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Special Content

Issue no 52, 25 - 31 March 2023

Different Forms of Traditional Theatre



World Theatre Day is celebrated on 27th March to underscore the importance of, and to popularise one of the oldest art forms in the human history. This day was originally initiated in the year 1961 by the International Theatre Institute to encourage drama and fine arts. Being closer to human emotions, theatre has the potential to influence thoughts and bring in positive changes in the society. This day also commemorates the importance of theatre in a persons life as it not only entertains the audience but also depicts the culture and tradition which exist around the world. Drama in itself is a complete form of arts. It includes in its framework acting, dialogue, poetry, music, etc.

India and Theatre: In Indian social system, the living tradition of drama occupies a prominent place. Since ages, they have reflected the ideals of the society, its determination to survive, its ethos, emotions, fellowfeelings, and so on. In different regions of India, traditional theatre forms are presented during festivals and fests. Traditional theatre forms reflect the common man's social attitudes and perceptions which takes on regional, local and folk coloring. Traditional theatre forms have a common distinguishing feature that is the element of simplicity. And the development of traditional theatre forms is based on such local and regional peculiarities. Indian theatre, the history of which is traced back to more than 5000 years ago, too has given birth to many eclectic stage art forms and produced renowned artists, immensely enriching the cultural heritage of the country. Let us see the various forms of traditional theatre in India.

Bhand Pather: This traditional theatre form of Kashmir is a unique combination of dance, music and acting. Satire, wit and parody are preferred for inducing laughter. The Bhand Pather is a popular form of folk theatre and the word bhand stands for 'jester' while pather means 'drama'. In this theatre form, music is provided with surnai, nagaara and dhol. Since the actors of Bhand Pather are mainly from the farming community, the impact of their way of living, ideals and sensitivity is discernible

Swang: This theatre form was mainly musicbased. Gradually, prose too, played its role in the dialogues. The softness of emotions, accomplishment of rasa alongwith the development of character can be seen in this theatre form. 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: This theatre form is usually associated with Uttar Pradesh. 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 used to perform in Nautanki but nowadays, women have also started taking part in the performances. Among those remembered with reverence is Gulab Bai of Kanpur who gave a new dimension to this old theatre form.

Rasleela: This form of theatre is based exclusively on the legends of Lord Krishna. It is believed that Nand Das wrote the initial plays based on the life of Krishna. In this theatre form the dialogues in prose are combined beautifully with songs and scenes from Krishna's pranks.

Bhavai: It is the traditional theatre form of Gujarat. The centers of this form are Kutch and Kathiawar. The instruments used in Bhavai are bhungal, tabla, flute, pakhaawaj, rabaab, sarangi, manjeera, etc. In Bhavai, there is a rare synthesis of devotional and romantic sentiments.

Jatra: Fairs in honour of gods, or religious rituals and ceremonies have within their framework musical plays that are known as Jatra. This form was born and nurtured in Bengal. Krishna Jatra became popular due to Chaitanya's influence. Later, however, 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

Maach: It is the traditional theatre form of Madhya Pradesh. The term Maach is used for the stage itself and also for the play. In this theatre 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.

Bhaona: This theatre form is a presentation of the Ankia Naat of Assam. In 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.

Tamasha: A traditional folk theatre form of Maharashtra, Tamasha has evolved from the folk forms such as Gondhal, Jagran and Kirtan. 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.

Dashavtar: It is the most developed theatre form of the Konkan and Goa regions. The performers personify the ten incarnations of Lord Vishnu-the god of preservation and creativity. The ten incarnations are Matsya (fish), Kurma (tortoise), Varaha (boar), Narsimha (lion-man), Vaman (dwarf), Parashuram, Rama, Krishna (or Balram), Buddha and Kalki. Apart from stylized make-up, the Dashavatar performers wear masks of wood and papier mache.

Krishnattam: This folk theatre of Kerala came into existence in the middle of 17th century A.D. under the patronage of King Manavada of Calicut. Krishnattam is a cycle of eight plays performed for eight consecutive days. The plays are Avataram, Kaliamandana, Rasa Krida, Kamasavadha, Swayamvaram, Bana Yudham, Vivida Vadham, and Swargarohana. The episodes are based on the theme of Lord Krishna - his birth, childhood pranks and various deeds depicting victory of good over evil.

Mudiyettu: Another 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, as an oblation to the Goddess. It depicts the triumph of goddess Bhadrakali over the asura Darika. The seven characters in Mudiyettu-Shiva, Narada, Darika, Danavendra, Bhadrakali, Kooli and Koimbidar (Nandikeshvara) are all heavily made-up.

Koodiyattam: One of the oldest traditional theatre forms of Kerala, Koodiyattam is based on Sanskrit theatre traditions. The characters of this theatre form are Chakyaar or actor, Naambiyaar, the instrumentalists and Naangyaar, those taking on women's roles. The Sutradhar or narrator and the Vidushak or jesters are the protagonists. It is the Vidushak alone who delivers the dialogues. Emphasis on hand gestures and eye movements makes this dance and theatre form unique.

Yakshagaana: This is a 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

Therukoothu: It is the most popular form of folk drama of Tamil Nadu which literally means 'street play'. It is mostly performed at the time of annual temple festivals of Mariamman (Rain goddess) to achieve a rich harvest. At the core of the extensive repertoire of Therukoothu, there is a cycle of eight plays based on the life of Draupadi. Kattiakaran, the Sutradhara of the Therukoothu performance, gives the gist of the play to the audience and Komali entertains the audience with his buffoonery.

Source: PIB/Centre for Cultural Resources and Training