Theatre History

History of Theatre

Acting can be traced back to 4000 BC, when it’s believed that Egyptian priests worshiped the dead by remembering them in performances. So while acting may have begun as an element of religion it slowly evolved to become entertainment.

Theatre in India initiated as a narrative form. The art of reciting, dancing and singing gradually became an integral element of Indian theatre whilst boasting its copious tradition. Indian theatre is essentially narrative. This emphasis on narrative elements made Indian theatre theatrical right from the remote past of the heydays of Sanskrit theatre. This is perhaps the reason why Indian theatre has so very well encompassed all the popular expression of literature and fine arts into its physical manifestation. Indian theatre, pregnant with its rich past has therefore amalgamated the richness of literature, mime, dance, music, painting, architecture and sculpture to carve a niche for itself in the arena of entertainment.

History of Indian Theatre: The History of Indian Theatre goes back to more than 5000 years. The first one named as Natyashastra was written by Bharat Muni. Theatre in India started as a narrative form such as singing, dancing and reciting. The emphasis was always given to literature, Indian music, mime, dance, Indian painting, and also shadow theatre. Once started just a narrative form, Indian theatre gradually developed as an independent form of expression. The development of Indian theatre can be divided in three parts namely, Theatre in ancient India, Theatre in medieval India and Contemporary Indian Theatre. The history of Indian drama also proves that the marked change in the socio political scenario helped in the development of modern Indian theatre. The history of Indian theatre is therefore the chronicle of changing traditions in India.

Indian drama and theatre, considered even older than its music and dance, possesses classical theatrical traditions, which have also influenced modern theatre, especially the Hindi, Marathi and Bengali plays. The tradition of folk theatre is alive in almost all the linguistic regions of the country. In addition, there also exists a rich tradition of puppet theatre in rural India. In the initial times, dramas were penned on the basis and foundation of the epics and Puranas. As such, people could generate much interest in the dramas performed in the then India. Rasa and acting were regarded as much popular in the society. So, slowly Lokanatya became popular.

India is one of the selected few countries, which can boast of a home-grown and native drama and theatrical tradition, staying wholly unemotional towards any kind of foreign influence. The earliest extant stage piece, The Little Clay Cart, is very much attributed to Indian drama – The Little Clay Cart sovereign named Sudraka. The play is in all probability dated sometime before 400 A.D. This is one of the few oriental dramas treating, in part at least, of middle-class lives and everyday living. The production of drama in India was almost absolutely an involvement of the elite, who arranged for such festivities in honour of an enthronement, a lunar holiday, a royal marriage, or the birth of a royal successor. The actor’s profession was always looked at with deference and there was no objection to women being utilized and acting on the stage. In many ways, however, Indian drama unwraps the social philosophy upon which the caste system is based, as well as a profound religious feeling. Great importance is attached to the idea of self-sacrifice as the highest form of self-realisation.

This above mentioned context of drama and playacting in India brings one another major pivot in the evolvement of theatre in India. The history of Indian drama is known to go back to the Vedic Period during the Classical period, precisely with the enactment of Rig Veda. However, from those times, the scenario in Indian drama has remained witness to a lot of ups and downs. The Natya Shasta by Bharata or the great epics of Ramayana and Mahabharata and their times, had a lot of scholars that have taken the concept of drama in India to the next level. Everything that has been noted above with regards to drama, dramatic traditions, its style and panache, have since ancient times, been pivoting around Hinduism and its religious concepts and precepts. It can also be witnessed that every writer, be it in whichever background or genre, did belong to the Hindu religion, that founding religious mode, which later had paved way for various religious diversities in India. As such origin of Hindu drama in India comes under crucial and decisive limelight and scrutinisation, when present-day and later dramatic and theatrical performances are concerned.

While on stage and very much into the zeal of performing a play, drama in India as well as abroad follow some key and essential elements of dramatic enactment. Dramatic performing arts in India comprise the elements of character, plot, theme, dialogue, convention, genre, audience, stagecraft, design, conversions and various others.

Theatre in ancient India: Theatre in ancient India of course played a major role in the over all enrichment of Indian tradition, culture, artistry and creativity since the remote past. The origin of theatre in ancient India has been marked as the result of the religious ritualism of the “Vedic Aryans”. Literature in Sanskrit started with the Vedic era and the rich history of Indian theatre holds the fact that Sanskrit plays were the first recognized representation of the Indian theatre. Illustrations of daily events, rituals, tradition, dance and music laced the Sanskrit plays while making the plays as one of the classical representation of applied art form in ancient India. Although it was in much a crude manner the Sanskrit theatre did originate in India somewhat about 3500 years ago, yet its artistic glory never faded away with time. It remained popular as an Indian art form till the last part of the 17th Century.

Theatre in medieval India : Theatre in medieval India gradually became quite a thriving personification and of course a refined embodiment of the realities of life through dance, music and poise. The introduction of “Loknatya” during the mid 16th and late 16th century again added a whole fresh enunciation to Indian theatre during the mediaeval period. The over theatrical pattern of the ancient drama gained a rather rational rhythm in the style and pattern of theatres in medieval India.

Contemporary Indian Theatre. : It was the beginning of the nineteenth century when music, timber, song, dance, dialogue and emotion all were for the first time incorporated in the Indian theatre to offer it a modern facet. Not only in the acting pattern, were changes observed even in the designing of the theatre hall during this time. The theatres then incorporated huge orchestra pits and the seating arrangements were also then divided by metal bars. The overdramatic aspects were rationalized; gone are the days of witnessing the heroic deeds of the historical characters; contemporary Indian drama of the late 19th and early 20th century focused mainly towards a rather naturalistic and realistic presentation. Common man, daily life, social problem, health and economical problem were nicely manifested in contemporary theatres. Contemporary Indian dramas became more structured and were no more enlaced with the gallant deeds of heroes and Gods. It became a portrayal of common people.

Theatre in India was always an important part of the rich Indian culture and tradition and is still the same. In the recent era Indian theatre has acquired that tinge of contemporary attribute in order to befit the modish requirement of the Indian society. Indian theatre is still on rise.

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