Drama is deep rooted in Indian history whose inception cannot even be traced in the olden times. Its history is old and thousands of years old.
With the passage of time different forms of theatre have emerged over time such as opera, stand-up comedy, musicals, ballets, mime, kabuki, pantomime and non-conventional and many others. However, Indian theatre timeline has variety and is vivid with much historical relevance.
In the Vedic age, essence of drama and theatre can be witnessed in the Rig Veda along with Ushas Suktas, Sarma-pani, Indra-indrani, Yama-Yami and Pururava – Urvashi.
Even the great books Ramayana, Mahabharata and the Artha shastras of the Hindu culture are infused with various drama and theatrical compositions.
Once the inception of drama took place, it has since then occupied an essential part in the history of India. In the mid 300 AD, Sanskrit language started to flourish in India and with the development of Sanskrit language started creation of some wonderful epic prose and poetry.
Since the form of drama started to gain acceptance amongst the crowd, seven main dramatists emerged in the Indian scenario namely, Kalidasa, Bhavabhuti, Shudraka, Bhatta Narayana, Vishakhadutta, Harsha and Bhasa.
The Pioneers of Ancient theatre:
The reason for the attributions was that it was customary to dedicate any literary composition by an author, to the ruler under whom the author survived. Kalidasa was a very proficient writer whose writings exist today as ideal pieces such as Shakuntala and Meghadoota among others.
During the 15th century, the dramas were practiced and performed in different parts of India such as Gujarat, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Uttar Pradesh and the language used was Sanskrit.
It has been found out that the drama practice expanded during the rule of King Siddharaj Bilhan, who was a Gujarat King. It was during the celebration of Naminath Yatra Mahotsav that the Karnasundri was performed in Patan.
Natya Shastra of Bharata:Bharata was the first person who laid the foundation stone to develop drama in a systematic manner into a fully formed art. Different elements of drama such as dance, music, art direction, make up, costume, stage designing, acting, etc. were properly taken up by Bharata with steps for improvement and betterment.
He described the Bhavas and the Rasa with a full detailed theory of drama so as to make this art flourish with its untainted form. The first playwright of the ancient Sanskrit literature is considered to be Mahakavi Bhasa.
A total of 13 plays were composed which were based on the stories of Mahabharata, Ramayana, Lok Kathas and the Puranas.
Medieval India theatre:Medieval India witnessed a new form of drama which instantly gained popularity owing to the classical dance content. The classical dance drama form has all the contents of dance, poise and style.
The three major plays of this time were Malati- Madhava, Mahaviracharita and the Uttar Ramacharita and the eminent dramatist of this time was Bhava Bhuti.
Mythological and other devotional characters were a major influence to the Indian theater and drama and hence the influences can be witnessed in the plays itself.
The Pioneers of Medieval Indian Drama:In the 15th century, foreign invasions took place as a result of which theatre and drama activities ceased. Soon after that, in the 17th century Loknatya started which was seen to flourish in almost a major part of the country.
With the evolution of drama after a temporary hiatus, new forms were seen to be emerging such as Paal and Yatrakirtaniya in West Bengal, Videshiya, Gaan and Paal in Bihar, Ramlila in Gujarat, Tamasha in Maharashtra, Mach in Madhya Pradesh, Raas and Jhomer in Rajasathan, Ankinaat in Assam, Bhangra in Punjab. Northern India had Nautanki and bhand to its credit.
Colonial India:Colonial India again brings in another phase of Indian drama which was radical with effects of a whirlwind for the dramatists.
However, the 19th century yet again saw the western impact on Indian drama and theatre and thus one could witness English plays enacted in the Indian stage which also included translated plays from Indian language to English. This however was a huge revolution in the history of Indian drama.
After the British built its colony in India, they too got involved in the evolution of drama and theatre in India. The best known dram to the British was Kalidasa, which was so much loved by them that it was even translated into English by Sir William Jones in the year 1789.
It was believed that Greek literature was a great influence on the Indian play writers since signs were seen of parallel ethics in Indian compositions similar to that of the Greek culture.
Some of the other famous Indian plays of ancient India are The Binding of a Braid of Hair and The Signet of the Minister written in around 800 AD. Some well known plays of colonial India were Rangmanch (1831) by Prasaan Kumar Thakur, Seeta Swayamvar (1843) by Vishnudas Bhave and Abhignan Shakuntal (1880) by Annasaheb Kirloskar.
Indian Theater in the 19th century:The western parts of India in the 19th century were highly influenced by the Portuguese. As a result of this, drama groups from the western countries immigrated to India and started to enact English plays in India.
In the year 1850, theatre was originated in different states of India and plays were enacted in Karnataka, Bengal, Gujarat, and Kerala amongst other states.
Parsi plays started becoming popular in the Indian scenario as they started their own drama company using words of India such as Urdu, Hindustani and Sanskrit. Stage decoration was considered a major essence of the entire play.
Hence, it can be seen that between 1850 and 1940, a resurgence of the dramatic movement took place where in there can be seen significant changes and development in the genre of Indian drama.
Contemporary Indian theater:It was in the year 1850 that contemporary theatre and drama came into a budding stage. Starting from northern India to southern India, theatre activities were seen to be in full swing and people were also seen to be highly involved in it.
The modern play which was widely accepted by the modern Indian crowd was Vijay Tendulkar’s Ghasiram Kotwal.
Some of the famous pioneers of Modern theatre were, Verasalingam, Guruzada Appa Rao and Ballary Raghavachari in Telgu, Ranchhodbhal and Nanalla Kavi in Gujarat, Santakavi Varadachari and Kailasam in Kannada, Ramshankar Rai and Kali Charan Patnaik in Oriya, Sambandha Mudsliar in Tamil, Laxminath Bezharua in Assamese.
Street drama came into form and with it old stage drama, pits and gallery also broke the barrier of monotonous drama. Plays started to be enacted in many different Indian languages such as Bengali, Marathi, Tamil, Telegu, Urdu, Gujarati, Sanskrit and many more.