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INDIAN THEATREIndia has a longest and richest tradition in theatre going back to at least 5000 years. The origin of Indian theatre is closely related to ancient rituals and seasonal festivities of the country. Bharata's Natya Shastra (2000 BC to 4th Century AD) was the earliest and most elaborate treatise on dramaturgy written anywhere in the world. The traditional account in Bharata's Natya Shastra gives a divine origin to Indian Theatre, attributing it to the Natyaveda, the holy book of dramaturgy created by Lord Brahma.

In Natya Shastra, Bharata Muni consolidated and codified various traditions in dance, mime and drama. Natya Shastra describes ten classifications of drama ranging from one act to ten acts. No book of ancient times in the world contains such an exhaustive study on dramaturgy as Natya Shastra. It is addressed to the playwright, the director, and the actor because, to Bharata Muni these three were inseparable in the creation of a drama The Sanskrit word for drama, nataka, derives from the word meaning "dance". In traditional Hindu drama, expression was achieved through music and dancing as well as through acting, so that a play could be a combination of opera, ballet and drama.

According to legend the very first play was performed on heaven when the gods, having defeated the demons, were enacting their victory. Hindu theorists from the earliest days conceived of plays in terms of two types of production: lokadharmi (realistic), which involved the reproduction of human behaviour on the stage and the natural presentation of objects, and natyadharmi (conventional), which is the presentation of a play through the use of stylized gestures and symbolism and was considered more artistic than realistic.

Theatre in India started as a narrative form, with recitation, 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.


It is difficult to determine the precise origins of the Sanskrit drama. Fragments of the earliest known plays have been traced to the 1st century AD. However, scholars believe that a living theatre tradition must have existed in India much earlier. Unfortunately, although the Indus Valley people left behind an enormous wealth of archaeological evidence, they give no signs of any theatrical activity. Dance and music seem to have been their mainstay, perhaps as part of their religious celebrations. A search of the Vedas, dating from approximately 1500-1000 BC, yields no trace either, although a few texts are composed in short, elementary dialogue.

The earliest phase of Sanskrit theatre includes the writing and practice of theatre up to about 1000 AD, based almost entirely on the rules, regulations and modifications laid down in the Natya Shastra. One of the earliest plays written was Sariputraprakarana by Asvaghosa, who was part of Kanishka's court from 78 AD to 144 AD. A courtesan forms the central figure of this play that is humorous in tone but espouses Buddhist teachings as its cause. Bhasa came soon after, and thirteen of his works survived, the best-known being Swapanavasavadatta. Bhasa took his themes from different sources like the Ramayana, Mahabharata, Puranas and semi-historical tales. Sudraka was another renowned playwright of the time. Mrcchakatika was one of his best-remembered plays. What distinguishes Sudraka's plays from those of his predecessors is the element of conflict introduced in them. Besides a hero (the Brahmin Charudatta) and a heroine (the courtesan Vasantsena), there is also a villain, one of the few in the Sanskrit drama.Kalidasa, one of the "nine jewels" in the court of the famous Vikramaditya some time in the fifth century, is the most widely known of all the Sanskrit dramatists. He has left three dramas: Malavikagnimitra, Vikramorvashi and Shakuntalam. Bhavabhuti falls into the category of writers who emerged in the latter half of classical period. His Uttaramcharitra, written in approximately 700 AD, is known as the best dramatic play of its time.

Shudraka, Harsha, Visakhadatta, Bhasa, Kalidasa and Bhavabhuti were, undoubtedly, the six outstanding Sanskrit playwrights of all times who have contributed in a great measure through their dramatic pieces in Sanskrit. Kalidasa's Shakuntala, King Harsha's Ratnavali, Bhasa's Swapna-vasavadatta, Bhavabhuti's Uttara-rama-charita and Mahavira-charita, Visakhadatta's Mudrarakshasa are some of the outstanding Sanskrit plays.

There are said to be ten types of Sanskrit plays: Nataka, Prakarna, Anka, Vyayoga, Bhana, Samvakara, Vithi, Prahasana, Dima and Ithamgra. The Natyashastra focuses on only two of these types - the Nataka and Prakarna. Swapanavasavadatta, Uttaramcharitra and Shakuntala fall into the category of the Nataka. These plays deal with the exploits of a hero, either a royal sage or king, who is always successful in the end. The dominant sentiment is love and heroism. The plays range between five and seven acts. Plays falling into the category of Prakarna narrate stories that were invented by their authors. The hero is a Brahmin, minister or merchant while the heroine is a courtesan. Love is the predominant sentiment. Anka (act) involves a change in the hero's basic situation as the plot develops. It is made up of a series on incidents that are related to the major character. Certain events are never depicted in an anka, like a battle, marriage, death, loss of kingdom and the pronouncement of a curse.

