History of Indian Theatre (Loka Ranga Panorama of Indian Folk Theatre)

Item Code: IDH425
Publisher: Abhinav Publication
Author: M. L. Varadpande
Edition: 1992
ISBN: 8170172780
Pages: 338 (Color Illus: 26, B & W Illus: 110, Line Figure Illus:)
Cover: Hardcover
Other Details 11" X 8.7
Weight 1.35 kg
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Book Description

From the Jacket

This volume of the HISTORY Of INDIAN THEATRE presents most enchanting and colourful panorama of folk and traditional theatre flourishing in India since time immemorial.

Utilising various sources the author meticulously and systematically builds up the theatre history which spans over several centuries.

It is for the first time an elaborate account of dramatic rituals associated with the Bhuta or the Cult of Spirits is given here. This will enable the students of theatre understand the relationship of ritual and dramatic performance in its correct perspective. Various ritualistic theatre forms such as Teyyam are described and discussed.

The book also tells us how the technique of ballad singing was dramatized and finally evolved into full-fledged drama in the course of time. The history of narrative forms is traced from the Vedic times to the present.

With the emergence of Bhakti cult the epics were dramatizes. This gave rise to the Leela Theatre which dedicated itself to portraying the divine acts of incarnations such as Krishna and Rama. Various forms of Leela Theatre are described in the book.

Audiences turn to theatre for entertainment. A class of folk theatre arose in India whose main function was secular entertainment. Swang, Tamasha, Nautanki, Khyal entertained the people with dance, music and son, as well as with humour and pathos, love and war. Their enchanting story is narrated here.

Also you can read in the book several dramatic forms of South India.

This is a complete book which speaks of the rich dramatic culture of India which is unparalleled in the world.

About the Author

Known for his erudition and profound scholarship, M. L. Varadpande (b. 1936) is an eminent theatre historian of India.

His major works published by Abhinav Publications are Traditions of Indian Theatre, Ancient Indian and Indo-Greek Theatre, Religion and Theatre and Krishna Theatre in India.

His other well-known works on Indian theatre are Invitation to an Indian Theatre and The Critique of Indian Theatre (Ed.).

The Sahitya Akademi, India's National Academy of Letters, has published his book Shripad Krishna Kolhatkar in Marathi (out of print), Hindi (Second Edition) and Punjabi. It is now being translated into English.

His forthcoming works are The Mahabharata in Performance and Ankia Nat: Vaishnava Opera of Assam.

As a Research Fellow of the Indian Council of Historical Research he is working on the research project Temple Theatre In India.



FOLK theatre is the theatre which originated and evolved among, and has been transmitted through, the common people. Its relationship with the common people is deep, multiple and multi-layered. It is a kind of entertainment which is not entertainment alone. It carries within it the entire folk culture with all its social and religious institutions. We find reflected In" folk theatre the cults, customs, rituals and beliefs of common people. It assumes different forms and fulfils multiple functions. Sometimes it takes the form of a ritual performed to propitiate divine forces for the welfare of the society and sometimes it is entertainment, pure and simple. Emphasis on different aspects and constituent ingredients makes it change its colour. A folk theatre form which starts as a ritual may in course of time take the shape of a medium for political propaganda completely altering its function, but, it still remains with and functions for the common people and continues- to be a folk theatre. It aims at the common man, may he be from rural or urban society. The common man is emotionally and intellectually involved with his theatre; for him the theatre is not something external or superficial. It is a part of his tradition with which he has lived for generations.

Folk theatre encompasses the entire gamut of performing arts, including art forms like magic, acrobatics, martial arts or any other device it deems useful. Often this theatre, vast in scope, does not remain confined to a small stage, but converts the entire locality into a theatre. Action flows from people and their environment to the performing arena and from there back to the source in a single sweep. Folk theatre assumes many formats. We find its rudiments in folk rituals, performances of folk artists and the sessions of story narration. All these and many other rudimentary dramatic factors convetge and take the fuller, mature form of drama proper, secular or religious. Hence, while speaking about folk drama, we have. to discuss all these rudimentary dramatic factors, out of which the final picture would emerge.

