Yakshagana is an art form popular along the refreshing coastal line of Karnataka, India. Every year, soon after the lashing rains on coastal Karnataka calm down bringing in a cool breeze with a humid air, millions of fans of Yakshagana look forward to spending evenings and sometimes-sleepless nights watching their favorite stars shine as “Yakshas”. Soon after a season you will realize that it is no more the mythological stories of Ramayana and Mahabharata that keep the audience enthralled but an enchanting performance by their stars and their reviving styles.
Gundabala, a small village near Honnavar, a town on the costal Karnataka is like Broadway of New York to Yakshagana. This is the place where stars prove their mettle and emerge from the streets. Chittani Ramachandra Hegde, popularly known as “Chittani” among his fans, is an idol revered by thousands of fans of Yakshagana. I still remember, as a kid I would walk miles of distance in the darkness of woods to watch him perform on a clear moon laden night. For those thousands of fans like me, who miss Chittani in a far away American subcontinent, it was a great opportunity to watch him perform at Unitarian Church, Princeton, New Jersey on 10th September 2006.
“Peacock Dance”, the way a peacock would welcome fresh rainy season after a colorful spring, had Chittani style written all over it. In his own mesmerizing style the septuagenarian danced like a peacock, painting every colorful eye of feathers of peacock. This was a clear indication of the arriving main course of the feast.
Be it Duryodhana of “Gadhayuddha”, Dushtabuddhi of “Chandrahasa Charitre”, Bhasmasura of “Bhasmasura Mohini”, characters come alive, when performed by Chittani. His performance as “Karthaveerya” of “Karthaveeryarjuna Vijaya” was typical to Chittani with the same styles as a proud mythological King. When a mean Ravana approaches him begging for a war he tries to avoid it by ignoring him, convincing him with some persuasion. The confrontation begins with a war of words between the kings each one trying to over-power the other. Chittani’s performance received a thunderous applause when he teased Ravana for his feminine antics rather than being a valiant hero.
All efforts of Karthaveerya go in vain when adamant Ravana doesn’t heed his advice thanks to his ever-swollen ego. Obviously, super natural powers of Shiva bestowed to Ravana do not come handy on a war front (apparently because Ravana had ignored to perform his ritual duties), an indication that world needs more peace lovers not war monger.
The entire auditorium at Princeton was spellbound by the fantastic performance of the idol. It was a reminiscent of the old days at Gundabala, when true genius would arrive with every passing season. The team of Yakshagana enthusiasts at New Jersey deserves a special mention on the occasion for making a special weekend of Yakshagana fans around New Jersey.