The Sanskrit plays were limited by certain conventions. Tragedy was taboo and the end was always happy. There was no place for plays that raised controversies (although Bhasa had shown death on the stage in one of his plays). The basic plot in most Sanskrit plays centre around the hero who struggles for (and finally obtains) the object of his desire. The realisation of this goal in closely entwined with the three ends of Hindu life - duty, pleasure and wealth. Thus there was an opening, progression, development, pause and conclusion. Unlike French and German neo-classical plays, both time and place were flexible.Within these parameters however, it appears that most playwrights found enough space for exerting their individualistic creative expression.

Sanskrit plays commenced with an elaborate ritual. Some twenty pre-play ceremonies (purva-ranga) of music and dance were performed, nine of them behind the curtain. The Sutradhara (he was the director, the chief actor and the stage manager), clad in immaculate white, entered with his two assistants and offered worship (Puja) to the presiding deity of the theatre to ensure success to the producer and good luck to the actors. After this the Sutradhara summoned the leading actress and opened the play with a prologue which announced the time and place of the play and introduced the playwright.

The theatre halls were carefully constructed and decorated according to traditional rules of architecture.A theatre of medium size, according to Bharata, could accommodate 400 spectators.Some of the stages had two storeys, the upper storey being for the representation of action in the celestial sphere and the ground storey for that in the terrestrial sphere.Masks were not used, and the subtlest interplay of emotions was conveyed through facial expressions, gestures and speech. The adroit employment of the curtain made for heightened impact. The choice of themes covered a wide range and the treatment of the theme also varied greatly. Skits, comedies and intense melodramas were all written and presented.The absence of scenic effects was made up by a versatile histrionic technique.

Sanskrit theatre was characterised by its high degree of refinement in performance technique. It followed well-articulated, aesthetic principles, usually those laid out in the ancient dramatics texts. It depended on a high degree of audience knowledge and expertise i.e., only the refined sensibility could appreciate it. Religion played an important role in drama as certain rituals accompanied most plays, and even the stage was consecrated before a performance. Thus the Sanskrit drama could be called an amalgamation of the religious, educational and entertaining elements.


Koodiyattam (Koothiyattam) is derived from the Sanskrit word Kurd, meaning to "to play", and 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.This theatre form originated in Kerala but the exact date of its inception is not known. It is widely believed that Kulasekhara Varma Cheraman Perumal, an ancient King of Kerala, was the creator of Koodiyattam in the present form. His book 'Aattaprakaram' is considered as the most authoritative work on the art form till date. The 10th century chronicles of the Varman dynasty record the art form in its advanced stages, pointing to its much earlier origin.The dance also finds a mention in Ilangovan's 1500-year old Tamil Classic Chilappathikaram as 'Kerala Chakkian Sivanadanam'.

Koodiyattam is the most prominent survivor among the forms containing some essential elements of content and structural features of the Sanskrit theatre. Experts consider Koodiyattam to be more advanced than Kathakali, the better-known classical art form of Kerala, in aesthetics and theatre practices. But it never captured the public imagination even in its home state and was limited to a few koothambalams or temple theatres. Koodiyattam has survived over the years because practising families have maintained the tradition in an orthodox manner. At the same time, they have adapted the art form to suit a wider audience by using local dialects and secular texts. Koottu (Chakiar Koottu) is considered as the precursor of Koodiyattam.

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. Recently, a Nangiar called Margi Sathi created history by penning an attaprakaram (guide for actors) for the play Sriramacharitham

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.Sanskrit plays of the 7th or 8th century AD like Bhasa's Abhishekanatakam, Mahendra Vikraman Pallavan's Mathavilasam and Kulasekhara Varma's Subhadra Dhananjayan are among the most commonly enacted Sanskrit plays in Koodiyattam. Plays of the 11th century AD like Kulasekhara Varma's Subhadra Dhananjayam and Sakthi Bhadra's Ascharyachoodamani are also staged. The musical instruments Mizhavu and Edakka provide the background music to Koodiyattam. Through sound modulation, the percussion instruments augment the effect of acting in this dance drama.

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.

All the main characters in Koodiyattam customarily enact Nirvahana, a recollection of past events in the story, to form a background for stepping into the present. This is always a long drawn out affair and might take anywhere from a few days to a number of weeks. It takes 20 days to enact an act of a Koodiyattam play, with 5 hours of performance a day.Each act is divided into Poorvangam (preamble), Nirvahanam (solo performances) and Koodiyattam (group acting). Each segment lasts four or five days. The acting can be so elaborate that the Chakyar or Nangiar, the actress, may need a day to interpret just one phrase.

