Incredible India: Traditional Theatres

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Item Code: IDI796
Author: H. S. Shiva Prakash
Publisher: Wisdom Tree Publications
Language: English
Edition: 2007
ISBN: 9788183280754
Pages: 100 (Illustrated Throughout in Full Color)
Cover: Hardcover
Other Details 9.1" X 9.0
Weight 810 gm
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Shipped to 153 countries
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Book Description

About the Book:

Varied forms of living traditional theatres constitute the most important part of India's living heritage. The present book is an attempt to present the most vibrant forms of traditional theatres from different parts and languages of India, past and present. There is special emphasis on the kinship of popular theatres with rituals and medieval Indian devotional movements. Some of the forms it speaks about are being introduced for the first time in English. Written by a well-known contemporary playwright, this comprehensive book gives a fascinating account of one of the most colourful and living theatre traditions of the world.

About the Author:

H. S. Shiva Prakash is a well-known Indian poet and playwright. Apart from the Karnataka Sahitya Akademi award and the Karnataka Natak Akademi award, he is recipient of the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award and HRD Fellowship in the field of literature. He has to his credit several books of poems, plays and books on criticism in Kannada. His poems and plays have been translated into English and other Indian languages. His plays have been staged in Karnataka and in different parts of India. He edited the Sahitya Akademi journal, Indian Literature from 1996 to 2001. He has raveled and lectured in different parts of the world.

At present, he is associate professor in School of Arts and Aesthetics as also the honorary fellow of School of Letters, University of Iowa, USA.


This book is an attempt to introduce existing varieties of traditional theatre in India. The number and variety of traditional theatres in different parts of India is bewildering. Till now, scholarly attention has been selective. Hundreds of theatre forms still await prophet documentation and analysis.

Most of the accounts of how the great Sanskrit drama of the first millennium was performed are at best a scholarly hypothesis and at worst, guesswork. Though several elements of traditional theatre forms discussed here contain important links with Natyashastra, the great Sanskrit manual of theatre practice, the popular living forms today, it appears, were mostly shaped by Bhakti movements that swept over different regions of Indian from 7th century onwards, Bhakti movements which emphasise bhakti (devotion) to God saw the world as the arena of Lord's divine play (lila). No wonder the names of many existing forms are suffixed with the word lila, a Sanskrit word or its South Indian counterpart being 'ata' or 'attam'. Most of these forms are natyadharmi (symbolic) as contrasted with lokadharmi (realistic) They all use a rich combination of words, music and dance. Some like Yakshagana and Kathakali have evolved into a complex and elaborate theatrical language. Though the theatre of the Bhakti period represents a break from the past, in an interesting manner, it is a continuation. The abandon of playfulness suggested by lila connects it back to the concepts of prathiba (creative freedom) which is central to the Sanskrit tradition.

Another backdrop of the theatre is the primitive ritual. Hence, this book examines rituals from different parts of India to illustrate how they contain the seeds of full-fledged forms of the living traditions of theatre.

In this book, traditional theatres of India are seen as falling into three groups: ritualistic theatre, devotional theatre and popular theatre. It is also assumed that these three stages involve an increasing degree of secularisation of performance. Further, the theatrical forms in question are seen as dynamic in the sense of undergoing constant changes in response to the changes happening around the world. The changes notwithstanding, these forms retain their identity because of some constants, both in form and content. When changes are fundamental, new forms are born out of the old. This is how ritualistic theatre was transformed into Bhakti theatre and popular theatre. This is how Doddata of Karnataka paved the way to give birth to Sannata.

It is true that the past lives more through its present than through its past, hence a great deal of traditional theatre is being reincarnated in interesting ways in both modern Indian theatre and cinema.

This book makes no claim of being an exhaustive treatise on all varieties of traditional Indian theatre. On the contrary, what is attempted here is something more modest: give an interested non-specialist, a fairly good idea of the most important forms of traditional theatre and of the similarities underlying their diversity.


H. S. Shiva Prakash

Editor's Note:

India, home to one of the most ancient civilisations, is a unique example of cultural and geographical diversities. Dissimilar cultural practices are deeply rooted in people's daily lives even in the 21st century. Indian history is the fruit of geography, and geography, the root of history. The history of several millennia has merged with phenomenal geographical variations to create the incredible India of today.

India is incredible in its landscapes and the people who adorn her. Its rituals and traditions; sculptures and paintings; dance, music and theatre; handicrafts, fairs and festivals; monuments and manuscripts; and its varied cuisine-each is a definite statement that only India can proudly pronounce.

Myriad streams and rivers have been flowing for centuries in their own special terrain, sometimes forceful, sometimes gentle. Despite all kinds of obstacles, they flow on. When these waters reach the ocean, they mingle, and become one huge ocean. Similarly, these diverse, astonishingly rich and colourful cultural currents create a harmonious hymn known as India, even as they retain their unique individual identity.

This series of Incredible India presents 10 books on different cultural aspects of the country, written by well-known experts on the subject. This book on traditional theatre by Dr H. S. Shiva Prakash, acclaimed playwright and theatre personality has covered the large expanse of Indian theatrical forms of the past 2,000 years. Around 2nd century AD, the legendary Sage Bharata, wrote or compiled Natyasastra, perhaps the most elaborate and comprehensive account of the art of theatre in the ancient period. He described theatre as the art of arts, because it is a composite aesthetic form made out of the amalgamation of all other arts.

Ritual, an integral component of Indian life, contains the seed of theatre. Ritual is sacred theatre and theatre is secular ritual. Lai Haraoba of the east and Nagamandalam of the south represent elaborate ritualistic theatre. Bhakti movement of medieval period has produced forms like Ankianat of Assam and many others. Because of these plural and multi-linguistic situations, great deal of region-and language-specific theatrical forms have developed over the ages. The author has covered popular living traditional forms like Yakshagana Bhavai, Nautanki, Jatra and others. He has also included a few tribal forms like Shiva Purana of the Gaddis from the mountains. The magnificent world of puppet theatre is found all over the country. The achievement of modern Indian theatre is no less impressive. The present book is an attempt to introduce different facet of Indian theatre across time and space. It is a story of both continuities and breaks.




Preface 5
Editor's Note 8
From Ritual to Theatre 9
Sanskrit Theatre - Visual Poetry 21
Devotional Theatres 26
Ankianat 26
The Rama Play 31
The Krishna Play 39
Regional Theatres 48
Bhavai 48
Indian Puppet Theatre 53
Jatra 61
Kathakali 66
Koodiyattam 72
Nautanki 76
Sumang Leela 79
Tamasha 83
Terukuttu 88
Yakshagana 93

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