Nalpagarana is one of the oldest from folk entertainment in the state of Karnataka
. Among the available names that signify the folk entertainment, the term Nalpagarana, mentioned by Nripatunga, is the oldest. The term is made of two distinct words - Nal to denote "Nad", "Nadu" or country, and Pagarana to denote talk or acting with an emphasis on humour. The word Pagarana is taken to have derived from the Sanskrit language
- Prakarana, one of the Dasarupaka mentioned by Bharata
and explained by Keith as the bourgeois comedy, a comedy of manners. In this sense, the spirit of Pagarana or Hagarana is the same as that of Prakarana, but the term Nalpagarana, set in "Old Kannada" suggests a great antiquity for the word Pagarana. If it ever was a pure Dravidian word, it is not improbable that like many other Prakrit words that passed on to the Sanskrit vocabulary during the process of Aryanisation, it may have as well passed on to Sanskrit to become "Prakarana". If it was so, Nalpagarana would indicate the oldest form of the folk theatre of Karnataka
which was indigenous (Desya); but even if it was otherwise, the Nalpagarana remains a Pagarana played and relished by the entire "nal" or "nad" thereby suggesting a type of entertainment enjoyed by the entire Kannada community.
It is thus possible that Nalpagarana had become a popular mode of theatrical entertainment by the times of Nrpatunga and that it might have grown side by side with the earlier Yakkalagana, the original indigenous music of the Yaksas, or the Music of the South. These indigenous modes of the Dravidian
theatre might have been flourishing even before the advent of the Aryans. Two objections are usually raised against placing the folk modes of Karnataka
, earlier to Sanskrit theatre
. The first objection is that the themes of Yakshagana as seen today, are all borrowed from the marga literature, from the epics composed in Sanskrit literature
, and the second, that no script of the Yakshagana composed before the 18th century is available, while a number of plays in Sanskrit, and in some cases, excerpts of their renderings into Kannada theatre
are indeed available. At the outset it may be said with regard to the first objection, that the present form of Yakshagana could not have been the same as that of the ancient Yakkalagana, though with its inevitable bearing on the latter. The old themes of Yakkalagana the Music of the South might have been in praise of superior powers, festivals, social habits, tribal wars and such others prevalent in folklore even today. After the Sanskrit language and literature became popular in the South, themes from the Epics and Puranas must have been immediately accepted here, because of their rich dramatic qualities and scope for presentation.
New themes were perhaps borrowed and presented through the indigenous and mastered methods of dance and music. The Sanskrit literature, thus, might have brought only a fresh flood of rich themes to the already existing indigenous modes of entertainment. The second objection regarding the non-availability of scripts of Yakshagana compositions of antiquity could be convincingly explained, for the tradition of preserving the folk art and literature has always been by orally passing it down from generation to generation. Even today, not all the folk songs are written but they are just sung, taught and remembered. It is true that during the transmission of the art from generation to generation, a part of the original is lost. But it is inevitable and that is how art is changing eternally, yet its soul remaining the same forever.