The four-fold concept of acting dealt with in the Natya Shastra find its due significance in Koodiyattam. Angika (hand-gestures and body-movements), Vachika (verbal acting), Aharya (make-up and costuming) and Satwika (facial expressions) in Koodiyattam are highly stylised. One finds in Koodiyattam more of Natyadharmi (stylised Acting) compared to other classical art forms.

The 84-year-old Ammannoor Madhava Chakiar is considered as the greatest living exponent of Koodiyattam. D.Appukuttan Nair promoted this art form in the middle of the last century by constructing two koothambalams at Adyar (Chennai) and Kalamandalam (Kerala).He also started a Koodiyattam course at Kalamandalam. There are four reputed centres of Koodiyattam: Margi, Kalamandalam, Ammannoor's Chachu Chakiar Smaraka Gurukulam and Lakidi (founded by P.K.Narayanan Nambiar, mizhavu expert).

In May 2001, Koodiyattam earned a rare honour when UNESCO declared it a masterpiece of human heritage to be protected and preserved.There were 31 other 'contestants' from the world over, including Japan's Nogaku theatre, China's Kunqu opera and Spain's Elche play, but it was Kerala's theatre art that UNESCO selected as the endangered heritage art form worthy of its support. The UNESCO jury in Paris decided to honour Koodiyattam after watching 15 minutes of a 3-hour documentary film made by the veteran film-maker Adoor Gopalakrishnan on the request of Margi, a Thiruvananthapuram-based dance school.In its citation the UNESCO mentioned that Koodiyattam represents a vital link to ancient heritage and "is an outstanding example of tradition-based creation of a cultural community".This was the first time that the UN body had conferred the heritage status on an art form.


This was the second phase of the evolution of theatre in India, which was based on oral traditions. This form of theatre was being performed from about 1000 AD onwards up to 1700 AD and continued further until today in almost every part of India. Emergence of this kind of theatre is linked with the change of political set up in India as well as the coming into existence of different regional languages in all parts of the country. The classical theatre was based on Natya Shastra was much more sophisticated in its form and nature and totally urban-oriented. On the contrary, the traditional theatre evolved out of rural roots and was more simple, immediate and closer to the rural milieu.

Historically speaking, it was during the 15-16 century that the folk theatre emerged forcefully in different regions. It used different languages, the languages of the regions in which it emerged. Initially these were purely devotional in tenor and typically revolved around religion, local legends and mythology. Later, with changing times it became more secular in content and began to focus on folk stories of romance and valour and biographical accounts of local heroes.

Indian folk theatre can be broadly divided into two broad categories -- religious and secular -- giving rise to the Ritual Theatre and Theatre of Entertainment respectively. The two forms thrived together, mutually influencing each other. Although they are considered as Folk theatre traditions, some of them have all the attributes of a classical theatre.Most often the folk and traditional forms are mainly narrative or vocal, i.e. singing and recitation-based like Ramlila, Rasleela, Bhand Nautanki and Wang, without any complicated gestures or movements and elements of dance. India is also rich in ballad-singing traditions such as Pabuji-ki-phar of Rajastan and Nupipaalaa of Manipur.

While most of these theatrical styles have their own unique form dependent on their local customs, they differ from one another in execution, staging, costume, make-up and acting style, although there are some broad similarities. The south Indian forms emphasise on dance forms like Kathakali and Krishnattam of Kerala and actually qualify as dance dramas, while the north Indian forms emphasise on songs, like the Khyal of Rajasthan, the Maach of Madhya Pradesh, the Nautanki of Uttar Pradesh and the Swang of Punjab. The Jatra of Bengal, Tamasha of Maharashtra and the Bhavai of Gujarat stress on dialogues in their execution, the latter two emphasise on comedy and satire. Puppet theatre also flourished at many places in India. Shadow (Gombeyatta of Karnataka, Ravana Chhaya of Orissa), Glove (Gopalila of Orissa, Pavai Koothu of Tamil Nadu), Doll (Bommalattam of Tamil Nadu and the Mysore State and Putul Nautch of Bengal) and string puppets (Kathputli of Rajasthan and Sakhi Kundhei of Orissa) are some of the popular forms in vogue.

Dramatic art can also be found in some of the solo forms of Indian classical dance, like Bharat Natyam, Kathak, Odissi and Mohiniattam, and folk dances like the Gambhira and Purulia Chhau of Bengal, Seraikella Chhau of Bihar and Mayurbhanj Chhau of Orissa. Dramatic content is even woven into the ritual ceremonies in some areas, particularly those of Kerala, with its Mudiyettu and Teyyam.


