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Oxford Theatres of India: A Concise Companion

Oxford Theatres of India: A Concise Companion
Item Code: NAF898
Author: Ananda Lal
Publisher: Centre For Studies in Civilizations and Oxford University Press
Language: English
Edition: 2014
ISBN: 9780195699173
Pages: 483 (130 B/W Illustrations)
Cover: Hardcover
Other Details: 9.5 inch X 6.5 inch
weight of the book: 790 gms
About The Book

Theatres of India is an accessible and authoritative guide to Indian theatre across its history of over 2000 years. Bringing together the work of distinguished theatre professional and scholars, this volume taps into various sources of documentation and knowledge to shed light on both urban and rural modes of performance across India, historically and geographically.

Divided into two parts, this book discusses theatres of India’s linguistic and cultural regions on the one hand, and deals with specific forms, genres, and traditions as varied as street theatre, Chhau, Nautanki, women’s theatre, Kathakali, and Tagore’s dramatic oeuvre, on the other.

Edited by Ananda Lal, one of India’s leading theatre scholars, as a spin-off of the much acclaimed The Oxford Companion to Indian Theatre, this volume includes more than 80 photographs and line drawings that effectively showcase the ‘visual-ness’ of India’s theatrical forms. Essential reading for theatre professionals and students, and researchers and teachers of performance studies, Theatres of India will also interest general readers who enjoy theatre.

About The Author

Ananda Lalis Professor of English at Jadavpur University, Kolkata. He also directs and translates plays, and is theatre critic of The Telegraph, Kolkata. He has contributed entries on Indian theatre to The Oxford Encyclopedia of Theatre and Performance (2003) and is the editor of The Oxford Companion to Indian Theatre (2004).


The Oxford Companion to Indian Theatre appeared as a hardback in 2004. When Oxford University Press, India, proposed an affordable edition last year, so that this pioneering and well-received reference work could reach a much wider audience, we had to weigh two important considerations. First, for pricing reasons, we could not possibly retain the full text of 563 large- format pages. Second, to update the 700-odd entries would have taken at least a couple of years, along with the responsibility of adding new entries to cover contemporary theatre adequately.

Given these constraints of space and time, we decided to limit the scope of the present project to two parts: the long overviews of Indian theatres by language in Part I, and the general surveys of specific forms, genres, and traditions in Part II. Thus, more than one-third of the material concerns urban, and the rest rural, theatre-a fair representation of the art as I see it. Most of the essays in Part I have been revised and brought up to date, through corrections as well as addenda dealing with recent developments, sometimes written by new contributors as the original authors have, sadly, exited from the great theatre of life. Two completely fresh articles were commissioned, on Mizo theatre and women's theatre, since research now exists in these previously uncharted areas.

We had to leave out, however, virtually all the biographical entries in the original volume, so as to keep this book to a manageable size. There are two exceptions to this principle; for obvious reasons, the two world-famous names synonymous with Indian classicism and modernism respectively: Kalidasa and Rabindranath Tagore. Similarly, the two preeminent institutions that have historically shaped contemporary Indian theatre retain their places-the Indian People's Theatre Association and the National School of Drama- one non-governmental, the other state-subsidized. Both have become major and influential traditions in their own right. All other groups and companies that had separate entries in the Companion have regrettably lost their independent spaces here.

Dates. Cultural factors related to theatre create complications in dating. Apart from perhaps two or three linguistic regions where the sense of history has developed better, all Indian urban stage traditions reveal blithe unconcern about chronology. Nobody cared to write down the date of a premiere. As a result, huge anomalies arose in later, secondary literature. Since a theatre resource, by commonly accepted standards, is expected to provide the year of first production rather than publication, this handicap posed major difficulties. Often, where no consensus emerged, the year of a play's first edition has been printed. But even this cannot be considered sacrosanct, since no Indian calendars correspond to the Gregorian, and sometimes no copy of the play survives. Inevitably, I expect readers to point out errors, but request them to send me copies of supporting primary evidence or documentation unambiguously substantiating cause for change.

