World Theatre Day is celebrated across the world on 27th March, by the international theatre community. Many kinds of plays and shows are organized, at different places, to promote Theatre, which has been an ancient form of communication, in India and the World.
Today’s Cinema Theatres are only the latest form of this art, which has been prevalent in various forms, through the world.
In the culture heritage of India, theatre has been one of the most popular components, which caters to both education and entertainment.
It has been an integral part of Indian heritage for well over 7000 years, all across the land.
Theatre – Natyashala
Theatre refers to the platform where plays – dramatics are formed. A Theatre is known by the term Natyashala in Samskrt.
Among the earliest mention of Theatre in India, is from Bharat Muni. Bharat Muni is a contemporary of Rishi Valmiki, who is dated to 5100 BCE. Which means that Theatre existed in India, 7000 years ago.
Bharata Muni, was an ancient Indian theatrologist, who wrote the popular work Natya Shastra, consisting of 36 chapters, a treatise on theatre. Ancient Indian dance and music were based on this Shastra.
Natya Shastra should not be limitedly understood as a dance treatise. It deals about
- Stage Preparation
- Stage Entry
and all aspects related to theatre.
Bharata Muni is today revered as the Father of theatrical forms, not just for India, but for the world. There is a temple that has been built in his honour between Chennai and Mahabalipuram on the east coast road.
Rangabhoomi – Indian Theatre
In India, theatres, platforms, stages were known as Rangamanch, term still in use for stage in India.
Many ruins of Rangamanch have been discovered in this land, in archaeological excavations.
The Rangabhoomi at Dholavira, as per the excavations has been dated to have been built and used around 3000 BCE, which is about 5000 years ago.
This data from a timeline perspective, places the Rangabhoomi of Dholavira to be twice as ancient as the famed ancient stadia of Greece and Rome.
Rang means colours, Bhoomi means ground and Manch means a platform. These arenas and stages offered sights of colours.
We find mention of Rangamanch and Rangabhoomi in the literature of those days.
Visualizing Dholavira Rangabhoomi
The archaeologist R.S.Bisht who is credited with the excavation of Dholavira writes,
He further writes,
Details of the Rangabhoomi
- A small two meter by two meter portion of the field was found to be scattered with hundreds of jewellery beads. Bisht visualizes, “You can imagine performers decked in beads from top to bottom, freely dancing and the beads falling everywhere.”
- One of the artifacts recovered from this Rangabhoomi is a terracotta theatre mask probably used by the entertainers.
- Row after row of peg holes were discovered – indicating that they would have been used to erect stalls and dividers during performances.
- Steps were excavated around the Rangabhoomi – indicating the location of the stands for the audience.
- The excavations showed that the people then seemed to add a new layer of mud to their Rangabhoomi, every year. The mud was brought from outside of Dholavira. This annual layering of mud, gave the whole stadium and the stage, unique acoustics and sonorous quality.
All these details of the Rangabhoomi tell us that it was not a casual site but a full-fledged stadium as with all the trappings of theatrical shows.
In these Rangamanch, performances and sports were exhibited together. In the morning, it was sports, while during the dusk, Rangamanch transformed itself into theatre.
India’s oldest treatise on performances, Natya Shastra by Bharata Muni, describes in detail, the principles and guidelines for constructing Rangamanch besides covering all aspects of the art of performing, in depth.
More on Rangamanch in our book, Autobiography Of India – Breaking The Myths – About Ability.
Theatre in India
In this land, theatre existed everywhere. There was theatre inside a building. There was theatre in open air, and also house theatre. Each variety of these theatre goes back by many millennia and have been honed for thousands of years.
Theatrical forms in India
India has a wide and rich display of theatrical arts. Right from Assam, Arunachal Pradesh in the east to Punjab and Sindh in the West, to Leh, Ladakh in the North, India is abounding in theatre forms.
Drama, Dance and Puppetry
Theatre in India consists of Drama, Dance and Puppetry. Thus theatre is a wide spectrum.
Ramayana and Mahabharata
Our two itihasa, Ramayana and Mahabharata, have been used from time immemorial in theatre forms.
Regional Theatrical forms
Every region has its beautiful theatrical forms,
Some of them being,
- Bhaona in Assam
- Jatra in West Bengal
- Maach in Madhya Pradesh
- Nautanki in Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan and Punjab
- Swang in Rajasthan, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh
- Rasa leela in Uttar Pradesh
- Dashavatar in goa and Konkan
- Theyyam, Krishnattam and Kathakali in Kerala
- Veedhi Natakam in Andhra Pradesh
- Burrakatha and Harikatha in Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu
- Yakshagaana in Karnataka
In Kama Sutra, which is a treatise on sexual advances and positions, it also speaks of Dance and Drama in one section.
Kalidasa, who lived in 5th century CE is revered in India, as one of the greatest dramatist, whose many theatrical dramas have been very popular in this land. Some of his dramas include,
- Abhijnanashakuntala – The Recognition of Shakuntala
- Vikramorvashi – Vrvashi won by Valour
- Malavikagnimitra – Malavika and Agnimitra
Harishacharithra is the story of Raja Harishchandra, written by Banabhatta, which has been used in Theatre forms.
Thyagaraja, the Telugu poet from Tanjaore, wrote Prahalada Bhakti Vijayam for Theatre.
Thalapathi Maram and Manimegalai
In the South, Illango has written two plays, adapted to theatre, Thalapathi Maram and Manimegalai.
Buddhist – Jataka Tales
Buddhist Jataka Tales are popular stories from Buddhist traditions. These stories have also take shape in theatre forms over the centuries.
Prithviraj Kapoor, born 1906 was a pioneer of Indian theatre and of the Hindi film industry. He was the father of the popular actor Raj Kapoor. In 1944, Prithviraj Kapoor started his own Theatre group known as Prithvi Theatres, which supported innumerable theatrical productions in India.
Theatre, an important part of Indian Heritage
So theatre has been a vibrant form in India, across times, and across the land, as a way of expression both at the folk level, in village and street plays, and as well as the court durbar level.
Theatre was given an important place in the Indian ethos.
Theatre was an integral part to life. Theater was never looked at as only a form entertainment. Theatre was looked up as one of the ways to upkeep the values of the society, of Dharma, Artha, Kama and Moksha.
It was the villagers who took active part in theatre, and it was an ideal way to spend time in the evening, after a hard day of back breaking toil.
The coming of cinema in modern era, has broken the back of theatre.
Need to restore Theatre to its pristine glory
It is for this generation to recognize, the antiquity of theatres, the reach of theatre, the value of theatre, in the upkeep of the values of the society, in the spread of message and revive theatre to its pristine glory that held its head high in this land for the last 7000 years. Let this be our focus on this World Theatre Day.