This form of folk theatre has secular themes ranging from romance, love and valour to social and cultural traditions. Its sole purpose was to provide entertainment for the masses. Nautanki, Tamasha and Jatra are some examples.

Bhavai : Bhavai is the popular folk theatrical form of Rajasthan and Gujarat. The pioneer of Bhavai was a Brahmin known as Asait Thakore or Ashram Maharaja, who lived in a village of Gujarat called Unjha. Initially, the Bhavai performance was presented as a religious ritual to propitiate the Goddess Amba and it took place only during the religious festivals of Navratra. Very soon it got converted as an important form of the theatre of entertainment. The Bhavai has a series of playlets known as Vesha or Swanga. Each Vesha has its own plot and locale. There need not be any continuity of homogeneity among them. The Veshas has four broad category of themes i.e. mythological, social, royal Rajput and contemporary. The Veshas of Krishna and Gopi, the Veshas Zanda-Zulana and Chhela-Vatau, the Vesha of Ramdev and the Veshas of Vanazaro and Purabio are examples of each of these categories. Asait Thakore wrote over 360 Veshas. The music is a combination of classical tunes rendered in folk style. The musical instruments used are Bhungala, Jhanjha and Tabla. Dancing is an indispensable feature of the plays and has its own style, which is quite different from other dances of Gujarat. The dance, which is a combination of Rasa and Garba with traces of Kathak, is used as a connecting link between Veshas and also between different incidents within one Vesha. The performers are called Bhavayas. Till the 20th century the men played female roles. The Sutradhara or anchor of the Bhavai is known as Nayaka who sings, acts and directs. He is also the producer of the performance. As a folk dramatic form, Bhavai is specially known for its social plays, which are full of humour. It is not merely a theatre form to be seen, but an atmosphere to be experienced with the players themselves. The Bhavai of Rajasthan is more musical and less theatrical when compared to that of Gujarat.

Daskathia and Chhaiti Ghoda: Daskathia is one of the several narrative forms that flourished in Orissa. It is a performance in which a devotee narrates a story dramatically to the accompaniment of a wooden musical instrument called kathia. This is a performance of two narrators, Gayaka (chief singer) and Palia (assistant) who is the co-narrator. The Chhaiti Ghoda troupe of performers comprises of two players on the musical instruments dhol and mohuri and three other characters. A dummy horse is improvised out of bamboo and cloth and the dancer enters into the hollow body and dances, while the main singer along with co-singer delivers discourses, mainly from mythology.

Gondhal: In Maharashtra, the dramatic narration of mythological stories, hero-lauds and folk legends form a part of a ritual dedicated to various deities. This interesting ritual with its narrative performance has deeply influenced the dramatic and narrative traditions in Maharashtra and its neighbouring regions.

Garodas: In Gujarat the members of the Garoda community practice the art of narrating stories with the help of painted pictures. It is performed with a paper scroll with pictures painted in water-colours one below the other and separated with a thick black line.

Jatra (Yatra): The popular folk drama form of Eastern India is the Yatra or Jatra, as it is known in Bengal. 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. It is generally an open-air performance. Jatra originated in Bengal as a ritual theatre devoted mainly on themes relating to the life of Lord Krishna. The illustrious Vaishnava saint and religious performer Chaitanya used the medium of Jatra to propagate his teachings of Krishna by inspiring his devotees to participate in communal singing and dancing. Apart from the exploits of Krishna, the Jatras dramatised the Puranic legends, folk-tales and episodes from Ramayana and Mahabharata. In West Bengal, famous playwrights or palas attempted to bring structural perfection to the Jatra. These palas were called by various names like Rama Jatra, Shiva Jatra and Chandi Jatra. Later Jatra adopted more secular themes and historical romances, love stories and even patriotic themes during the freedom struggle were added to the repertoire. The most famous was Bidya Sundar, which started a new trend in Jatra. In Orissa, a unique form of Yatra known as Sahi Yatra is performed in the by-lanes of Puri as a kind of street theatre. Jatra today is one of the most popular folk theatres in India. West Bengal alone has to its credit 300 Jatra companies, and Jatra competitions are held during the Durga Puja festival.

Kariyila: This is the most interesting and popular folk drama form of Himachal Pradesh. It is most popular in the districts of Shimla, Solan and Sirmour. The season of Kariyala generally starts after the festival of Deepavali. Kariyala 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.

Keertan: Keertan is the most popular narrative form which is prevalent in almost all parts of the country under different names such as Katha Kalakshepam and Harikatha. Keertan means to laud, extol, exalt, worshipping of the deity by chanting his praises and celebrating the praises of god with music and singing.

