Origin of drama: The Indian Theatre

Origin of Drama | The Indian Theatre | Theater

Story of the origin of drama: The Indian Theatre according to Natyashastra

The Natya Shastra, attributed to the ancient Indian sage Bharata Muni, is a foundational text for Indian classical theater and provides insights into The Origin and Evolution of Drama / Indian Theatre according to Indian tradition. While the Natya Shastra doesn’t present a narrative story of the origin of drama in the way that one might find in a traditional myth or legend, it does offer a conceptual framework for understanding the creation of drama.

According to the Natya Shastra, drama was not just a human invention but had divine origins. In the aftermath of the golden age (Satyug), when the world was spiraling into chaos and there seemed to be no other recourse to maintain order in the universe, Lord Indra and other celestial deities turned to Lord Brahma with a heartfelt plea introduced the concept of theater and performance to the world.

Lord Brahma was inspired to create a fifth Veda, distinct from the four Vedas (ancient sacred texts), to make knowledge and culture more accessible to all people. Lord Brahma incorporated various elements into the Natya Shastra. He took the art of acting (Abhinaya) from the Yajurveda, the structure of storytelling (Kathanak) from the Rigveda, the essence of music (Sangeet) from the Samaveda, and the profound sentiments and emotions (Ras) from the Atharvaveda, to form this new sacred text, known as the Natya Veda or the Veda of Theater.

Bharata Muni, who is often considered the mythical author of the Natya Shastra, is said to have received this knowledge from Lord Brahma himself. He then compiled this sacred knowledge into the Natya Shastra, which serves as a comprehensive guide to various aspects of theater, including dramatic structure, acting, dance, music, and stagecraft.

In essence, the Natya Shastra presents the idea that drama is a sacred art form with divine origins, and its purpose is to entertain, educate, and elevate the audience by conveying stories from mythology, history, and human experiences. While it doesn’t provide a specific story of how drama was created, it establishes a profound and spiritual context for the practice of theater in ancient India, emphasizing its cultural and religious significance.

Though Origin of Drama: The Indian Theatre has deep roots dating back over two thousand years. To gain a comprehensive understanding of the origins of drama in Indian classical traditions, it is essential to examine its influences from diverse sources such as religious rituals, storytelling traditions, and the performing arts Text. Here are some key aspects of the origin of drama in Indian classical traditions:

Key aspects of the origin of drama in Indian classical traditions

Natya Shastra: The Natya Shastra, attributed to the ancient sage Bharata Muni, is considered one of the foundational texts for Indian drama. It is believed to have been composed between the 2nd century BCE and the 2nd century CE. This treatise provides a comprehensive framework for the performing arts, including drama, dance, and music. It outlines the theory and practice of theater, including the elements of drama, stagecraft, and the roles of various artists.

Influence of Religious Rituals: Many early Indian dramas had their roots in religious rituals and ceremonies. These rituals often involved the enactment of stories from Hindu epics and scriptures, such as the Ramayana and Mahabharata. Over time, these ritualistic performances evolved into more structured and elaborate theatrical forms.

Storytelling Traditions: India has a rich tradition of oral storytelling, and many of these stories found their way into dramatic performances. Storytellers and bards would narrate tales from mythology and folklore, and these narratives formed the basis for early Indian dramas.

Sanskrit Drama: Sanskrit drama, characterized by its use of the classical Sanskrit language, became a prominent form of theater in ancient India. The earliest known Sanskrit play is “Shakuntala” by Kalidasa, believed to have been written around the 4th or 5th century CE. Sanskrit dramas often drew from mythology, history, and legends and were performed in royal courts and temples.

Regional Variations: India’s vast cultural diversity gave rise to various regional theater traditions. For example, in South India, there is the tradition of “Kutiyattam” and “Yakshagana,” while in North India, “Ras lila” and “Nautanki” are popular regional theater forms.

Influence of Natyamandapa: Natyamandapa refers to the performance spaces or theaters specifically designed for dramatic productions. These spaces played a crucial role in the development and popularization of Indian classical drama.

Evolution of Theater Forms: Over the centuries, Indian drama evolved, incorporating elements of dance, music, and poetry. Various theater forms like Kathakali, Bharatanatyam, and Kathak, among others, developed their unique styles and narratives within the broader context of Indian classical performing arts.

The Origin of Drama: The Indian Theatre shows how diverse and interesting India’s culture is. From the sacred rituals that birthed early theatrical performances to the sophisticated Sanskrit dramas of royal courts, and the diverse regional traditions that continue to thrive today, Indian classical drama has continually evolved and adapted to the changing times. This vibrant heritage serves as a reminder of the enduring power of storytelling and the arts to transcend time and connect generations. In the tale of the creation of the 5th Veda, Natya Veda or the Veda of Theater, it is said that when the world was in turmoil and there appeared to be no other way to restore order in the universe, Lord Brahma introduced the idea of theater and performance as a solution to bring people together across generations.

PS: Curious to delve deeper into the fascinating history of the origin of Drama in Indian classical traditions? Continue reading our blog The Evolution of Indian Theater: Classical, Traditional, and Modern Periods.

About the Author: – Neha Khunteta

Neha Khunteta is a highly experienced Kathak dancer and trainer with over 15 years of experience. She is the founder of Kathak By Neha, one of the Best Kathak Dance Academies. With her profound expertise and experience, Neha has established herself as one of the foremost educators in Kathak.

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