Recently, we came across the profile of Sudhindra Holla, Country Manager, India and SAARC, Axis Communications. He is a well-known stalwart in the surveillance and security industry. He is also an avid reader, a yoga practitioner and Yakshagana (a folk dance from Karnataka) dancer. Very few people know about Yakshagana. We at A Journalist Reveals thought it would be the right thing to interview the gentleman about his hobby. He had the following to say as replies to our questions:
When did the Yakshagana bug bite you?
First, let me familiarize you with the history of Yakshagana. It is a traditional theatre art form having its roots in Karnataka which combines dance, music, dialogue, costume, make-up, and various other stage techniques with a unique style and form. The script is very impromptu, and you have to improvise your own dialogues. The play to be performed is written in the form of a song, which is generally taken from the stories of Hindu mythologies and folklore. The songs are then sung by background singers called Bhagvata, along with instruments being played like maddale similar to the mridangam and the trumpet also known as the chande. The artists on stage have to dance to these songs, for which they need to know the story, the plot, and the dialogues so as to hand it over to the next song.
I have inherited and imbibed the art from my maternal family, especially my mother, Anasooya Holla and through constant inspiration from my father late Shankaranarayana Holla. My maternal grandparents and uncles were the people, who have patronized this form in the past hence it is that lineage that I have carried forward. My Mom could have performed fairly well but in those days people were a little conservative about a woman performing such art and were not encouraged wholeheartedly. Thus, she didn’t get the opportunity to perform as it was considered inappropriate. However, she had an ambition of taking it forward to her children and wanted to see them as artists. That is how it came to me through tradition and lineage. Along with my parents, I have been encouraged and motivated by my maternal uncles, Sridhara Hande and Janardhana Hande, my brother Sundaresh Holla, my wife Anupama Holla and daughter Deeksha over the years as part of this journey.
Where did you learn the art?
I started by watching performances during my childhood. I would learn a few steps just by seeing the artists. I sort of had that appetite and it was present in my genes. I could easily pick up the dialogues and the steps. My mother observed this in me at a very early stage and she became my first guru. She encouraged me to watch performances and learn. It was during my 6th standard, back in 1983 when I met Guru Sadananda Aithal and was encouraged to join his Yakshagana classes. I was encouraged by my parents to pursue this art actively. This kick-started my formal training. Although he did not train me for long and it was only for about 4-5 months, it has been almost 35 years since I began performing. There is no complete formal training for Yakshagana. One gets to learn the steps and to dance. The rest has to be built over the years through discussion, watching senior artists and developing our own creativity as it involves makeup, dance, dialogue and choreography that can truly be unique to one’s style.
Describe your journey from the time you began learning to the time you completed it?
In the initial years, I used to perform as an amateur artist in Bangalore. A few likeminded individuals, who were also patrons of the art, used to meet up at a common place for rehearsals and formed as an amateur troop. Over the years, I eventually started doing many shows and got bigger roles and platforms to showcase my talents. As the number of shows increased, professionals started to invite me, which was a big opportunity for an amateur. These opportunities were like the turning points in my life – to be able to perform alongside professional artists, in front of a huge audience, who pay to watch the famous artists perform.
I also went on to perform in many cities like Bangalore, Mangalore, Kundapur, Uttara and Dakshina Kannada districts and all the way up in the North of Karnataka. I have performed in cultural exchange programs in Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, and West Bengal. I have performed more than 120-130 characters from different epics across 70-80 different plots with over 1000 performances over the last three decades. Through my stage acts, I also got an opportunity to play different characters, like that of a God (Rama, Krishna, Eshwara), Hero (Bheeshma, Arjuna, Sudhanva, Devendra, Balarama, etc.) or that of a Villain (Duryodhana, Keechaka, Ravana, etc.) and special characters like (Vali, Jambavam, etc.) through Navarasas or the portrayal of nine different kinds of emotions.
Have you established any institute? If yes, tell us about it.
I have engaged myself in a personal capacity, with my time. However, I have not started an institute separately. Instead, I am associated with 2-3 troupes, on an honorary basis without expecting anything in return. For me, it’s more like a social service, to help these institutes and students, to reach out to the audiences and also be attuned to the dance form. Yakshagana is like an education which has often a spiritual or value-based message. For me, to support different artists and this art form is an opportunity to keep the continued appreciation of this art form alive.
What do you see 10 years hence?
In the future, I would like to be more involved with the troops and be a part of the performances which can really reach out to the audiences. I would also like to attempt more varied roles, which I have not tried earlier. Additionally, I would like to get involved in some sort of coaching, mentoring and teaching to the budding artists, who seek support and experience. In my capacity, I would like to conduct workshops and share my experiences that can set some standards for them to excel and elevate themselves. I would like to become an inspiration for the young generation and also be a stage personality in the art and contribute to the society alongside it.
What do you do other than this folk dance?
I practice yoga and healthy living actively. Yoga, I feel, is all about mindfulness, and meditation, which helps you in tuning your mind and be more alert. It is a way to see how the mind can be tamed or kept in control because if you have a strong mind, you can do anything beyond the possible. I have stayed connected spiritually through my dance as well as yoga. These have given me more balance and helped me to be more focused. I have also been involved in coaching people with life skills to deal better with their day to day challenges. I have taken the path to teach and mentor these skills through workshops to impart knowledge to individuals to help them grow holistically and spiritually.