Leave alone the Indian countryside, even in the cosmopolitan megalopolises facts are hard to come by. Until recently, dates of birth were not registered, and remembered only by such temporal signposts as 'the day the big cyclone hit our town' or 'the full-moon night in Paush the year that electricity arrived' (which could fall in two Christian years, as the month of Paush straddles December-January). Furthermore, many Indians habitually decreased their children's ages officially, so that when they grew up they could have an extra few years to apply for jobs, which normally carried an age bar. I know of one famous director actually born four years before the 'official' year printed here.

Names. Spellings of names also raise difficulties. In Bengali, Rabindranath Tagore is actually Rabindranath Thakur. Yet in English he chose to sign and publish in the Anglicized form of Tag ore and became a world celebrity under that name. I have tried to respect the English spellings that people used for themselves, to the best of our knowledge. I do not believe that anyone has the right (as has occasionally happened in academic publications of late) to alter an individual's legal personal choice just to suit methodological conformity. Why should Badal Sircar have to turn into 'Badal Sarkar' or Bohurupee metamorphose into 'Bahurupi', when they preferred to spell their names in English in particular ways? In all other instances, of course, we have transliterated the Indian names into English.

Places. Similarly, for place names I use the official versions sanctioned by the Survey of India. This means that you will find Varanasi here rather than Benares, Ahmadabad rather than Ahmedabad, Thrissur rather than Trichur, Guwahati rather than Gauhati, and so on. I have allowed three exceptions on account of the long history of associations with them: Bombay/Mumbai, Calcutta/Kolkata, and Madras/Chennai appear as alternates, depending on the context. In fact, while editing the Companion, I discovered that my built-in spell check programme did not underline Bombay, Calcutta, and Madras, proving their currency in world culture, whereas it questioned all other Indian spellings. I should add the rider that, owing to the frequency with which new districts are carved out of old ones in India, it could happen that a village might no longer be located in the district specified in the text.

Transliteration. The transliteration of Indian names, titles, and words into English creates enormous problems. A scientific system of diacritical marks has gained universal approval for Sanskrit-English transcription, and it is often extrapolated on to modern Indian tongues descended from Sanskrit, but it cannot be enforced on languages like Kashmiri, Sindhi, and Urdu (scripts derived from Arabic), or Manipuri (from Tibeto-Burman). While one can still apply such a system-modified, if necessary-when dealing with one language, it becomes virtually impossible to impose it on a book handling over twenty languages without either generating internal contradictions or-an important consideration-having to use so many diacritics that reading becomes a strain on the eyes. For the benefit of sceptical scholars, let me illustrate a few such contradictions:

1. The standard Sanskritic c and ch seem quite inappropriate in all modern Indian languages when these letters actually indicate the sounds ch and chh respectively, whereas the force of tradition and consensus compels us to retain them for Sanskrit-English transliteration.

2. In Bengali and Oriya, b is indistinguishable from the stand-alone v both phonetically and scriptorially; for example bhaba is the accurate English transcription, but non-native speakers will not recognize the word unless it is rendered as bhava.

3. The r with a dot under it conventionally represents the liquid Sanskritic vowel in most Indian languages; but in transliteration from Assamese, Bengali, Hindi, and Punjabi, it can also be read as the retroflex flap, the rolled version of d with a dot under it-a separate consonantal character.

Because no diacritical system can satisfy these many cross-linguistic discrepancies, I decided to drop the marks altogether.