Khyal: It is a popular folk dramatic form of Rajasthan and is full of dancing, singing and music. Khyal has assumed different names in different regions of Rajasthan. It is also known as Tamasha, Rammat, Nautanki, Maach and Swang.

Maanch: Maanch is an enchanting folk opera of Malwa region in the state of Madhya Pradesh. It evolved about two centuries ago in Ujjain. The themes are usually based on mythological events or romantic folk tales.

Nachya: It is an interesting folk theatre form of Madhya Pradesh, the urbanised version of which reached the metropolitan centres and became quite popular. The play begins with an invocation song sung in honour of Lord Ganesha, Saraswati and other deities venerated by the local folk. There are two types of Nachya theatre. One is the humorous Gammat Skit and the other one is the Jokkad Pari performance.

Nautanki: Nautanki is an offshoot of the Swang or Sang. It is very popular in Haryana and other parts of North India.

Oja-Pali: Oja-Pali of Assam is a very interesting form of story telling which utilises many dramatic techniques to illustrate the narrative and enhance its visual impact. This art form is associated with the worship of Manasa, the serpent goddess of Assam. 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. There is yet another type of Oja-Pali parties in Assam, known as the Vyah-Gowa Oja-Pali, which narrates stories from the Assamese version of Puranas and the epics.

Pandavani: It is a form of story telling evolved by the tribals of the Chhatisgarh region of Madhya Pradesh to amuse and instruct the people. This narrative form was developed to tell the story of the five Pandava brothers and considered to be of two types - Kapilak and Vedamati. A team of Pandavani performers is composed of one main narrator-singer, one or two co-singers, who also play on musical instruments like tabla and harmonium. Pandavani is a performance of a story, which did not quite develop into a regular dramatic form.

Picture Showmen: The Picture Showman in ancient India was known as Mankha, and this art of narrating the story with the help of pictures was known as Mankha Vidha. This art dates back to 6th century BC.

Powada: In Maharashtra the narrative hero-laud is called Powada. The first available Powada in Marathi was written on the thrilling episode of Shivaji killing his adversary Afzal Khan. The tradition of Powada singing was kept alive by the folk singers of Maharashtra known as Gondhalis and Shahirs. The Powada is presented in a most dramatic manner. High pitch singing and melodramatic acting is its soul.

Swang: The major theatrical tradition of folk entertainment in North India, especially Haryana, is that of Swang. It is a musical folk drama which enacts near similar stories in all its related regional variations. These stories are in verse and are sung in different classical, semi-classical but mostly in popular folk musical modes. A number of musical instruments like the ektara, dholak, kharta, sarangi and harmonium put flavour to the dialogues. Ali Baksh of Rewari, who is regarded as 'the father of folk theatre in Haryana', is the pioneer of the Swang tradition. Pandit Deep Chand, known as the "Kalidasa of Haryana", modified and polished Ali Baksh style of folk theatre. Other luminaries of Swang include Swami Har Dev, Qutabi, Dhoom, Pandit Bhartu and Pandit Lakshmi Chand.

Tamasha: Tamasha evolved itself from the earlier forms of folk entertainment in Maharashtra. It is known for its humour and erotic singing and dancing. It is one of the rare folk theatre forms of India in which women play the feminine roles. Naughty episodes of Krishna Leela are invariably enacted in the opening part of a Tamasha play. The Lavani songs, which are sung along with dancing, are delightfully naughty and erotic.

Villu Pattu: Villu Pattu literally means bow-song. This form of recitation (using a bow-shaped musical instrument) of Tamil Nadu developed in the 15th century. There are seven to eight persons in a bow-song party who form a kind of chorus that supports the main singer-narrator. The stories from Ramayana, Mahabharata and the Puranas are told in these ballad style songs.


Puppet Theatre as a form of entertainment is found practically in all parts of the world. In Puppet Theatre various forms, known as puppets, are used to illustrate the narratives. In India, the roots of the puppet theatre lie in a dancer's mask. There are several Mesolithic paintings that illustrate a number of masked dancers performing singly or in groups. Excavations at several Harappan sites have revealed a number of toys whose body parts can be manipulated with strings. There are numerous references to different kinds of puppets in the Mahabharata and a Buddhist work called Therigatha.

