(Last Updated on : 13/12/2012)
The term Bayalata, as its etymology indicates bayalu means open-air field and ata means theatre. So, Bayalata refers to virtually all forms of traditional Kannada theatre. In southern Karnataka, both the eastern and western varieties of Yakshagana are termed Bayalata, whereas in the north several other distinct genres are also included under the name. The most prominent of these are Dasarata and Radhanata, Parijata that is popularly known as Srikrishnaparijata, Doddata that is also called the Mudalapaya style of Yakshagana, and various others grouped collectively as Sannata. All these emerged from the lively coexistence of many Bayalata forms in the nineteenth century. The Bayalata has taken its form from religious ritual of which the most important aspect is the imitation of the divine. Since religious experience represents the highest life experience, all art has to have divine undertones. All folk performances are part of a ritual festival conducted in the name of the local deity as well.
Dasarata, Sannatas, Doddatas, Parijata or Yakshagana are the five types of Bayalata commonly performed in Karnataka. In Parijata and Yakshagana a single narrator i.e. sutradhar controls the story whereas the others have a chorus of four or five narrators aided by a Vidhushaka or a clown who adds the local colour.
Dasarata is perhaps the earliest of them all, traced back to the Dasas. Dasas are saint poets and singers of the twelfth-century Bhakti tradition. However, it has adapted and localized the Krishna legend so much that in the prefatory episode of every performance, Krishna appears as a cowherd, extracting toll from the milkmaids. Then enters Chimana, the heroine, who confronts Goddibhimanna, the hero. They engage in a long and lively duel of wits, by turns attacking mankind and womankind, through songs and dialogue replete with Puranic allusions and contemporary references. Interludes bring variety into the narrative.
According to scholars, Dasarata, which appears to have been popular in the eighteenth century, was taken to Maharashtra where it influenced the formation of Tamasha. In the nineteenth century, the influence of Tamasha flowed back to Karnataka to shape Radhanata, which looks like a distant cousin of Dasarata. Around the same time, in the eastern district of Raichur, a poet named Aparala Timmana wrote a play based on the Telugu Bhama- kalapam of Andhra Pradesh. This variation soon spread all over north Karnataka, becoming known as Srikrishnaparijata i.e. `Krishna and the parijata. The key performer i.e. Dute coordinates the songs, improvised dialogue, and continuous interaction with each character. This form, too, begins with the Krishna-and-milkmaids episode but the main plot concerns the rivalry between Rukmini and Satyabhama. They were Krishna`s two wives, over acquiring the coveted celestial parijata tree. Narada`s meddling in the affair turns it into a complicated battle of egos. With vigorous, high-pitched songs, energetic percussion, and witty verbal exchanges, Parijata combines the mundane and the philosophical in an extraordinary manner as well.
Meanwhile Doddata, the northern variant of Yakshagana, also became popular in several parts of the state. Iterally the word doddata means big or large theatre. Almost everything in Doddata is larger than life. The themes belong entirely to the epic world, the dance is stylized, the speech patterned, and the costume and makeup predominantly non-realistic. Like regular Yakshagana, Doddata blends songs and speech in a fast-paced narrative, the only difference being that it uses scripted dialogue. The Bhagavata that is sometimes called sutradhara remains the central performer and his companion, Sarathi, provides the humour. Doddata employs varied themes, always excelling in capturing heroic sentiments, climactic combat, and supernatural elements.
All these varieties of Bayalata are enacted during village fairs and community festivals on a raised wooden platform, about 5 m by 4 m in the case of Doddata and 3 sq. m in the others. A back curtain separates the stage from the green room and in front a large harmonium placed in the middle of the stage has the troupe`s name written on it. The other instrumentalists i.e. tabla, horn, and cymbal players sit or stand around while the main singer and his companion keep changing their places during the performance. In Doddata, men do the female roles, while in some genres like the Parijata, women take part. The costumes and make-up in Doddata are slightly simpler versions of those in Yakshagana, but in most other Bayalata forms costumes are still simpler, with almost no make-up.