Yakshagana Mohini - Bhasmasura: Triumph of good over evil
- Poornima Ramaprasad
e-mail: poornima@sbcglobal.net
Photos: Poornima’s clicks

October 26, 2011

Deepavali is a very colorful and merry festival for the Hindus. It proclaims the victory of good by vanquishing the evil. We celebrate life with illumination and move from darkness unto light that brings a new ray of hope year after year. Just in time for this Deepavali, on Oct.23rd, San Francisco Bay area's amateur Yakshagana troupe called “Yaksharanga” did a benefit show for Sanatana Dharma Kendra at Sunnyvale, California, at the venue, for the mythological story "Mohini-Bhasmasura" to show the triumph of good over evil, God over demons. I can’t not say that the supportive crowd of San Francisco Bay area turned up in large numbers, as usual, to cheer the performers in a informal way, as done for a traditional Yakshagana performance.

In the narrative, when Lord Shiva sees filth in the holy ashes that Parvati had fetched for his Sandhyavandana, he tosses it to the ground, from where the mighty Bhasmasura is born. "Bhasma" means ashes & "Asura" means demon - a demon is born from the ashes and so is named Bhasmasura by the Lord. Bhasmasura soon finds that he is not respected by Gods or the human kind and is only accepted by his kind - the demons.

Enraged, he asks Shiva for a boon that burns any mortal to ashes when he places his hand on their head. In spite of Parvati's concerns, Shiva succumbs to the requests of Bhasmasura, who he considers his son, and grants the destructive boon. The invincible Bhasmasura now terrorizes the Bhooloka and Indraloka.

Indra turns to Shiva, who in turn pleads with Lord Vishnu for rescue. Vishnu then takes the form of a beautiful damsel Mohini and attracts Bhasmasura.

Bhasmasura is so captivated by the lovely maiden's looks that he goes to the extent of agreeing to all her demands.  Mohini asks him to defeat her in a dance in order to win her hand and so he dances until she makes him put his hand on his head, bringing his own destruction. Vishnu thus gives victory to the Devas and mankind by slaying the evil Bhasmasura.
Yakshagana is an opera style traditional art form of coastal Karnataka and is semi classical in nature. The music is set to popular and appealing Carnatic ragas like Kalyani, Mohana, Kedara, Hindola, etc with a overload of “chande” drumming. The dialogues are in colloquial style to appease the casual audience and the costumes are very rich.  Usually, mythological stories are depicted with drama and dance in a typical Yakshagana performance.

This amateur group comprised of some hobby artists and some students of the famous Yakshagana artist of Karnataka, Kidiyuru Ganesh, who also provided the music for the opera. The direction was by Shashidhar Somayaji. The group topped in make-up and costumes. They also added light moments, typical of a Yakshagana performance, with some current issues including recession and domestic fights. There could have been a bit more of heavy music and dance although this piece involved more enactment and drama. Also, the sound system and stage setting could have been better. With these improvisations, this will be no less than a very professional Yakshagana production. Kudos to the group for this spectacular experimentation to bring this fading art form back on stage in a foreign country and make the audience feel at home away from home. Shreepada Hegde as Bhasmasura stole the show and was well supported by others.

Such performances give a sense of completeness to life and constantly reminds us of our rich culture and heritage. Wishing this group more success to become a full fledged performing Yakshagana troupe and popularize this art form in the West.

Poornima Ramaprasad follows Indian classical music and dance forms. She reviews Indian dance and drama events in the San Francisco bay area from time to time.