There are basic four kinds of puppets - glove, string, rod and shadow. The glove puppets are found mainly in Orissa, Kerala and Tamil Nadu. These puppets are worn on the hand and the puppeteer manipulates their heads and arms with his fingers. The puppeteer narrates his story in verse or prose, while the puppets provide the visual treat. The glove puppet in Orissa is called Kundhei Nacha. The glove puppets of Kerala are more ornate, colourful and resemble the actors on the Kathakali stage in their make-up and costume. Their performance is known as Pava Koothu or Pava Kathakali. The stories of this theatre are mainly Radha - Krishna stories and episodes from the Ramayana.

String puppets are found in Andhra Pradesh, Rajasthan, Orissa, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka. In this, the stress is more on the manipulative skill of the puppeteer. The Kataputali shows of Rajasthan, the Sakhi Kundhei of Orissa, the Putla Nach of Assam, Malasutri Bhaulya of Maharashtra, Bommalattam of Tamil Nadu and Gombeyatta of Karnataka fall under this category. The Putual Nach of West Bengal and the Kathi Kundhei of Orissa are the best examples of rod puppetry in India.

Shadow theatre is a unique kind of performing art which is close to puppetry, but differs from it in the sense that while in puppet theatre the audience directly sees the puppet figures, in shadow theatre they only see the shadow cast on the screen. There is a light source and a screen and in between the manipulator inserts the flat figures by lightly pressing them on the screen so that a sharp shadow is formed. Usually, the figures in the shadow theatre are made of leather. They are carefully stenciled so that their shadows suggest their clothing, jewellery and other accoutrements. Some of the figures have jointed limbs which, when manipulated, give the appearance of beautiful moving shadows.

India has a very long and rich tradition of Shadow theatre. According to many scholars, this art originated in India. Reference to shadow theatre is found in the Tamil classic Shilappadikaaram. Many Western Indologists such as Pischel, Luders and Winternitz are of the opinion that the well-known Sanskrit drama Mahaanaataka was originally written as a play for the Shadow Theatre. This art form is, thus, at least one thousand years old. Apparently it went to Southeast Asia, Turkey and other places from India.

Shadow theatre is prevalent in the states of Orissa, Kerala, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka. In the shadow theatre forms of the first three states, the shadows are black and white while those from Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka are multi-coloured. The shadow theatre in Orissa is known as Raavana Chhaya or shadow of Ravana. It is rather strange that in this form, while the story is based on Rama, the theatre itself is named after Ravana. The shadow theatre in Maharashtra is known as Camdyaachaa Bahulye, meaning figures made of leather. It is also known as Chitra Marathigaru. Here also the themes are largely drawn from the legend of Rama. In Karnataka there are two styles of shadow theatre, both known as Togalu gombeatta. One style uses very large size figures ranging from 1-1.5 metres and the other style uses smaller figures ranging from six inches to two and a half feet. The figures are made of goatskin, which is first treated to translucency and then stenciled and coloured. The themes are drawn from Ramayana, Mahabharata and other Puranic episodes. It came into Karnataka from its organizer Kattare Kalachari who hailed from Maharastra. The shadow theatre in Karnataka is also referred as Killekyathru. There are several families which perform in their respective areas and are known by different names such as Gombberama Chakkai Gobbeyata, Togalu Gobbeyata. Thol Pava-Kuthu or Pavaikottu, the shadow theatre of Kerala again thrives exclusively on the stories of Rama. Andhra Pradesh has the strongest tradition in shadow theatre, which is known by the name Tholubommalata. Here, the figures range in height from 1.2 to 1.82 metres and are the largest among the other shadow theatre forms.

Most of the leather forms of the shadow theatre are the masterpieces of folk-art. Usually the deer skin and goat hides are used, as they could be rendered transparent and easily absorb different colors and last for centuries. The raw hides are first treated with solution of common salt or caustic soda and are then dried. They are then painted with deep colours extracted from locally available plants and rocks. Different parts of a doll are obtained from these hides and are joined in such a way that the body, limbs, head and hands could be moved with ease.

During a puppetry performance in a village, a rectangular stage is set up by using split bamboo and woolen blankets (Kambli). The performance is commenced with an invocation to Lord Ganesha and Saraswati. In order to announce that the show is about to commence a pair of buffoons Silekyatha and his hilarious wife, Bangarakka makes an appearance on the screen. They attract the audience by observations, gestures, jokes and comments on village affairs. The core of the performance is enacted during which detailed and dramatically prolonged episodes from Ramayana, Mahabharata, stories from Puranas and the Devi scriptures are presented. The headman, his wife and children, gives the male, female, and children voices respectively. The music is provided by rubbing a reed on the back of a bell-metal dish, a mukha-veena or a harmonium. The themes depend on the occasions for which the Puppeteers are invited. They perform "Krishna Leela" on birthdays, "Girija Kalyana" on wedding days and "Swargarohana" when a death takes place.

