Folk Theatre Vs Classical Sanskrit Theatre, Prominent Folk Theatre Forms, Modern Drama

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  • 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

Folk Theatre vs Classical Sanskrit Theatre
Folk Theatre vs Classical Sanskrit Theatre

Classical Sanskrit



Place of performance

Normally performed privately or semi-privately – in palaces or rich homes, or in temple courts

Performed in open grounds or in pandals



Design of auditorium described in Natyashastra.


Use features like back-stage, front-stage, wings and curtains


Plays written by dramatists – well structured. Themes of love, grief, myths etc

Folk legends and myths. Later themes focusing on social conditions became important

Dramas began to take up social themes, voice political unrest, express resentment against alien rule


Actors use rich gesture language and facial expressions to communicate effectively atmosphere and situation

Spontaneous, simple and sometimes crude. Combines music, dance and acting

Other characteristics

Standard form

More 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: Yatra

  • 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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