' The tradition of Indian folk theatre reaches back to distant antiquity. We find it functioning vibrantly through the ages. It comes down to us from aboriginal cave-man who has left the record of his theatrical activities in the form of sketches and paintings on the walls of his abode. Ancient Vedic literature, Buddhist literature, works like Arthashastra tell us- about the enchanting panorama of Indian folk theatre. Information on these is included in the first volume of our history. Many scholars believe that classical Sanskrit theatre had its origin in the folk theatre of our country. The preliminaries or Purvaranga procedures, the use of many dialects, of music and dance, the simple stage and the character of Vidushaka, according to the scholars, are signs of the impact of folk theatre on the classical theatre. However, it was not a one-way flow. Both grew together influencing each other.

The prakrit and apabhramsha passages and songs in Sanskrit dramas indicate the influence of folk theatre. In one manuscript of the play 'Vikramorvashiya' of Kalidas there were as many as 16 apabhramsha songs. In the Kudiyattam Sanskrit theatre, the character of Vidushaka started explaining the Sanskrit passages in the local language. These instances show the growing influence of the folk theatre. In the 15th and 16th centuries the language of folk theatre pushed into background the classical Sanskrit theatre which was on the decline.

In the Sanskrit works on dramaturgy various minor dramatic forms are mentioned. Full of dancing, singing and music they resemble in their form and content many prevalent folk theatres. Many scholars feel that under the title Uparupakas the Sanskrit dramaturgists have described the folk theatre prevalent at the time.

However, historically speaking, it was during the 15-16th century that the folk theatre emerged forcefully in different regions. It used different languages, the languages of the regions in which it emerged. We are basically concerned here with these forms of folk theatre.

Some common features are discernible in the presentation techniques and formats of the folk theatre forms that emerged in different regions. Abundant use of dancing, singing and music, the presence of chorus led by the Sutradhara throughout the performance, elaborate Purvaranga, clever use of the character of jester, use of folk and classical musical modes are some of the dominant common features. For themes, the folk theatre looked at the Sanskrit epics and the Puranas, particularly their translations in regional languages, historical and semi-historical tales, folk stories of romance and valour and biographical accounts of local heroes.

We may broadly divide the folk theatre forms into two very general categories- religious and secular. The religion-mythology oriented forms emerged as a result of the Bhakti movement in medieval India. Interestingly enough many saints such as Mahapurusha Shankaradeva, Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, Tulasidas, Swami Haridas, Siddhendra Yogi, Tirtha Narayan Yati and others took great interest in dramatic activity and founded many dramatic traditions, taking elements from older traditions. The secular folk theatre form, which belonged to the Swang tradition, took upon itself the task of folk entertainment and there emerged a theatre of entertainment. The two forms functioned together influencing each other.

Now let us present a general study of Purvaranga which is marked by Shri Ganesha worship. Ganesha is one of the most popular deities of the Hindu pantheon. According to certain authorities, he was a pre-Aryan deity of the aboriginals and his one tusk symbolised a plough. As such he was associated with the fertility rites of the local folk which included ritualistic dances. Some think that the tribal totem of the elephant might have evolved into an elephant-headed god such as the animal-headed gods of Egypt, the bovine deities of Assyria, etc. Lewis Spence says, 'When man realises his superiority, then the totem gods take on his own image, retaining only the symbols or insignia of the beast.' Thus the Egyptian sun-goddess, Bast, from being represented in the early times as a cat pure and simple, was later figured as a woman having a cat's head. This, in a way, explains deification of the elephant, an animal known to the aboriginals of the country for its massive structure and superior intelligence. There is a Harappan seal with the elephant emblem engraved on it. The famous Pashupati seal found in Mohenjodaro includes an elephant as one of the animals around the deity. Pashupati on the seal is taken as an earlier form of Shiva and as such the elephant on the seal might have been turned into an elephant-headed deity in the Shiva family. Iconographically, the torso of Ganesha resembles Yaksha images found in the country. Some consider Ganapati as an elephant-headed Yaksha. That establishes a pre-Aryan origin of the deity as the Yaksha cult is more ancient than the Vedas. In Rig Veda (MandaI 2: Sukta 23), we find mention of Ganapati who is equated with Brihaspati or Brahmanaspati, a deity of intellect and wisdom. Though the Puranas differ as to the origin and attributes of Ganesha, in general he is taken as the elder son of Lord Shiva and goddess Parvati and the head of their ganas. He is the remover of obstacles and the god of intellect. As Vighneshvara, he is the god whom the pious Hindu 'invokes when he begins all sacrifices and religious ceremonies, all addresses even to superior gods, all serious compositions in writing, and all worldly affairs of moment.' In his Vinayaka form, he very much resembles the Greek god of theatre, Dionysus. Being the son of Nataraja himself Ganesha is adept in the art of dancing. Graceful images of dancing Ganesha adorn various Indian temples. The 12th century Nritya Ganesha idol at Hoysaleshvara temple at Halebid in Karnataka State is an excellent piece of sculpture. On both sides of the image, we see musicians playing upon the mridanga. On observing Nritya Ganesha at Khiching, aesthetically aroused Dr. Banerjea remarks, ' ... and all such details demonstrate in a remarkable manner how such an apparently grotesque iconic type could be converted into an elegant piece of sculpture by the anonymous artist of a comer of Orissa.' According to. the tenets of Hindu iconography, the image of dancing Ganesha should have 'eight hands in seven of which should be held the basa, the ankusha, cakes, the kuthara (a kind of axe), the danta, the valaya (a quoit), and the anguliya (a ring); the remaining hand should be freely hanging so as to be helpful to the various movements of the dance. The colour of the body of this Ganesha has to be golden yellow. To show that it is a dancing figure it is sculptured with the left leg slightly bent, resting on the padmasana, and the right leg also bent and held up in the air. The sculptures of this figure have generally only four hands, but not eight as in the description given above' (T.A. Gopinatha Rao), In Mukteshwara temple, Bhuvaneshvar, there is a peculiar image of dancing Ganesha. In his two hands, raised above the head, he is holding a ferocious cobra. Astabhuja (having eight hands) tandava nritya murtis are associated with tantric rituals and black magic. Remarkable Ganesha idols in dancing posture are located at various places including Sohagpur in old Rewa State and Nemavar in old Indore State. This aspect of Ganesha associates him with theatre as his illustrious father, Lord Shiva, the Nataraja.