Some newfangled transliterating practices avoiding diacritics have come into vogue, if anything, more unsatisfactory. In southern India, the soft t is rendered as th (Seetha, Therukoothu) and hard t as d (Koodiyattam), perhaps justifiable because the Dravidian mother language, Tamil, has a truncated alphabet of thirty-odd letters, compared to the average of forty-five in others. The trouble is that this confuses readers nationally, accustomed to the standard spelling of Sita or the Sanskritic transcription of Terukkuttu and Kutiyattam. Others in northern and western India, including the world of Hindi films, have taken to double vowels to measure length: aa as in kathaa, ee as in leelaa, 00 as in poojaa. They do not realize that this is untenable since it does not accommodate the elongated e (pronounced as in 'grey') and 0 (as in 'grow')-vowels separate from the short e and 0, and present in Gujarati, Marathi, and all four Dravidian languages. Besides, the far-too-common recurrence of the sound aa in Indian languages makes aa look very awkward in English, if spelt consistently, hence repeatedly. Indeed, even advocates of double vowels wrongly spell leelaa as leela and poojaa as pooja, perhaps subconsciously aware of this visual gawkiness. In any case, the English character a suffices for the diverse sounds in 'bat', 'war', and 'car'.

By the logic of the highest common factor, therefore, I adopted the method of Sanskrit-English transliteration without the diacritical marks, permitted modifications for every language when I thought it essential (for instance w as an alternate for v; or f, q, and z in words of Persian- Arabic origin), but maintained consistency within the language on the basis of spelling, not pronunciation. The purpose is to enable the maximum number of English readers-which includes Indians-familiar with India to recognize vocabulary, rather than confound them with spellings that may be more faithful to regional pronunciation but end up obscuring the word's meaning to outsiders.

Vocabulary. One must resort to indigenous terms frequently in this kind of reference work. Fortunately, the English language has expanded at such a rate that many Indian words have entered household English dictionaries, which may even surprise Indians. If my standard lexicon, the one-volume Concise Oxford Dictionary (eleventh edition, 2004), included Indian vocabulary that I used-such as baksheesh, begum, bhakti, cowrie, darshan, dharmashala, dholak, diwan, ghazal, kumkum, kurta, mandala, namaskar, paisa, panchayat, pukka, purdah, rishi, sahib, salwar, sarangi, satrap, sloka, tantric, or tulsi-I treated them as English words, neither italicized, nor explained or translated. All other Indian words are italicized, with a normally literal translation or meaning in parentheses following their first occurrence in an entry.

Titles of plays. Similarly, dramatic titles are given literal translations within inverted commas, except when they constitute proper names or English words. However, if the play exists in English translation in book form, that translated title has been preferred after the original title, and italicized to distinguish it from the usual procedure. (Sometimes, I have kept the literal translation as an aid to greater clarity.) Likewise, in the case of Indian films that have designated alternate English titles, these are placed in italics following the originals. Since Indian scripts do not employ capitalization, separate words in play titles have not been capitalized unless they are proper nouns, to make it easier for the reader to differentiate them.

Cross-references. References to other entries are very simply identified, with an asterisk preceding a headword at its first appearance in the text of an entry. In Part I, each one of the concise histories of theatre in the different languages marks, with asterisks, all other entries relevant to theatre in that' particular language.

Bibliographies. The bibliographies are of two kinds, but refer only to books in English. Since this volume is meant for the ordinary reader, published material in other languages has been excluded, as has periodical literature in English (whether articles or plays), for reasons of limited availability. Instead, I have attempted to catalogue all books and monographs ever printed in English on Indian theatre, regardless of quality, because they comprise a comparatively small corpus anyway. The general bibliography at the end contains items of broad or national scope, including anthologies of plays and names of relevant journals. Books of more specific interest are cited in reading lists appended to the appropriate entries.

For their help in the proof-reading of this edition, I thank my former student and lead actor Rohini Chaki, editorial assistant on this project, and my present student and lighting designer, Arnab Banerji, both of whom have promised to pursue doctoral studies in theatre and boost the relatively small body of scholarship on Indian theatre. I had dedicated The Oxford Companion to Indian Theatre to my daughter and her generation; I re- dedicate this edition to them, the standard-bearers of future Indian theatre.


Key to Initialsxiii
Regional Theatres1
Forms, Genres, Traditions159
General Bibliography454
Credits for Illustrations460

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