Story of Mahisha in Yakshagana
Text & pics: Hareesh N Nampoothiri

July 26, 2015

Art lovers of Thiruvananthapuram got a rare chance to witness the traditional theater form of Karnataka Yakshagana as Bharat Bhavan organized its staging as part of 'Mazha Virunnu' art festival on the tenth of this month. It was presented by Sree Karthikeya Kalanilayam, a noted troupe from Kasaragod. The play ‘Mahishasura Vadhe’ based on the poem penned by Agari Sreenivasa Bhagavath, traces the life of the buffalo demon Mahishasura from birth till death. Being more of a folk art form, the Yakshagana follows a simple narrative style that appeals even to the common man.

The play opens with Indra sharing his worries with Agni on account of the frequent attacks on heaven by the asuras. A.G. Nair and Madhu Edaneeru appeared as Indra and Agni respectively and made it a good start. Along with other actors on stage, Bhagavatharu and at times even the percussion artists reciprocated to the dialogues of the main actor and the uniqueness of the art form was pretty much evident from the first scene itself.

The scene then switches to the forest where Malini, the demon princess, prays to Brahma for a mighty and brave son. Balakrishna Seethangoli presented Malini as a woman of purpose. B.K. Balakrishnan appeared as Brahma. She gets her wish fulfilled by Brahma but a curse from sage Suparshvaka (Damodaran Master Malla) turns her son to a buffalo headed child and he grows to become Mahishasura.

A.G. Nair as Indra and
Madhuraj Edaneeru as Agni

Subrahmanya Adka as Shankhasura, Mahabaleshwara Bhat Bhagamandala
as Deva Dootha and Shekhara Jayanagara as Mahishasura

In the next scene, a Dootha (Mahabaleshwara Bhat Bhagamandala) comes to Malini with the news from heaven where her husband is fighting with the gods. The very idea of the scene is to provide some lighter moments and the two actors did it well making the crowd burst into laughter. At the end, Dootha tells her that her husband has been killed in the battle. Upon hearing this news, Malini gets very upset and calls for her son Mahisha to avenge his father’s death.

Sridevi (Balakrishna Seethangoli) along with other gods

When it comes to Yakshagana, it seems even Mahishasura has got some sense of humor as was evident from the way the character was presented. Shekhara Jayanagara handled the role and kept the character well in balance. At times he entertained the crowd with some witty dialogues and actions, but effectively brought in those moods of rage whenever required. As he urges fighting the gods, Malini advises him to first pray to Lord Brahma and make himself stronger. He agrees, prays to Brahma and gains a boon that made him invulnerable to men of any species. Afterward, Mahishasura meets Shankhasura and together they lead their troops to the heavens. At the gate the two meet the gatekeeper, aka Deva Dootha (Mahabaleshwara Bhat), and the conversation between them again opened up some lighter moments. Subrahmanya Adka in the role of Shankhasura did a fair job playing partner to the demon king. After making the gatekeeper flee for his life, both of them enter heaven. Gods lose their fight this time and as always approach Brahma, Vishnu (Sathya Malla) and Maheswara (Madhuraj Edaneeru) seeking help. The three gods along with other gods combine their powers together and it takes the form of Sridevi. She meets Mahishasura in the battlefield and at the end kills him. Balakrishna Seethangoli was seen even better in the role of Sridevi, displaying a mix of moods of valor and anger. The play concludes with Indra worshiping Devi for saving the heavens from the asuras.

When it comes to music and percussion, Yakshagana follows its own unique melodic modes and beat patterns. Mahesh Bhat Bayaru (Bhagavatharu), Ishwara Bhat Ballamoole (chende, a miniature version of chenda), Balakrishna Achegoli (maddale) and Rithesh Patali (chakrathala or bells) formed the himmela (musicians) group and amply supported the mummela (dancers) group.

However, the poetry and dialogues being in Kannada and as the presentation heavily relies on  vachika, it proved a challenge for the audience to follow it precisely. But then, the art form being illustrative and storyline being familiar, it helped to break down the language barriers for Keralites to enjoy.

Hareesh N. Nampoothiri is a visual design consultant by profession, an art lover by obsession and a photographer who specializes in dance photography. He writes regularly on classical dance performances and films for various web / print media. He is also an author of three books; director of ‘Thouryathrikam,’ a documentary feature on Kathakali and the founder of NEWNMEDIA™, a firm providing digital design solutions.