Yakshagana is the traditional art form in which performers combine dance, music and dialogue to tell mythological tales.
But what if politics creeps into these dialogues?
This is the possibility worrying Election Commission officials in coastal Karnataka some of who, in the past week, have 'sacrificed' their sleep to watch Yakshagana performances to ensure that the traditional art form is not used to aid political parties in the state.
Yakshagana performances are usually held from dusk to dawn.
While officials confirmed that there has been no blanket ban imposed on Yakshagana melas, nodal officers in Udupi district attended melas performances in places including Brahmavar, Kota, Amasebail in the past week to ensure loudspeakers are not used in the night.
"We attended Yakshagana melas to ensure that loudspeakers are not being used after 10 pm as it would violate Supreme Court guidelines. We are also asking organisers to take a single-window undertaking that they will not propagate political messages and also inform us if any political functionaries are attending the event," said Poovitha, a nodal officer in Udupi district.
Though officials are claiming it was a crackdown on use of loudspeakers, the Election Commission's decision comes in the wake of reports that a Yakshagana performance by Kateel Sri Durgaparameshwari Prasadita Dashavatara Yakshagana Mandali in Kateel in neighboring Dakshina Kannada had a sequence that appeared to take a dig at Congress President Rahul Gandhi.
In the sequence, one of the performers Poornesh Acharya says, "Ivanaarava, ivanaarava, ivanaarava” and “iva nammava, iva nammava, iva nammavanendenisayya".
This was in apparent reference to Rahul Gandhi reciting a vachana of 12th century social reformer Basavanna made in an election speech in Athani, Belagavi on February 24.
Rahul Gandhi had said, "Ivanaaruva Ivanaarava Ivanaarava" which roughly means 'don’t ask who he is, accept him as our own' to reiterate beliefs of communal harmony.
“A show cause notice will be sent to the troupe and they will be directed to pre-submit the show scripts before performance henceforth. The troupe is scheduled to perform at Puthige on April 3rd. An officer from the Moodbidri Election Office will be deployed at the programme and if the troupe is found violating election code of conduct in any manner he will be charged,” Moodbidri Returning Officer Prasanna V said speaking to TNM
Election officials in Udupi also confirmed that detailed guidelines will be issued about the model code of conduct since many organisers are unaware of this. With elections around the corner the officials are sparing no expenses to ensure that the model code of conduct which came into effect on March 26 is followed to the word.
However, the drive to ensure that Yakshagana performances do not violate the model code of conduct has come as a surprise to many involved in the traditional art form. "The whole thing is ridiculous. It was unnecessary to ask organisers to give an undertaking since the art form does not have a known history of carrying political messages. It is a non issue and is also uncalled for. It is also not practical for officers to keep a watch on performances," said Prabhakar Joshi, a Yakshagana scholar commenting on the issue.
Coastal Karnataka is peppered with over 30 full-fledged troupes and about 200 amateur troupes of Yakshagana, performing from November to May in the various melas, which includes popular melas like the Dharmasthala mela in Dakshina Kannada and the Mandarthi mela in Udupi, and also many local melas in the villages of the region.