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Kapila Vatsyayan

By Martha Bush Ashton and Bruce Christie
Abhinav Publications, 1977, 180.00

VOLUME II NUMBER 3 May-June 1977

It was in the thirties that Dr. V. Raghavan had drawn attention to a form of theatre called Yaksagana. Much interest was aroused by his articles. In the early forties there was a lively dis­cussion amongst scholars about the origin of this fascinating form and its connec­tions with Kathakali. Interest in the form waned in the decades following, until Shivaram Karanth, the eminent Kannada writer, again aroused curiosity and speculation through both his writing and his practi­cal work with a traditional group in Udipi. In the sixties and early seventies, many others including stage directors like B.V. Karanth and film director/writer, Girish Karnad, were attracted to it. The National School of Drama invited Shivaram Karanth to direct a play in this style with a cast drawn from the staff and students of the school. Two parallel trends were in evidence. The first, a revival of the form and sus­tenance to the traditional artists through some financial assistance, and the other, a self-conscious effort by modern theatre directors to use the vibrant form for con­temporary themes. Alongside have been the efforts of a few scholars to undertake systematic studies of the origins and background of the form. Shivaram Karanth, equally at home in its literary background and its contemporary performance, is naturally the most competent person, and his book on Yaksagana is the first definitive study on the subject. The book written in Kannada was translated into Hindi and will soon be available in English. Karanth reconstructs the history of the form painstakingly and makes use of sizeable source material in Kannada literature. He presents a vivid account of its literary background and its vast repertoire. Also he culls from several sources its musical content and analyses the artistic structure of the performance in relation to the treatise (manual) on the Yaksagana called the Sabha-laksana prasanga. Martha Ashton came to India in 1969 to study this form, and over the years she has become deeply involved in the area. Unlike many other academicians, she has gradually shed a cold distant approach and has begun to live the cul­ture of lush Kanara and all that it em­bodies in the performing arts, ranging from Yaksagana to the Bhootas. This deep commitment permeates every page of her book. Appropriately, she begins by saying: ‘Had we not faith that the great cultural tradition and deep aesthetic sense ...

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