Development of Modern Indian Theater

Development of Modern Indian Theater

Modern Indian Theatre, as we know it today, has a legacy that is influenced by and draws inspiration from various sources. Modern theatre or historically, what can be clearly identified as the Western Proscenium Style of the theatre was not introduced in India before the late 18th century at the time of consolidation of the British Empire in various parts of India.

 It was through the British that Western Proscenium Style Theatre reached Indian shores. In the 1830s, under the patronage of the rich native families, we had the first Bengali language theatre, which was outside the traditional format of indigenous folk performance genres.

National School of Drama (NSD)

It is a theatre training institute situated in New Delhi, India. It is an autonomous organization under the Ministry of Culture, Government of India. It was set up in 1959 by the Sangeet Natak Akademi and became an independent school in 1975.

In 2005, it was granted deemed university status, but in 2011, it was revoked at the institute’s request. In a bid to decentralize its activities, NSD opened Regional Resource Centre (RRC) across India, the first of which was opened in Bangalore in 1994.

Sanskaar Rang Toli

In 1989, NSD established the Theatre-In-Education Company (TIE), also called Sanskaar Rang Toli Today, It has become India’s premier educational resources centre and coaches children aged 8 to 16 years.


The early puppet shows in India dealt mostly with histories of great kings, princes and heroes and also political satire in rural areas. Slowly, this art form emerged from the precincts of the temples and villages to reach out to the outside world by performing various social and contemporary themes in Indian towns and cities.

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Types of Traditional Indian Puppets

The different traditional forms are glove, rod, string and shadow puppets. The local name given to puppetry varies from state to state in India.


The glove puppet, also known as Hand Puppets, is a small figure having a head and arms with a long skirt as part of its costume. The puppeteer wears the puppet like a glove and fits the index finger into the hollow head of the puppet.


The Rod puppets, often larger than glove puppets are supported and manipulated by rods of various types and sizes. In rod puppets, the actions of the rods are concealed in many ways. The main holding rod that supports the puppet may be hidden by a robe or costume of the puppet may be hidden by a robe or costume of puppet. The action rods are usually connected to the hands of the Puppet and manipulated by the Puppeteer to show action.

Types of Rod Puppets

Togalu Combeyatta, Karnataka

These Puppets are mostly small in size. The puppets however differ in size, according to their social status.

Tholu Bommalata, Andhra Pradesh

Shadow theatre has the richest and strongest tradition. The puppets are large in size and have a jointed waist, shoulders, elbows and knees. They are coloured on both sides.

Ravanachhaya, Orissa

The most theatrically exciting is the Ravanachhaya of Orissa. The Puppets are in on piece and have no joints. They are not coloured, hence, throwing opaque shadows on the screen.

Putul Nautch, West Bengal

The traditional rod puppet form of West Bengal is known as Putul Nautch. They are carved from wood and follow the various artistic styles of a particular region. The Puppets of Orissa are smaller than those from Bengal or Andhra Pradesh. Rod puppet shows of Orissa are more operatic and prose dialogues are seldom used.

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Yampuri, Bihar

The Traditional rod puppet of Bihar is known as Yampuri. These Puppets are made of wood. Unlike the traditional rod puppets of West Bengal and Orissa, these puppets are in one piece and have no joints.


The Shadow puppets are flat puppets, that are operated against the rear of a tightly stretched white cloth screen with a light behind it so that the audience looks at the shadow of the puppet on the screen.  Traditional shadow puppets are two-dimensional and are made of animal skin.

The Puppet shapes or cutouts are perforated and split bamboo or cane sticks are attached vertically to the puppet for handling and manipulation. The shadow puppet performance is known as shadow (leather) play or shadow theatre.


The string puppet also known as Marionettes has a jointed body and limbs that allow movement. String puppets are made of wood or wire or cloth stuffed with cotton, rags or sawdust. The puppet is suspended from a hand-held control string that is attached to different parts of the Puppet’s body. The puppet is manipulated by operating the control as well as by loosening or pulling the relevant string(s). Some of the traditional strings puppets are very heavy.

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