Shambhu Hegde, a titan of Yakshagana: RIP

PURUSHOTHAMA BILIMALE writes from Gurgaon: Keremane Shambhu Hegde is no more. The yakshagana maestro expired at this birthplace Gunavante, a tiny village in Honnavara, yesterday, while performing his favorite character Shri Rama in an episode called Kusha –Lava.

A proponent of the badagu tittu (northern style) for more than 50 years, Hegde’s contribution to the development of yakshagana is unique and unparalleled, having worked as an artiste, organiser, innovator and researcher.

Hegde’s brilliance infused freshness to every facet of an an ancient artform, and to his Idagunji Mahaganapathi Yakshagana Mandali goes the credit for taking the fragrance of yakshagana to audiences across regions, languages, and continents.

Hegde was the son of another great artist, Keremane Shivarama Hegde. But he brought his own luminousness to it without breaking the traditional canvas. He always encouraged artists in his troupe to innovate and introduce new methods and techniques, which have enriched the art.

Originally, yakshagana was performed for rural audiences, but Shambhu Hegde gave a new dimension to it, leaving even urban audiences spellbound. He performed in many parts of India and also took up the arduous task of presenting yakshagana to a global audience.

Above all, with his extraordinary command over English and Hindi, he became a powerful ambassador of the art during all the regional, national and international tours of the Idagunji mela. The troupe received rave reviews and won many honours.

He was awarded Sangeet Nataka Academy and Karnataka State awards for his unique contribution to theatre. He served as the president of Karnataka Janapada Academy and also as a member of the Central Sangeet Natak academy. He was a member of the governing body of the South Zone Cultural Centre.

Shambhu Hegde revolutionized yakshagana . His influence can be seen in almost every stage of yakshagana today. This was just possible because of his rare genius, untiring efforts, spirit of enquiry and experiment.

Some of the characters portrayed by Shambhu Hegde were those of Duryodhana, Dushtabuddhi, Karna, Shrirama, Hanuman, Kartavirya, and  Jarasandha.

Yakshana is poorer without him, but thanks to him Yakshagana survives and competes with other major forms of theatre and hold its head high as a great artform.

Purushothama Bilimale is Director, American Institute of Indian Studies, Gurgaon