• Origins of Indian theatre not very well known
  • Drawings on caves show that dance, music and drama were an intrinsic part of the life of the people
  • Sitabengona and Jogimara (Ramgarh, MP) have structures that are possibly the oldest theatres of the world
  • IVC: a seal shows a person beating drum while other disguised as a tiger
  • A few hymns of the Rig Veda are in the monologue and dialogue form
  • Natyashastra evolved some guidelines for drama


Folk Theatre vs Classical Sanskrit Theatre

Table 1

Classical SanskritFolkModern
Place of performanceNormally performed privately or semi-privately – in palaces or rich homes, or in temple courtsPerformed in open grounds or in pandalsAuditoriums
AuditoriumDesign of auditorium described in Natyashastra.
StageUse features like back-stage, front-stage, wings and curtains
ThemesPlays written by dramatists – well structured. Themes of love, grief, myths etcFolk legends and myths. Later themes focusing on social conditions became importantDramas began to take up social themes, voice political unrest, express resentment against alien rule
ActingActors use rich gesture language and facial expressions to effectively atmosphere and situationSpontaneous, simple and sometimes crude. Combines music, dance and  acting
Other characteristicsStandard formMore regional in form


Prominent folk theatre forms

  • Kerala
    • Mudiyettu
      • Ritualistic dance drama
      • Performed annually in Kali temples
      • Signifies triumph of good over evil as Kali vanquishes the demon Darika
      • Included in UNESCO list of Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity (2010)
    • Krishnattam
    • Kudiyattam (Sanskrit theatre)
    • Theyyam
  • Assam
    • Anika Nat (one act play)
  • Rajasthan
    • Bhavai
    • Khyal (dance drama)
  • Haryana
    • Saang
  • Kashmir
    • Jashin
  • Himachal Pradesh
    • Karyala
  • Maharashtra
    • Tamasha
  • TN: Therukkothu
  • Bengal, Orissa:
  • Goa: Zatra
  • UP: Nautanki
  • MP: Macha
  • North India in general
    • Rasleela
    • Ramleela

Important Dramatists


  • Asvaghosa – Buddhacharita
  • Kalidasa – Abhijnanasakuntalam, Meghduta, Kumarsambhava
  • Bhasa – Madhyamavyayoga
  • Shudrak – Mricchkatika
  • Vishakahdatta – Madrarakshasa
  • Bhavabhuti – Mahaveercharita


  • Dinbandhu Mitra – Neeldarpan
  • Aga Hashra Kashmiri (aka Indian Shakespeare?)
  • Bhartendu Harishchandra
  • Jaishankar Prasad
  • Habib Tanveer – Mitti ki Gadi, Charandas Chor
  • Mohan Rakesh – Ashadha ka ek din
  • Dharamveer Bharti – Andha Yug
  • Vijay Tendulkar – Shantata Court Chalu Ahe, Ghasiram Kotwal
  • Girish Karnad – Tughlaq, Yayati

Puppet Theatre

  • Rajasthani Kathaputli
    • Legend of Amarsingh Rathore is very popular
  • Orissa: Sakhi Kundhei
  • Assam: Putla Nach
  • Maharashtra: Malasutri Bahuly
  • Karnataka: Gombeyatta
  • TN: Bommalattam
  • Kerala: Tolpavakoothy
  • AP: Tholu Bomalata


Modern Drama

  • New theatre movement was initiated in Bengal and Maharashtra
  • Influence of Europeans
  • European plays translated and staged
  • Themes: Dramas began to take up social themes, voice political unrest, express resentment against alien rule
    • Deenbandhu Mitra’s Neeldarpan took the theme of the plight of the indigo plantation workers
    • Krishnaji Prabhakar Khadilkar’s Kichaka Vadha relected nationalist sentiments
  • Indian People’s Theatre Association (IPTA) became a part of the mass struggle of peasants, youth and workers
    • It was the cultural wing of the CPI
  • Parsi theatre aimed at entertainment
  • Maharashtra
    • Indian National Theatre
    • Prithvi Theatre


Government Initiatives

  • National School of Drama, 1959
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