Types Of Theatres The word theatre means “place for seeing”. The first recorded theatrical event was a performance of the sacred plays of themyth of Osiris and Isis in 2500 BC in Egypt. This story of the god Osiris was performed annually at festivals throughout the civilization, marking the beginning of a long relationship between theatre and religion. There are several types of theatres in India. Each state in India has its own distinct theaterical form of itself. India 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.
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. SANSKRIT OR CLASSICAL THEATRE 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. Shudraka, Harsha, Visakhadatta, Bhasa, Kalidasa and Bhavabhuti were, undoubtedly, the ix 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. KOODIYATTAM 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’.
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. FOLK THEATRE 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. 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. THEATRE OF ENTERTAINMENT 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. 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 erformers 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. 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 ssociates 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. PUPPETRY IN INDIA
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. SHADOW THEATRE 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. MODERN THEATRE 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.