The past few months I have been going around in Mangalore and have had the privilege of witnessing the Yakshagana. Yakshagana is a very vibrant performing art that hails from this side of Coastal Karnataka.

The word Yakshagana is a coined term of words “Yaksh” meaning Demi-God and “Gana” meaning song and is a theatrical form of presenting mythological and historical stories through vibrant performances that include music, dance and dialogues.

A stage performance of Yakshagana on Devi Mahatme

The most striking and distinctive element of a Yakshagana performance is the facial expression of the performer which gets enhanced to the fullest by the elaborate and vibrant painting of the face which is done by the performers themselves. The colours used are very striking and impressive and it is quite interesting to see the performers wear colourful costumes and elaborate headgears, dancing to the beat and rhythm played by a troupe of musicians known as the Himmela with such precision, thereby rendering a unique musical genre that is similar to that of the Western Opera. Amongst the various aspects of the Yakshagana, its Face Painting is a very unique art form by itself.

Face painting by an artiste


Face painting being one of the distinctive elements of the traditional theatre requires a lot of prior preparation where the paints are made from scratch and are applied by the artists themselves.

Face painting by a Yakshagana artiste

The Basic colours used are:

  • Sapeth: White
  • Aradala: Yellow
  • Ingalika: Red
  • Yenne Masi: Black
  • Neeli: Blue

Originally natural stones or vegetable dyes were used and ground to obtain paste of a variety of colours; Red, yellow and white being the basic colours. The paints made using these stones would apparently render a unique glow to the face of the artistes and are still considered to be of superior quality than the ones manufactured now. Black color is extracted from soot that accumulates over a lighted lamp when covered with a metal plate. White spikes which are used to embellish the face of demonic characters are generally made using a mixture of rice paste and lime.

White spikes embellishing a demonic character

Presently, manufactured colour powders are mixed into coconut oil to make a paste or paint. The base colour which is white is generally Zinc Oxide. Presently Kajal or Kohl is used for the black.


The characters are generally played by men who dress up in varied attire which is generally colourful silk garments.

A Yakshagana artiste getting into the character of Devi

The face paintings and colours used varies for different artistes to suit the various roles that they are playing in the performance. The Gods are generally painted in skin tones, Rama and Krishna in hues of blue and the demons in black.

I could witness two performances one of which is from the Ramayana and the other from The Devi Mahatme. Performed during the hours of twilight to bring out the best of colours, dance and music, a Yakshagana performance is an unmatched experience.

Sharing a short clip which displays a performance of the killing of the demon Mahishasura at the hands of Devi.

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