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THEATRE FORM IN INDIA
Dec 16, 2014

The Indian theatre has a tradition going back to at least 5000 years. The earliest book on dramaturgy anywhere in the world was written in India. It was called Natya Shastra, i.e., the grammar or the holy book of theatre by Bharat Muni. Its time has been placed between 2000 B.C. to 4th Century A.D. A long span of time and practice is needed for any art or activity to form its rules and notifications. Therefore, it can be said with assurance that to have a book like Natya Shastra, the Indian theatre must have begun long, long before that if we go back to historical records, excavations and references available in the two great epics The Ramayana and The Mahabharata.

Theatre in India started as a narrative form, i.e., reciting, singing and dancing becoming integral elements of the theatre. This emphasis on narrative elements made our theatre essentially theatrical right from the beginning. That is why the theatre in India has encompassed all the other forms of literature and fine arts into its physical presentation: Literature, Mime, Music, Dance, Movement, Painting, Sculpture and Architecture - all mixed into one and being called ‘Natya’ or Theatre in English.

In different regions of India, there are religious festivals, fairs, gatherings, ritual offerings, prayers, almost throughout the year. During these occasions, traditional theatre forms are presented. They reflect the common man’s social attitudes and perceptions. In this social portrayal, there is also the individual’s role which is given due importance.


In traditional theatre forms there are certain conventions of presentations depending upon and changing according to the form and size of the stage or the platform and other available situations. There is no formal setup governing the entry or exit of the actors. Depending on the situation or context, the actors enter into the stage and enact their role without being formally introduced.


Traditional theatre forms have definitely been influenced by industrial civilization, industrialization, and urbanization. The socio-cultural aspects of these influences should be carefully studied. Traditional theatre forms have a common distinguishing feature that is the element of simplicity. Secondly the development of traditional theatre forms is based on such local and regional peculiarities which are not bound and restricted by social and economic divisions, limitations, etc. Traditional art forms have influenced classical art forms and vice-versa.


KOODIYATTAM

  • This theatre form originated in Kerala but the exact date of its inception is not known. It is based on Sanskrit theatre traditions

  • It  is considered to have been introduced in India by the Aryans. 

  • Koodiyattam is the oldest existing classical theatre form in the entire world, having originated much before Kathakali and most other theatrical forms. It is considered to be at least 2000 years old.

  • Traditionally, Koodiyattam is presented by Chakyars, a temple caste of Kerala, and Nangiars, the women of Nambiar caste. 

  • Koodiyattam, unlike the most other theatre forms allows an active role for women. The Nangiars recite shlokas and play female characters. 

  • Koodiyattam was traditionally a part of the temple rituals, performed as a kind of visual sacrifice to the deity and is normally performed in koothambalams or temple theatres that are decorated with exquisite carvings. 

  • Conventional in its make-up, costume as well as form, it is an elaborate blend of symbolic gestures, stylised movements and chanted dialogue and verse in Sanskrit, Prakrit and Malayalam.

  • In Koodiyattam, there is a Vidooshaka (Royal clown) who humourously narrates the thematic development of the text, to the audience in Malayalam. His words and actions convincingly portray the true character of the protagonist. In the past he was a social auditor. His diatribes against the establishment and those in power were a corrective force in the feudal-society. 

Bhand Pather

  • Traditional theatre form of Kashmir,

  • Unique combination of dance, music and acting, 

  • Music is provided with surnai, nagaara and dhol,

  • Actors of Bhand Pather are mainly from the farming community, the impact of their way of living, ideals and sensitivity is discernible.

Swang

  • Originally the theatre was mainly music-based.

  • Musical folk-drama evolved in 18th century.

  • The softness of emotions, accomplishment of rasa alongwith the development of character can be seen in this theatre form. 

  • Swang incorporates suitable theatrics and mimicry (or nakal) accompanied by song and dialogue. It is dialogue-oriented rather than movement-oriented. 

  • The two important styles of Swang are from Rohtak and Haathras.

  • In the style belonging to Rohtak, the language used is Haryanvi (Bangru) and in Haathras, it is Brajbhasha.

Nautanki

  • Usually associated with Uttar Pradesh.

  • Before the advent of cinema in India, it was the most popular form of entertainment prevalent in these areas. 

  • The most popular centres of this traditional theatre form are Kanpur, Lucknow and Haathras.

  • The meters used in the verses are: Doha, Chaubola, Chhappai, Behar-e-tabeel,

  • There was a time when only men acted in Nautanki but nowadays, women have also started taking part in the performances. Among those remembered with reverence is Gulab Bai of Kanpur.

Raasleela 

  • Based exclusively on Lord Krishna legends;

  • Nand Das believed to write the initial plays based on the life of Krishna;

  • In this theatre form the dialogues in prose combined beautifully with songs and scenes from Krishna's pranks. 

  • Rasa dance is part of the traditional story of Krishna described in Hindu scriptures such as the Bhagavata Purana and literature such as the Gita Govinda, where he dances with Radha and her sakhis. 

  • It is a popular form of folk theatre in the regions of Mathura, Vrindavan in Uttar Pradesh, especially during the festivals of Krishna Janmashtami and Holi, and amongst various followers of Gaudiya Vaishnavism in the region.

