Mudalapaya, or Method of the East, is essentially an open air performance, whereas Yakshagana is an indigenous theatrical mode of the coastal tract of Karnataka
. The performance is also recognised by the names Attadata which means a performance on the platform, Bayalata
, meaning a performance in the open air, Doddata suggesting that the performance is an imposing play and Dombi Dasara Kunita, apparently, but wrongly suggesting that it is a performance of the Dasas. The performance is roughly on the lines of Yakshagana
itself, but the obvious differences between them in details of production make the two easily distinguishable. In some of the villages of North Karnataka, both Yakshagana and Mudalapaya thrived side by side, each performed by specialised parties. Mudalapaya has all the essential characteristics of a typical mode of the Folk Theatre of Karnataka
with its Bhagavata supported by a chorus called Himmela, vigorous dances and music, colourful costumes and. make-up and finally, an epical theme and its organic development. The platform in the decorated arena is more spacious than for Yakshagana, as it has to accommodate a bigger number of participants who perform wild dances.
Performance of Mudalapaya
The performance opens with a prayer to Ganapati, the God of Learning, who appears on the stage to bless the play with success. In Yakshagana different characters are introduced to the audience by the Bhagavata; but Mudalapaya has a special role called Sarathi to do the necessary introduction of the characters and also to provide substantial humour. Every character addresses the Sarathi while speaking, and an ingenious Sarathi is a liaison between the audience and the stage, interpreting the one to the other. He fills the gap between the exit of one role and the entrance of another. Witty as he is, he often indulges in humorous conversation even with the audience. The Sarathi is usually assisted by Kodangi the jester. The grandeur of the performance is in the costumes, dance, acting and talking of the main character called Bannada Vesa. The main artist is usually painted and dressed up at his own residence or the village office (chavadi), fully attended to by the village experts. He wears fabulous costumes in deep colours. He wears a cloth embroidered in gold (peetambara) in Veeragasha (dhoti worn like a heroic girdle) Talapavade (silken pads for the wrists), Kanchidama (broad waist belt), Kavacha (upper garment), Kireeta (crown for the head), numerous necklaces, pads and a flowing robe at the back. Heavy jingles are tied around the ankles over the socks. He is laden with .scores of artificial ornaments above the waist and is made to look most imposing. He is brought in a procession with oil torches on either side led by the village band party - Olaga. Whenever the procession halts on the road, the artist performs a round of wild dance with intermittent war cries. After he is brought and seated in the lone chair on the platform, villagers make gifts to him in homage. He is then prompted by the chorus into action; a cracker is exploded and he springs to his feet. Heroic roles like Bheema
and Hiranyakasipu are presented in the most imposing make-up and costumes. These characters and sometimes even minor roles like Hanuman
and Surpanakhi rush forward and jump up to the platform after taking a few hops through the audience, all the while emitting loud shrieks. The polish and finesse of the Yakshagana make-up is missing in Mudalapaya, but the emotional intensity is carried to its climax by the wildness of the war-dances
Features of Mudalapaya Performance
The performers of Mudalapaya are mostly illiterate and unimaginative when compared with the Yakshagana artists, and so, their performance may look more physical than intellectual. Unlike the prose in Yakshagana, the prose here is invariably memorised; a prose that is heavy with words of Sanskrit literature
and strings of deliberate alliteration. The prose structure is tight, involved and elongated, consisting of words that can provide scope for the over stressing of the letters. The dance in Mudalapaya looks more fantastic, the music more monotonous in spite of the supporting chorus, and the costumes are often too gaudy. Its themes, though drawn from the epics, seem to lack the Bhakti
element which is the main stay of Yakshagana. Yet, when it is performed by an experienced troupe, the Mudalapaya of North Karnataka
can create a fantastic atmosphere. It is true that with its war cries, wild dances, and fantastic language, the Mudalapaya sometimes impresses as far more thrilling than Yakshagana. Recently, during these fifty years, Mudalapaya seems to have been much influenced by the methods of professional stage. Unlike the stage of Yakshagana, the platform is covered on three sides and has oddly painted curtains, two of them usually. Even the costumes and makeup reveal a pronounced alien influence. The age old Panju (oil torch) is replaced by the petromax, Pungi the accompaniment, by the harmonium
and finally, the fundamental vigour expressed in dance and war-cries seems to have faded out considerably. Yet even to-day, on a festive occasion, if the Doddata of Ramanya (Ramayana
) is announced, the entire village including even the old and the sick will assemble and enjoy every bit of the long performance that bridges the dusk with the dawn. After all, the audience is half the play. It is because of the rustic crudeness witnessed in the performance that Mudalapaya is considered to be more ancient than Yakshagana. It is compared with the open air performance of Ancient Greece because of some of the identical characteristics like the absence of settings and scenery on the stage, the composition and function of the chorus, the heroic themes and non-commercial nature of both.
Comparison of Mudalapaya with Yakshagana
There is no other tangible evidence in support of placing Mudalapaya far earlier to Yakshagana in antiquity, nor is there any material evidence to conclude that Yakshagana is the outcome of Mudalapaya or the other way about. The Refinement of the one and the crudity of the other may essentially be due to environmental influences. Secondly, there are more differences than similarities between the ancient Greek plays and Mudalapaya. The characters of Greek plays wore masks, while these are unknown to Mudalapaya; the Greek play reached its greatest heights in tragedy, a form unknown to the folk theatre of Karnataka
; the three unities were an accepted ideal for the Greek dramatist, while the Karnataka folk playwright had no corresponding ideal before him. The disparity between the two would indicate the absence of any influence of the one on the other though there was a close contact (mostly commercial) between Ancient Greece and South India. The opinion that Mudalapaya, more than Yakshagana, has contributed concepts to the creation and development of Sanskrit theatre
deserves some consideration, for it is probable, as suggested before, that plays of Sanskrit language
owes not a little to the then prevailing Prakrit mode of performances of South India and possibly of Karnataka. But the absence of any substantial evidence prevents Mudalapaya claiming an earlier antiquity to Yakshagana and so, it cannot be said that it was Mudalapaya and not Yakshagana that influenced Sanskrit drama. Except in a few details already discussed, both these modes resemble each other in their methods of presentation, purpose and fulfilment. They seem to be two forms of the same Prakrit performance and branches of the same theatre, developing differently in different environments. As there is no clear imprint of the distinguishable characteristics of the one, more than of the other on Sanskrit drama, we cannot say which of them influenced Sanskrit drama more than the other. Even in modern times each is as popular as the other and as effective on different audiences.