Theatre in India

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Theatre in India has a 5000 Year long History

By Jass Narang

The tradition of theatre in India started long back some 5,000 years. It has a close relation with the rituals and the festivals of ancient India. The invasion of the sub-continent so many times is also a reason for the development of culture and tradition in India. In the later times, theatre became the main source of entertainment after India gained independence.

India is diverse in nature regarding its culture and heritage. So the theatre is not limited to a particular theme or stereotype. It differs in different parts of the country depending upon the audience as well as the various people who are involved in it.

Singing, reciting and dancing were the main features of the theatre of India in the olden days. It began with the dialogue hymns from the Rigvedas during the Vedic age. It is said that the earliest and the first dramaturgy was started in India known as the ‘Natya Shashtra’, which is a holy book based on theatre. It was written by Bharat Muni.

The earlier theatres began in the form of narrations and story telling. the Indian theatre had all the essential elements put into it in the form of Architecture, literature, fine arts, painting, sculpture etc. theatrical concepts are solely based on philosophy in India which takes life in a continuation form following the Hindu religion concept of life after death which differs with the western philosophy of theatre who believe that there is no life after death. So here again, religion plays a vital role even in the tradition of India theatres.

There are many different forms of theatre in India since a very long time. The folk theatre in India is the oldest kinds and the most vulnerable one in the Indian subcontinent. It has been developed by the different ethnic groups each one having their own distinct theatre using the language of their region. This is done to make the communication easier between the theatre folk and the audience.

Different states have different names for these folk theatres. It is known by the name of ‘Jatra’ in the three eastern states of Bihar, Bengal and Orissa whereas in the state of Maharashtra it is known as the ‘Tamasha’. In Uttar Pradesh, it is known as the ‘Nautanki’. The main feature of these folk theatres is that it comprises of mainly two protagonists of which one is the narrator and the other is the comedian. The other elements which differentiate it from the other types are loud music, heavy makeup, group singing, etc.

The ‘Ramleela’ has always been the most poplar form of folk theatre in India. It is totally based on the great epic of the Indian history written by Tulsidas. It has a mythological background related to the great battle between Lord Rama and the Lankan king, Ravana. This type of folk theatre takes place annually in many parts of the country and it generally lasts for about ten days. The usual time for these type of plays to take place is the festive occasion of Dussehra somewhere around in the month of October. In some places it also takes place during the festival of Ram Navami. Some places in Uttar Pradesh like Varanasi and Kanpur are famous for these kinds of folk theatres.

Another common and popular form of folk theatre in India is the ‘Puppetry’. It is the oldest form of entertainment in India. These types of folk theatres always have a social message to convey to the audience. Glove, string and rod puppetry are the different forms of puppetries. The main themes of these puppetries were based on social and political grounds.

Sometime religious puppetry was also played. The modern Indian theatre concepts have changed greatly. It has its origin in the types of theatre that are played in the western world. This is mainly the impact of the Britishers which they left on the Indian theatres before independence. Plays from Shakespeare have always been a source of public attraction.

Indian Theatres have always been an essential part of the Indian tradition and culture. But nowadays the growing popularity of the Indian cinemas and the Indian television are becoming dangerous threats to this age old tradition of India. Moreover, people are switching over to make films and television serials as apart from money, it has glamour, limelight and market opportunities.

Since the last fifteen years, one can see that the theatres are suffering very much. It depends upon us to revive our ancient tradition. The children in our society should be shown the way to theatres as theatres have always been a source of educational and social learning. Indian Theatres are the live medium having a direct communication with the audience; so, the basic essence of theatre itself will never die.

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