Bhavai

  • Traditional theatre form of Gujarat;

  • The centres of this form are Kutch and Kathiawar;

  • The instruments used in Bhavai are: bhungal, tabla, flute, pakhaawaj, rabaab, sarangi, manjeera, etc;

  • Traditionally performed during Navratri 

  • One of the most interesting facts of Bhavai is that it is performed only by males –even the female parts. The women are only spectators

  • Bhavai is an extremely simple form of theatre when considered in terms of production requirements.

  • It is not dependent on heavy stage, lights and theatrical assistances and is performed in the available open space.

  • The only musical instruments used are Drums, cymbals and Sarangi.

  • Rare synthesis of devotional and romantic sentiments.

Maach 

  • Traditional theatre form of Madhya Pradesh.

  • Maach is believed to be around 300 years old, and originally a Rajasthani folk theatre that survives in the villages of Madhya Pradesh.

  • Originally a drama in verse, it is only recently that dialogue has been introduced into the form. 

  • Songs are given prominence in between the dialogues.

  • The term for dialogue in this form is bol and rhyme in narration is termed vanag. The tunes of this theatre form are known as rangat.

  • Maach is thought to be a two or three century old tradition which was shaped by the religious developments of the 19th century. While originally associated with the festival of Holi, it is now performed on many occasions. Although a form of theatre, acting is under-emphasised and the theme unfolds through the songs and dances in the play. The background of the play is set by curtains and the dancers usually double up as singers. It is a sung drama with only occasional use of speech.

Jatra

  • Jatras are traveling theatre groups which perform under the open sky. They are essentially in the form of an opera with definite characteristics.

  • It assumes different forms in different regions within the eastern parts of India, which include mainly the states of Assam, West Bengal and Orissa. Yatra literally means a procession or a pilgrimage from one point to another.

  • Fairs in honour of gods, or religious rituals and ceremonies have within their framework musical plays are known as Jatra.

  • This form was born and nurtured in Bengal. 

  • Jatras are usually epic four-hour-long plays, preceded by a musical concert often lasting an hour, used to attract audiences.

  • Krishna Jatra became popular due to Chaitanya's influence. 

  • Later, worldly love stories too, found a place in Jatra.

  • The earlier form of Jatra has been musical. Dialogues were added at later stage.

  • The actors themselves describe the change of scene, the place of action, etc.

Bhaona

  • It  is a traditional form of entertainment, always with religious messages, prevalent is Assam, India.

  • The plays of bhaona is popularly known as Ankiya Nats and their staging is known as bhaona

  • cultural glimpses of Assam, Bengal Orissa, Mathura and Brindavan can be seen,

  • The Sutradhaar, or narrator begins the story, first in Sanskrit and then in either Brajboli or Assamese.

Tamaasha

  • Traditional folk theatre form of Maharashtra.

  • came into existence in the early 16th century 

  • Evolved from the folk forms such as Gondhal, Jagran and Kirtan,

  • Tamasha includes songs and dance along with the musical instruments like the Dholki, Drum, Manjira, Harmonium etc.

  • Unlike other theatre forms, in Tamaasha the female actress is the chief exponent of dance movements in the play. She is known as Murki.

  • Classical music, footwork at lightning-speed, and vivid gestures make it possible to portray all the emotions through dance.

Mudiyettu

  • Traditional folk theatre form of Kerala is celebrated in the month of Vrischikam (November-December).

  • It is usually performed only in the Kali temples of Kerala. 

  • It enacts the mythological tale of a battle between the goddess Kali and the demon Darika and depicts the triumph of goddess Bhadrakali over the asura Darika.

  • In 2010 Mudiyettu was inscribed in the UNESCO's Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

Dashavatar

  • Theatre form of the Konkan and Goa regions; 

  • Performers personify the ten incarnations of Lord Vishnu.

  • Dashavatar performers wear masks of wood and papier mache.

  • It  personify the ten incarnations of Lord Vishnu – Matsya (fish), Kurma (tortoise), Varaha (boar), Narsimha (lion-man), Vaman (dwarf), Parashuram, Rama, Krishna, Buddha and Kalki. 

  • The Dashavatar performers wear masks of wood and papier-mache.

Yakshagaana

  • Traditional theatre form of Karnataka;

  • Based on mythological stories and Puranas;

  • The most popular episodes are from the Mahabharata i.e. Draupadi swayamvar, Subhadra vivah, Abhimanyu vadh, Karna-Arjun yuddh and from Ramayana i.e. Raajyaabhishek, Lav-kush Yuddh, Baali-Sugreeva yuddha and Panchavati.

Kariyila

  • Popular folk drama form of Himachal Pradesh.

  • Most popular in the districts of Shimla, Solan and Sirmour. 

  • The season of Kariyala generally starts after the festival of Deepavali. 

  • It  is an open-air theatre, which consists of an entertaining series of small playlets, farces, skits, revues and burlesques.

  • It is generally staged during village fairs and on some festive occasions. 

  • The Kariyala entertainment starts in the evening and goes on throughout the night staging various popular items one after other. 

  • The square-performing arena is called Khada. 

  • In the centre of Khada, a bonfire is lit which is considered very sacred. 

  • A number of musical instruments like chimta, nagara, karnal, ranasingha, shahanai, basuri, dholak and khanjiri are used to provide background music.

Oja-Pali

  • Theatre of Assam

  • Storytelling with dramatic techniques associated with the worship of Manasa, the serpent goddess

  • The performers take many days to narrate the story, which is divided into three parts: Deva Khanda, Baniya Khanda and Bhatiyali Khanda.

  • The Oja is the main narrator-singer and the Palis are his associates or members of his chorus.


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