Drama is the branch of performing arts in which stories are acted using combinations of speech, gesture, music, dance and sound. Indian drama and theater has a vivid history. Many theaters forms developed over the period of time like musicals, opera, ballet, illusion, mime, classical Indian dance, kabuki, mummers' plays, improvisational theater, stand-up comedy, pantomime and non-conventional or art house theater.
The history of Indian drama is charming, enigmatic and incredible. India has an indigenous dramatic tradition, and is still remain uninfluenced from any foreign influence. Hindu drama was not borrowed or an imitation of any other, but it is the product of native genius. The dramatist Bhasa or Bhrata is traditionally considered the founder and "Father" in the history of Indian drama.
It was customary to dedicate any literary work authored to the ruler under whose favor; the author was bound to survive. History of Indian drama starts from about a dozen plays being written in India between 400 and 900 A.D. Plays like Shakuntala
written by Kalidasa are some of the older plays, following the thirteen plays composed by Bhasa. The compositions of the two biggest playwrights in India, Kalidasa and Bhavabuti, were attributed to the emperors Sudraka and Sriharsha respectively.
The colonial period in the history of Indian drama and its evolvement had brought in a radical and almost whirlwind phase for dramatists from the country. The best known drama to the British was Shakuntala
by Kalidasa, which was translated into English by Sir William Jones in 1789. The play etched an insightful impression upon scholars like the German poet, novelist and dramatist, Goethe and created a `literary sensation`. It was then it was thought that Greek literature had penetrated into India and influenced the playwrights of that time. The play is parallel to the European ethics of the late middle Ages. A political composition named The Signet of the Minister, written around 800 A.D and The Binding of a Braid of Hair, are the other famous plays in ancient India.
Indian drama and theater is one of the oldest art forms. The history of Indian drama, began from the Vedic Age, the classical theater traditions of that time influenced the Hindi, Marathi and Bengali theaters down the line. The beginning of the ancient dramas can be observed in the Rig Veda, together with Pururava - Urvashi, Yama-Yami, Indra-Indrani, Sarma-Pani and Ushas Suktas. Even the epics Ramayana, Mahabharata and Artha Shastra are instilled with dramas.
Valmiki, Vyas and Panini had also thrown light on dramaturgy and Patanjali in his Mahabhashya
told that two dramas existed over the time, namely - Kamsa Vadha and Vali Vadha. Actors not only served as dancers but also as musicians. Vatsayana (author of Kama Sutra
) stated that kings were of the habit to arrange programmes of acting in festivals and celebrations. The origin of dramas of the early Vedic age is considered the most authentic and authoritative amongst all the later creations.
Later, by the mid-A.D. 300`s, play acting and penning in the Sanskrit language had developed and flourished, which were considered as epic poems. The primary aim was to reproduce and emote harmony. In historical times in Indian drama, there were seven main dramatists - Bhasa, Kalidasa, Bhavabhuti, Shudraka, Bhatta Narayana, Vishakhadutta and Harsha. The plays were based on the Hindu epics and the puranas.
Bharata`s Natya Shastra
is considered to be the first attempt to devise and contrive the art of drama in a systematic manner. Bhrata also laid down principles for stage design, make-up, costume, dance, a theory of rasas and bhavas, acting, directing and music. Bharata set out a detailed theory of drama, where he described Bhavas and the Rasas. Mahakavi Bhasa is regarded as the first playwright of ancient Sanskrit literature. He virtually had composed 13 plays, based on the stories of Ramayana, Mahabharata, Puranas and the Lok Kathas. Mahakavi Kalidasa had penned Malavikagnimitra
, History of Drama in India and Abhijnanasakuntalam
. Kalidasa and was honored as greatest poet and playwright ever to have arrived in Sanskrit literature.
Till the 15th century, Sanskrit dramas were performed on stage in Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and Gujarat. King Mitrak of Gujarat`s Vallabhi fully supported Indian dramas and arts. The drama performances germinated during the time of the Gujarat king Siddharaj Bilhan. His Karnasundri
was performed in Patan during the celebration of the Naminath Yatra Mahotsav.
After the 15th century, Indian dramatic activity almost ceased due to foreign invasions on India. However, the age witnessed the beginnings of Loknatya
(people`s theater), which was noticed in every state of India from 17th
century onwards. Several states innovated fresh and new styles of drama; in Bengal there were styles like Yatrakirtaniya, Paal, Gaan; in Madhya Pradesh Mach; in Kashmir Bhandya Thar and in Gujarat the forms comprised Bhavai, Ramlila; in northern India there existed the Nautanki, and Bhand, Ramlila and Raslila; in Maharashtra Tamasha; in Rajasthan Raas and Jhoomer; in Punjab Bhangra and Songe; while in Assam it was Ahiyanat and Ankinaat; in Bihar it was Videshiya.
In 1831, Prasaan Kumar Thakur founded the Hindi Rangmanch. In 1843, the playwright Vishnudas Bhave penned Seeta Swayamwar
in Marathi. In 1880, Annasaheb Kirloskar had staged Abhignan Shakuntal
in Marathi. The drama groups from western countries began to arrive in India to stage English plays due to Portuguese influence in western parts of India.
In 1850, theater originated in Bengal, Karnataka and Kerala. Gujarati and Urdu plays began to be staged in many cities in Mumbai and Gujarat, chiefly in Ahmedabad, Surat, Baroda and Vadnagar from 1858. The Parsis started their own drama company and used words from Hindustani, Urdu, Persian and Sanskrit in their compositions. About the same time, theatrical activity began in Karnataka and Orissa. Attention was given on the decoration of stage in the Parsi plays. Thus, from 1850-1940, there was a resurgence of dramatic movement in different regions of India and there was significant development in the genre of Indian drama and its historical flowering. These almost hundred years can rightly be stated as the `Golden Age` of Indian theater.