The cult of Ganesha, Ganapathya, started spreading in the 6th century A.D. and became quite powerful by the end of the 10th century. It established the importance of Ganesha and people started worshipping him at the beginning of every auspicious work. In his capacity as the remover of obstacles, he is associated with the theatre and prayers are offered to him for the successful completion of the performance.

However the great sage Bharata does not directly mention the deity in his Natyashastra. Here, not Ganesha, but 'Jarjara' is worshipped as remover of obstacles. In chapter 3, he says, 'one should consecrate the Jarjara with the following mantra: For putting off obstacles thou hast been made very strong, and as hard as adamant, by gods such as Brahma.' In the same chapter, he has made references to Mahagramani, Gramani and Ganeshvaras. Some of the critics, including Abhinavagupta, think that all three names refer to Ganesha. But Manmohan Ghosh does not subscribe to this view. He conjectures that the fully developed Ganapati seems to be non-existent at the time when the Natyashastra was composed. But his presence is certainly felt. In the first chapter of the treatise we find that various deities have been deputed to protect the theatre world from the angry asuras. Verse 96 says, 'Let Indra protect the actor who assumes the role of the hero, Sarasvati the actress assuming the role of the heroine, Omkara the vidushaka and Shiva the rest of the characters.' Ganesha is worshipped in Omkara form also. Hence we may conjecture that Ganesha might have been entrusted with the task of protecting vidushaka, the jester.

The Rangapuja (ritual of workshipping the stage, theatre) and the Purvaranga (which are to be performed before the actual commencement of the play proper) are the relics of the magico-religious past of the theatre. It is clearly stated in the Natyashastra that no play 'Preksha' should be enacted before propitiating the stage 'Ranga' in a prescribed manner. Otherwise the performance would be marred by Vighnas. In Bharata's time, elaborate ritual used to be performed to appease various deities and also demons. Such ritual was considered auspicious, giver of long life, success and conducive to Dharma. It is beneficial, Bharata says, to the Ranga- Swami (King) and also the people of the Nagara and Janapada. As the popularity of Indra and his protective symbol 'Jarjara' waned, gradually Ganesha took its place. It may be noted here that in addition to paying respects to Indra, the Jarjara was also worshipped to please the Vighna-Vinayaka and the Vighna-Vinayaka is no other than Ganesha. The term suggests his destructive aspect.


1 Introduction 3
2 Theatre Of Rituals 33
3 Theatre Of Narration 63
4 Theatre Of Entertainment 133
5 Theatre Of Krishna 231
6 Theatre Of Rama 295
7 Theatre Of The South 311
  Bibliography 329
  List Of Illustration 331
  Index 333

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