Indian Theatre

History Of Indian Theatre

India has a richest tradition in theatre which is closely related to ancient rituals and seasonal festivities of the country

Bharat Muni’s Natya Shastra was the earliest and most elaborate piece on dramaturgy written anywhere in the world. Natya Shastra describes ten classifications of drama ranging from one act to ten acts.  It is addressed to the playwright, the director, and the actor, the three inseparable elements in the creation of a drama

According to legend the very first play was performed on heaven when the gods, having defeated the demons, were enacting their victory

Theatre in India started as a narrative form, with recitation, singing and dancing becoming integral elements of the theatre

This emphasis on narrative elements made the theatre in India to include all the other forms of literature and fine arts into its physical presentation

Growth of Theatre In India


  • The earliest known form of theatre was Sanskrit or Classical theatre. It was characterised by its high degree of refinement in performance technique
  • Koodiyattam was started in Kerala and considered to be the oldest existing classical theatre form in the entire world
  • The classical theatre was based on Natya Shastra, sophisticated in its form and nature and was totally urban-oriented


  • This was the second phase of the evolution of theatre in India, which was based on oral traditions
  • This form of theatre is continued until today in almost every part of India
  • The folk theatre evolved out of rural roots and was simple in form and nature, and immediate and closer to the rural setting

Types Of Theatre In India

  • Indian folk theatre can be divided into two broad categories;

1.Religious – Leads to the “Ritual Theatre”

2.Secular – Leads to the “Theatre of Entertainment”

Ritual Theatre

  • The folk and traditional forms are mainly narrative or vocal, i.e. singing and recitation-based like Ramlila, Rasleela, and Bhand Nautanki, without any complicated gestures or movements and elements of dance
  • Most of these theatrical styles have their own unique form dependent on their local customs, though they differ from one another in execution, staging, costume, make-up and acting style

  Theatre of Entertainment

  • This form of folk theatre has secular themes ranging from romance, love and valour to social and cultural traditions. Its sole purpose was to provide entertainment for the masses. E.g: – Nautanki/Swang (North India), Tamasha (Maharashtra) and Jatra (East India)

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