Development of Drama and Theater in India

Today here we discuss the development of Drama and Theater in India, the History and Types of Theater in India and Sanskrit Plays.  

Development of Drama and Theater in India

Drama has also been practised since times immemorial. The word, Drama, could spring from a child’s play. 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.

While drama is a broad term consisting of both written plays and performances, theatre is a specific form which involves live performances in front of an audience.

History of Theater in India

India has a long and rich tradition in theatre going back to 5000 years. The origin of Indian theatre
 is closely related to the ancient rituals and seasonal festivities of the country. Bharat’s Natyashastra (2000 BC to AD 4th century) was the earliest and most elaborate treatise on dramaturgy written anywhere in the world. The traditional account in Bharata’s Natyashastra gives a divine origin to Indian theatre, attributing it to the Natyaveda, the holy book of dramaturgy created by Lord Brahma.

Natyashastra describes ten classifications of dramas ranging from one act to ten acts. No book of ancient times in the world contains such an exhaustive study on dramaturgy as the Natyashastra. 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 a play was a combination of Opera, ballet and drama.

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Types of Theater in India

The Theater in India has encompassed all the other forms of literature and fine arts in its physical presentation. Literature, mime, music, dance, movement, painting, sculpture and architecture, are all mixed into one and are called Natya or Theater in English. Roughly the Indian theatre can be divided into three distinctive kinds: Classical or Sanskrit theatre, Traditional or Folk Theatre and Modern theatre.

Sanskrit Plays

It is difficult to determine the precise origins of the Sanskrit drama. Fragments of the earliest known plays have been traced from the AD 1st century. However, scholars believe that a living theatre tradition must have existed in India much earlier. The earliest phase of Sanskrit theatre includes the writing and practice of theatre up to about AD 1000 based almost entirely on the rules, regulations and modifications laid down in the Natyashastra.

Sanskrit plays centres

The Sanskrit plays were limited by certain conventions. The tragedy was Taboo and the end was always happy. There was no place for plays that raised controversies (Although Bhasa has shown death on the stage in one of his plays). The basic plot in most Sanskrit plays centres around the hero who struggles for (and finally obtains) the object of his desire. The realization of this goal is closely entwined with the three ends of Hindu life duty, pleasure and wealth.

Sanskrit theatre was characterized 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.

See also  Forms of Traditional Theatre in India

Religions played an important role in the 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 religious, educational and entertaining elements.              

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