Combining dance, music, dialogue, and elaborate costumes, Yakshagana narrates mythological tales from the Mahabharata and Ramayana
Combining dance, music, dialogue, and elaborate costumes, Yakshagana narrates mythological tales from the Mahabharata and RamayanaWikimedia Commons

Folk Theatre: 5 Traditional Drama Forms Prevalent In India

Traditional theatre is an important art form in India, combining music, dance, poetry, and religion. It reflects beliefs, customs, and traditions dating back to 1000 A.D

Indian folk or traditional theatre is an integral part of India's rich cultural heritage, holding immense significance. This art form beautifully combines music, dance, poetry, mime, religion, and various other art forms, providing a multidimensional reflection of people's beliefs, social practices, customs, and traditions. It represents the second phase of a dramatic evolution in India, dating back to around 1000 A.D. and continuing to thrive throughout the country.

The changing political landscape and the increased support for regional languages in India have created a favourable environment for the growth and diversification of traditional theatre. While classical theatre embodies sophistication and an urban focus, folk theatre, originating from rustic roots, embraces simplicity and maintains a close connection to rural life.

Types Of Folk Theatre In India

From a historical perspective, the emergence of folk theatre in different regions gained momentum during the 15th and 16th centuries AD, incorporating diverse languages and local customs. Initially, folk theatre predominantly revolved around devotional themes. However, over time, it evolved to encompass secular narratives, centring around romantic folk tales, tales of bravery, and biographical portrayals of local legends. In India, there are various folk theatre forms prevalent in different regions, such as 'Veedhi Natakam' in Andhra Pradesh, 'Yakshagana' in Maharashtra, 'Bhavai' in Gujarat, 'Jatra' in Bengal and 'Nautanki' in Uttar Pradesh

Veedhi Natakam, Andhra Pradesh

In the cultural landscape of Andhra Pradesh, Veedhi Natakam steals the spotlight. Also known as 'Street Drama,' this traditional form of theatre takes place on the streets, with performers showcasing skillful storytelling and energetic dance movements. The themes often revolve around mythology, social issues, and historical events. Veedhi Natakam enthrals audiences with its live performances, vibrant costumes, and rhythmic music.

Yakshagana, Maharashtra

Yakshagana performances are characterized by intricate facial makeup, vibrant attire, and vigorous dance movements
Yakshagana performances are characterized by intricate facial makeup, vibrant attire, and vigorous dance movementsAWINA

Hailing from the coastal regions of Maharashtra and Karnataka, Yakshagana is a mesmerizing folk theatre tradition. Combining dance, music, dialogue, and elaborate costumes, Yakshagana narrates mythological tales from the Mahabharata and Ramayana. The performances are characterized by intricate facial makeup, vibrant attire, and vigorous dance movements, making it a visual spectacle that captivates the audience.

Bhavai, known for its distinctive music, dance, and drama blend
Bhavai, known for its distinctive music, dance, and drama blendSuyash Dwivedi

Bhavai, Gujarat

Gujarat boasts the traditional folk theatre form Bhavai, known for its distinctive music, dance, and drama blend. Performed in open-air venues, Bhavai showcases folk stories, historical events, and legends, often with a touch of social satire. The highlight of Bhavai is the balancing act performed by male artists, known as 'Bhavaiya,' who skillfully balance multiple pots on their heads while delivering dialogues and engaging in dance sequences.

Jatra, Bengal 

Jatra is a famous folk theatre from Bengali theatre spread throughout many states of India, including West Bengal, Bihar, Assam, Orissa and Tripura. A popular folk theatre tradition, most prevalent in Bengal, combines music, dance, and drama elements to create captivating performances. It often depicts stories from Indian epics, historical events, and social issues, accompanied by live music and vibrant costumes.

The roots of Jatra may be traced back to at least the 16th century in Bengal, where there was a famous form of singing called the Carya, characterized by the different use of language. This kind of musical drama was prevalent during that time. Jatra performances take place in makeshift stages or open-air theatres, attracting a diverse audience who revel in the grandeur of the spectacle.

Nautanki performances feature lively narratives, often revolving around romance, adventure, and folklore
Nautanki performances feature lively narratives, often revolving around romance, adventure, and folkloreWikimedia Commons

Nautanki, Uttar Pradesh

A popular folk theatre form combining music, dance, dialogue and narrative, nautanki originated and grew popular in Uttar Pradesh in the nineteenth century. Nautanki is primarily a form of entertainment, with stories and themes mainly derived from secular sources, including famous legends and tales from North India Arabic and Persian romances folk epics from Rajasthan, Punjab and Uttar Pradesh stories of saints, kings, heroes and recent incidents and themes of social inequality and gender violence. Originating from the Awadh region, Nautanki performances feature lively narratives, often revolving around romance, adventure, and folklore. The energetic performances, vibrant costumes, and melodious music captivate the audience, transporting them to enchantment.

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