada that they became idioms.

Dr. Prabhakar Joshi is also a lexicographer. “Yakshagana Padakosha” is his one of his important works. The book explains the terminology of Yakshagana, and is first of its kind for Yakashagana. Dr. Joshi has authored 12 Yakshagana related books, and two on Indian philosophy. Dr. Joshi has also edited highly acclaimed works like the “Kukkila Samputa” and co-edited “Yakshagana Makaranda” to mention a few.

Dr. Prabhakar Joshi says Yakshagana relives mythological life. “Reliving, recreating and expanding the myth” is an essential outcome of Yakshagana . Moreover, Dr. Joshi opines that connoisseurs are a part of the ever-expanding mythology. He argues that the shastra of Yakshagana lies in its prayoga. It is this prayoga when written down becomes shastra of Yakshagana.

For any art to determine its classicism or non classicism, it does not really depend on the existence of written shastras, Joshi is firm in his opinion on this. He sees Yakshagana as a profound and complete art.

Yakshagana is an art strongly felt in coastal Karnataka, though its reach is worldwide. How can Yakshagana be presented on par with other world theatre forms?

Each theatre form has a strong geographical association, where it is appreciated and understood. For example, Doddata is well appreciated in Dharwad and surrounding regions. People of other parts can only watch it as enthusiasts. In Mangaluru, we can enjoy Govinda Bhat or Kumble Sundar Rao performing Krishna’s role, though they are much older to play the role. We enjoy them with the memory of their past glory. This is not so for world audience. We have to reshape, readjust, and make the performance time bound. Keeping the traditional values of the art, to reach the world audience, these adjustments are the need of the hour.

In Yakshagana, tradition directs the show. There is a perception that Bhagavatha (singer) is the director. However, a deep understanding of Yakshagana art reveals that Bhagavatha is mere conductor of the show; tradition itself is the director. For every act (prasanga) there is a tradition. Also, there is a tradition in the greenroom (how to sit, what are the costumes for each role, what is the type of make up for each character, stage movement etc are all determined by the tradition). Bhagavathike also has to become more stylised if we want to take Yakshagana to a global stage.

Do you think Yakshagana should have written rules or shastras?

Practice first and shastras next. Rules or shastras are constructed on the existing practices, conventions and traditions. There are various aspects in which we have to understand the shastras. Bharatha’s Natyashastra, rasa siddhantas (navarasas), existing raga system of southern music etc. are to be considered. In Green Room or ‘chowki’, there is a practise, though rules are unsaid the hasyagara sits in a particular spot, there is a specific place for bannada vesha, pundu vesha etc. There are 15 ways in which the demon does his make up, and 12 ways in which the king does his make up… therefore, we can codify the practises to call them shastras.

In Yakshagana of northern style (badagu tittu), there is a step called ‘Janu Bhramari’ or ‘mandi kunita’. It is to depict the bravery or ‘veera rasa’. However, the great artiste, the late Shambhu Hegde used this step while ending his life or departing from the stage, after witnessing ‘vishwaroopa’ of Shri Krishna.

Speak about Kala Bhasha, the language of art.

Yakshagana is “yakshagana” because of its grammar formed by the grand costumes, make up, dialogue delivery, bhagavatike and so on. It is important to maintain and understand this Ranga Bhashe or Ranga Gandha right from training to performance. Bannada Malinga, Alike Ramayya or Govinda Bhat are great artistes because they had a long internship during their primitive years. What constitutes the essence of the art form is to be understood.

Yakshagana has clear grammar. To exemplify, the Ratha on the stage can become chariot, shivalinga, tree, throne of a king etc. This is the strength of the art and not its poverty. Therefore, we have to first understand what is Yakshagana. Yakshagana is neither a movie, nor is it Bharathanatya or Kuchupudi. Therefore, knowing the Rangabhasha and depicting accordingly is the need of the hour.

What is your message to the young talamaddale artists.

I don’t believe in giving message or guidance. I need guidance. I have been a part of the Sheni Gopalakrishna Bhat, Shankaranarayana Samaga and Ramadas Samaga years. Sheni-Samaga period brought sweeping change. We have to be respectful to the values they brought and also be cautious while accepting them. How best we can present the theme, recreate the roles and weave it into meaningful form and structure is always of formeost concern.

With change in time, it is essential to understand the tradition of Talamaddale. Often I have seen many scholars coming to the field of Talamaddale, without the knowledge of tradition. So, prasanganubhava (knowledge of story or script), nade ( way of presenting the story) are to be comprehended thoroughly. Understanding the pulse of tradition of Talamaddale is important.

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