The theater arts of India can be divided into Yakshagana, puppetry and dance. Yakshagana depicts a religious story with the help of dialogue delivery and music. A puppeteer used painted figures made out of deer or goatskin, usually, which are moved by the threads and string attached to them. Dances have actors expressing a situation with facial expression in sync with a singer narrating the tale along with music using instruments such as veena and tabla. Since expressions play a vital role, eyes are being highlighted, as they are the key in this type of theater art.
“Yakshagana” is a Sanskrit word for Celebration of the celestials. This theater art includes drama, song and dance. It basically started as a folk art. The actors usually lead a nomadic life, traveling from one village to another with their baggage. They used to halt in temples at night and setting their stage for the performance the next day. Villagers gather the next day to watch this group of 15-20 male actors performing. Epics of Hindu mythology are enacted using makeup and colorful costumes. Since no females are a part of this pack, the male attire wearing female attire, too enacts feminine roles. The performers are expected to perform throughout the day and sometimes throughout the night, for which they should require lots of stamina for the preceding of the play through the night. The mythological figures are known as “Kimpurushas”, lead actor known as “Kattu-veshas” and the so-called villains are known as “Kiratas”. The audiences aren’t expected to pay anything for this entertainment; the actors are provided money with the temple funds for a living.
The Yakshagana artists were also the ones to introduce people to puppetry. Painted figures made from leather were made to move with sticks and strings. The stage was made with a white translucent cloth on which the dancing images of the puppets were projected with the help of lighted oil lamps. Stories from the sacred Hindu scriptures, Ramayan and Mahabharata are presented to the audience. The puppeteer usually gives the voice; his wife and kids to provide voice for other characters of the puppet show also join him. Background music too is mingled with the story with the help of Indian instruments such as harmonium or a Mukha-veena. Puppeteers also are invited to perform on special occasions like birth, marriage and death. The storyline of their play depends on the occasion, like on birthdays they enact “Krishna Leela” or the antics of Krishna, on weddings they perform “Girija Kalyana” or the wedding of Girija and on funerals they perform “Swargarohana” or ascent to heaven.
These performances not only have an entertainment value but also have ritualistic significance. Some actors take a vow of performing these plays to get a return favor from their deities like good harvest, abundant rain, or end to their miseries.
There are varieties of dances in India alone. Every state of this country has its own unique style in expression, gestures, makeup style and attire. In fact, they have a god named Nataraja, who is believed to be one of the forms of Lord Shiva, as the supreme creator of Indian dance. The famous dance forms of Indian peninsula are Odissi, Bharatnatiyam, Katthakali, Kuchipudi, and Mohini Attam that are performed in different regions of the country.