The development of Modern Theatre in India may be attributed to a change in the political set up in India. The 200 years of the British rule brought the Indian theatre into direct contact with the western theatre. The seeds of Modern Theatre were sown in the late 18th century, with the consolidation of British power in Bengal, Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu. It was in the thriving metropolises of Bombay, Calcutta and Madras that they first introduced their brand of theatre, based on London models.

The initial purpose of the British, while introducing Modern Theatre in India was to provide entertainment for the British soldiers and citizens trying to acclimatize themselves to a foreign country. For the first time in India, the writing and practice of theatre was geared fully towards realistic or naturalistic presentation. The themes also underwent a drastic change. They were no more woven around big heroes and gods, but had become a picture of common man. Initially most dramatic works were composed in three languages - Bengali, Tamil and Marathi. But later plays began to be written in other languages like Kannada, Gujarati, Hindi, Oriya, Urdu and English.

Modern theatre also reached the other states in the south by the beginning of the 19th century. Ramashankar Roy, Basanta Kumar Mahapatra and others were the pioneers of the Orissa Theatre. In Tamil Nadu, the early exponents of theatre were Prof. Sundaram Pillai, Sankardas Swamigal, Sambananda Mudaliar and others. In the recent times, V. Gopalakrishnan won the respect and admiration of the audience and his fellow artistes for his talent. Along with Suchalatha Reddy and Thambi Kadambavanam, Gopi had started the Madras Players troupe in 1952 under the auspices of the British Council and had acted in quite a few English plays. He also founded the Gopi Theatres in 1971, which staged nearly 30 plays, which included Nittham Oru Yuddham.

The Malayalam theatre began as an offshoot of Tamil theatre. Ochira Velukutty, Thoppil Bhasi and N.N.Pillai are among the contributors of Malayalam theatre. Manipuri theatre has been benefited a lot by the traditional folk dramas and modern theatrical techniques of Ratan Tiyam. In the current times, the dynamic duo of Crazy Mohan and Maadhu Balaji has produced several comedy plays under the banner of Crazy Creations. Some of their plays are Allaudin and 100 Watts Bulb, Kishkinda Kaandam, Marriage Made in Saloon, Return of Crazy Thieves, Beware of Maadhu, Middle Class Murder, Madhil Mel Maadhu, Oru Babyin Diary Kurippu and Maadhu MLA.


In the middle of the 19th century the Western literature and the feelings of nationalism and pride of the glorious past of the country equally influenced Indian Theatre. Indian theatre and drama got a new footing, when Sangeet Natak Akademi was started in January 1953. Later, the National School of Drama under the directorship of Ebrahim Alkazi did much for the growth and promotion of modern Indian theatre.

In the 1960s, by suitable mixing of various styles and techniques from Sanskrit, medieval folk and western theatre, the modern Indian theatre was given a new, versatile and broader approach at every level of creativity. Among other pioneers of the dramatic revival are Ranchhodbhal and Nanalla Kavi in Gujarat, Verasalingam, Guruzada Appa Rao and Ballary Raghavachari in Telugu, Santakavi Varadachari and Kailasam in Kannada, Laxminath Bezharua in Assamese, Kerala Varma Thampuran and C.V.Raman Pillai in Malayalam, Ramshankar Rai and Kalicharan Patnaik in Oriya and P.Sambandha Mudaliar in Tamil.

The year 1972 turned out to be a landmark for the Indian vernacular theatre when Vijay Tendulkar's Marathi play 'Ghashiram Kotwal' made waves by its brilliant use of traditional folk forms in modern contemporary theatre. This led to the birth of a new breed of directors like B. V. Karanth, Habib Tanvir, Bansi Kaul and Rattan Thiyyam. Feroz Khan is another accomplished playwright who has to his credit several outstanding plays like Tumhari Amrita, Mahatma vs. Gandhi and Salesman Ramlal. The last play is a Hindi adaptation of Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman.

In the recent years the country has also produced talented playwrights who have chosen English as their medium. Manjula Padmanabhan was the first Indian to earn international acclaim with her play 'Bitter Harvest' , a futuristic play that deals with the exploitation of the human body in the 21st century, which won the highest Greek honour. Another talented upcoming playwright is Mahesh Dattani who has produced thirteen plays, including one play called Do The Needful for the BBC. He touched upon the sensitive issue of communalism in his play 'Final Solutions', which won him the Sahitya Akademi Award.

