Indian theatre is one of the most ancient forms of theatre and it features a detailed textual, sculptural, and dramatic effects which emerged in mid first millennium BC. The history of Indian theatre dates back to over 5,000 year and had rich cultural and traditional essence but in recent times people have forgotten the true beauty of the art form which breathes life into so many stories and tales.
According to some scholars Indian theatre emerged in the early 15th century BC and some others say that the ancient Sanskrit theatre emerged in India after the development of Greek and Roman theater in the West. During the 4th century BC, Yakshagana, a form of dance-drama was performed during major festivals.
The Rigveda mentions plays which were enacted during yagnas and were mostly limited to stories of god narrated sometimes by a single person and at other times two-three of them. Theatre in ancient India was an important medium of communication. As time passed people also focused on stories of mortal beings and not just Gods. There are many famous Playwrights such as Kalidasa and Bhasa who wrote plays during the ancient period which shows that Drama was a popular genre among people of ancient India. In earlier forms the performance was mostly in the form of narratives including dance, singing, instruments and recitation, some of these things are still retained in plays performed in many parts of India even after the western influence.
During the Medieval period (12th – 18th century) plays were more focused on social, religious, cultural and economical views. The invasion of Turks and Persians brought it new features to Indian Theatre. One of the major changes which occurred was the shift in language from Sanskrit to vernacular because neither the new invaders nor the commoners could understand Sanskrit. During these times Bhavabhuti was a famous dramatist.
Under the colonial rule the ear of modern Indian theater started. Rabindranath Tagore was one pioneers of modern theatre in India who wrote plays regarding nationalism, spiritualism and material greed. His plays were mostly written in Bengali, some of them are – Post man, Chitra, The King of the Dark Chamber etc. Theatre in south Indian also flourished greatly. Plays during this ear were a combination of Indian social space with western formats. After independence improvisation or ‘improv’ became famous and gained recognition.
Today, even though theatre exists in different forms all over Indian it is overshadowed by the moving pictures on the silver screen. People view theatre as a stepping stone in the process of becoming an actor in movies or television. If only we open our eyes to the world of theatre, we’ll be able to see what the stories coming to life on those stages have in them for us.