GUNDABALA (UTTARA KANNADA): Gundabala, a small village tucked away in the Western Ghats near Sharavati valley in Honnavar taluk could go unnoticed like any another. Except, this village is considered the ‘Yakshagana Kashi’ and plays are organised every day for six months continuously at the Shri Mukhyaprana Lakshmi Venkateshwara temple here.
The temple is believed to have a history of more than 400 years. Devotees, whose wishes have been fulfilled, take a vow to entertain the deity by organising His favourite dance, Yakshagana, for a night. Even Yakshagana artistes going through a rough patch take vows to perform before the deity. The number of plays lined up is so long now that any devotee organising a Yakshagana performance will have to wait another 10 years!
Doesn’t the long wait affect the devotees? Dattatreya Rayanand Manakambe, a jeweller from Honnavar, waited for six years to offer a play to the deity. He booked a play in 2012 and his turn came up only about a week ago. “It was a great pleasure to offer a play and to watch it in front of the deity along with my whole family,” he said.
Yakshagana stalwarts like Padma Shri late Chittani Ramachandra Hegde, late Keremane Shivarama Hegde, late Keremane Shambhu Hegde, Jalavalli Venkatesh Rao, Krishna Yaji, Ganapati Bhat and hundreds of other artists have performed Yakshagana in front of the Shri Mukhyaprana Lakshmi Venkateshwara temple. Interestingly, most of the artists perform here without any remuneration for staging the play.
Old-timers in the village say that devotees have been organising plays as an offering to the deity for hundreds of years, but the temple does not have any records of them. Only in the last 70 years, the temple started keeping track of the plays. With more and more devotees booking slots, in the year 2000, the situation became such that devotees would have to wait for 15-20 years for their turn.
During a visit to the temple in 2002, Dharmasthala Dharmadhikari Dr Veerendra Heggade suggested to the temple authorities to hoist two or more plays every day to reduce the waiting time for devotees. Ever since, two plays are staged for which two separate stages have been set up. Though at a little distance from the temple, the stages are visible from the temple sanctum sanctorum.
Staging of plays starts in the Margashira Masa (Hindu calendar month), usually by November-end or December, with a special pooja of Mahaganapathi. The idol is shifted to the Yakshagana stage from the main temple during this time. After about six months, in the Vaishakha Masa, usually in May, staging of plays is stopped after a ‘Mahamangalarati’ to the Mahaganapathi idol. No plays are staged during the rainy season. The devotees include those from Karnataka, Goa, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu and other states.
Politicians like R V Deshpande, Anant Kumar Hegde, Sharada Shetty and other celebrities also visit the temple and sponsor plays, says Prabhakar Chittani, head of the Mandali, Gundabala troupe.
Chittani Started His Career Here
Renowned Yakshagana artiste Padma Shri Chittani Ramachandra Hegde started his career from Gundabala temple, which is about 15 km from his village. In his early days, Chittani would play small and later went on to become a big name. He was with the Gundabala temple troupe for many years and later formed his own troupe. But he never missed visiting Gundabala and performing in plays. Till his last days, he used to visit the temple at least 5-6 times a year and performed.
How To Reach Gundabala
Gundabala is a small village on the banks of Gundabala river near Sharavati valley in Honnavar taluk, about 15 km from Honnavar town on the Bengaluru-Honnavar Highway. At Hadinbal village, a huge arch leads visitors to Gundabala. The nearest railway station is at Honnavar.
Except during the rainy season, all other months are good to visit here. The view of the thick, evergreen forests of Western Ghats are a visual treat. Other tourist attractions closeby are the Jain Basadi, Narasimha temple, Mukti River, Sharavati valley, Jog Falls.