On World Theatre Day, we must apprise ourselves of the enthralling, incomparable beauty of traditional Indian theatre forms and acknowledge the need to resurrect them into mainstream culture.
“I regard the theatre as the greatest of all art forms, the most immediate way in which a human being can share with another the sense of what it is to be a human being.” – Oscar Wilde
Theatre is a branch of performing arts that comprises of acting out stories. It stimulates creativity and is one of the most popular modes of entertainment and jubilation. But theatre is much more than this; it is a platform for expression of different nuances of our everyday life through the subtle fusion of drama and/or music and dance.
Since ancient times, our Indian culture has given huge impetus to the performing arts. From performing in the courts of kings to an auditorium stage, Indian theatre has grown a lot and the diversity of its forms is mesmerizing. Natyashastra, written by Bharata Muni around 500 BCE is the earliest contribution to Indian theatre that vividly describes the theory behind a theatrical performance and depicts the mind of a performer. Indian theatre is usually categorized into three specific periods – Classical, Cultural and Modern; each period bringing in different areas of interests and traditions. The classical theatre was marked by composition and performance in the language of Gods – Sanskrit and had playwrights like Kalidasa (also known as Indian Shakespeare), Sudraka, Bhasa and Bhavabhuti influenced by epics and mythologies. Cultural period saw the rise of folk theatre in vernacular languages with themes like romance, heroism etc. Beginning in the late eighteenth century during the time of British consolidation in India, realism and nationalism pervaded modern theatre and had legends like Rabindranath Tagore, Kalyanam Raghuramariah, Dinabandhu Mitra etc. composing revolutionary works. Such was the acclaim and influence of Indian theatre that the British Government was forced to impose the Dramatic Performances Act in 1876 to prevent the use of theatre as a tool of protest.
Traditional Indian theatre is so rich in diversity and vigour that almost every state in India and further different ethnic groups have myriad forms of traditional theatre. But in all these forms the element of ‘simplicity’ is innate that leads to the development of an immediate, realistic and rhythmic relationship with the spectators. Regional peculiarities create a connection that is unhindered by social and economic divisions. One of the most magnificent facet of traditional Indian theatre is the beauteous use of dance and music. For instance, Tamasha a traditional folk theatre form of Maharashtra comprises of classical music, footwork at lightning-speed, and vivid gestures while in Bhand Jashn a traditional Kashmiri theatre form, the art of making the entry by dancing has been perfected as the way each character walks and enters the platform identifies him. Indian theatre has not remained untouched by urbanization and other changes and tried to improvise the aspects in innovative styles. Nautanki is usually associated with Uttar Pradesh. The stories revolve around mythological and folk tales and contemporary heroes. There was a time when only men acted in Nautanki but nowadays, women have also started taking part in the performances. Swang from Haryana, Rasleela from Uttar Pradesh, Bhavai from Gujarat, Maach from Madhya Pradesh are just some other theatre forms in the grand myriad of Indian theatre culture. Koodiyattam or Kutiyattam, is a traditional performing art form from Kerala. It has been recognised by UNESCO as a ‘Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity’ as it is one of the oldest theatre forms, based on Sanskrit theatre traditions.
Cinema and television have certainly emerged as the greatest adversaries of theatre and a falling appreciation of these art forms is witnessed. Their reach and knowledge has become limited and is popular only in the circles of theatre admirers. Theatre is such an art form that not only expresses meaning through narration but also brings people together. It leads to development of skills like listening, imagination and empathy. Moreover, its contribution to the economy and growth of neglected areas cannot be missed. The government as well as the citizens, especially the students can play a huge role in this endeavor of remembering our customs.
Thus, in order to strengthen our roots and concretise the cohesiveness of our culture, recognition and popularization of traditional Indian theatre is very essential, otherwise we would lose these precious jewels of our sublime Indian culture to westernisation forever.
Feature Image Credits: indiaheritagedesk.com