Although the emergence of cinema had given an elbow jerk to the popularity of theatre as the main medium of popular entertainment, several film personalities themselves had contributed for the growth and promotion of theatre. They include Arvind Deshpande, Vijaya Mehta, Jabbar Patel, Satyadev Dube, Vaman Kendre, Dr Shriram Lagoo, Girish Karnad, Pearl Padamsee, Amol Palekar, Shashi Kapoor, Satish Kaushik, Farooq Shaikh, Naseeruddin Shah, Jaya Bacchan (Dr. Mukta, Ma Retire Hoti Hai) and Shabana Azmi (Tumhari Amrata, Waiting Room).

Theatre continues to attract a new bread of young and talented actors, directors and playwrights. Anahita Uberoi, who is the daughter of the legendary Marathi theatre artist Vijaya Mehta, is one such upcoming and talented theatre personality who has acted in several noteworthy plays like Glass Menagerie, Seascape with Sharks, Dancer and Going Solo. Sanjana Kapoor, daughter of Shashi Kapoor, is another such artiste who manages the Prithvi Theatre and provides a platform to several newcomers. Her children's play The Boy Who Stopped Smiling has recently completed 100 shows throughout India. Chetan Datar is a young and acclaimed playwright and director of Marathi theatre. His Gandhi-Ambedkar ran for more than 80 shows. Rajat Kapoor, who is associated with Chingari, a leading theatre group of Delhi, has translated into Hindi Waiting for Godot, The Taming of the Shrew and Jean Genet's The Maids and Deathwatch. He has also produced a highly dramatized play C for Clown. Tara Deshpande has acted in Once Upon A Fleeting Bird, which is an English adaptation of Vijay Tendulkar's Ashi Pakhare Yeti. The play was screened recently during the Indo-American Theatrefestival held in New York.

Rael Padamsee, the daughter of Alyque and Pearl Padamsee, has a fancy for producing plays targeted at young kids. Her important plays in this category include Alladin and his Magic Lamp, Alibaba and the Forty Thieves and Babloo the Bear. She draws the stars mainly from her immensely popular 'Little Actors Club', which trains pre-teens for professional acting. She also did plays with serious themes like Betrayal, Games People Play, Acts of Faith and Extremities. Royston Abel bagged the first prize at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival for his role in the play Othello -- A Play in Black & White. He is coming up with another play called Goodbye Desdemona.

The All India Radio was also instrumental in popularising drama for a long time through its national and regional broadcasts. The Television also provided the much-needed succour to the theatre artistes by way of Tele-serials and Mega-serials and Soap Operas. However, today there are relatively few commercial theatre companies in India. Calcutta is said to have the most, approximately 3,000 registered amateur groups, Mumbai has around 500, and Chennai has about 50 while Delhi has got hardly a dozen. Some serious theatre groups like the Indian National Theatre, the Prithvi Theatre, Chingari and others are contributing greatly to popularise theatre. Some of these companies, like the Prithvi Theatre have gone online, making themselves known globally by utilizing the explosion in the information technology.

future of theatre in IndiaFUTURE OF THEATRE
During any discussion about the future of theatre in India, people talk about its marginalisation by the film world. The exodus from the theatre to films is not a new phenomenon. But of late, television, video, film and the satellite channels have attracted the maximum number of people from the theatre to these options because of more money, glamour and market opportunities. As a result, theatre activities have suffered a severe setback in the last 15 years or so. The situation, however, has started changing slowly again. The audience appears to be fed up with the small screen. Theatre being a live and direct medium and always operating on human level with its audience can never die. Even after innumerable obstacles and upheavals in history, it has always emerged as a winner in the end.

However, one pertinent question relates to the identity of Indian theatre today. India being a vast country with 22 languages and as many different cultures, the theatre cannot be identified with one uniform element. In India, the concept of National Theatre has to be seen purely in regional terms. In the post-Independence period conscious efforts were made to evolve the concept of a 'National Theatre' by breaking these barriers of language and region. Slowly many writers crossed these barriers of regionalism and produced many good works at national level. Badal Sarkar, Girish Karnad, Vijay Tendulkar, Mohan Rakesh, Adya Rangachari and Dharamveer Bharati are the few among them.

Today, it is not uncommon to find leading companies and organisations supporting efforts like holding a theatre festival or carnival of plays. The Prithvi Theatre has so far run twelve such festivals called the Prithvi festivals. It was also able to organise the "Bol Jamoore" - the national festival of Street Theatre - with the help of organisations like Child Relief and You (CRY). These festivals are set to move from Mumbai to other parts of the country like Bangalore, Delhi, Calcutta and Chennai. Nandikar, Rudra Sengupta's well-known Calcutta group, has also been putting up festivals of Indian plays for the last 12 years.

Thus, the theatre continues to show its survival instincts in the contemporary times, as it has been doing so since the time immemorial.