Home >> Theatre in India >> Theatre of Entertainment



This form of folk theatre has secular themes ranging from romance, love and valour to social and cultural traditions. Its sole purpose was to provide entertainment for the masses. Nautanki, Tamasha and Jatra are some examples.


Bhavai : Bhavai is the popular folk theatrical form of Rajasthan and Gujarat. The pioneer of Bhavai was a Brahmin known as Asait Thakore or Ashram Maharaja, who lived in a village of Gujarat called Unjha.  Initially, the Bhavai performance was presented as a religious ritual to propitiate the Goddess Amba and it took place only during the religious festivals of Navratra. Very soon it got converted as an important form of the theatre of entertainment. The Bhavai has a series of playlets known as Vesha or Swanga. Each Vesha has its own plot and locale.  There need not be any continuity of homogeneity among them. The Veshas has four broad category of themes i.e. mythological, social, royal Rajput and contemporary. The Veshas of Krishna and Gopi, the Veshas Zanda-Zulana and Chhela-Vatau, the Vesha of Ramdev and the Veshas of Vanazaro and Purabio are examples of each of these categories.  Asait Thakore wrote over 360 Veshas. The music is a combination of classical tunes rendered in folk style.  The musical instruments used are Bhungala, Jhanjha and Tabla. Dancing is an indispensable feature of the plays and has its own style, which is quite different from other dances of Gujarat. The dance, which is a combination of Rasa and Garba with traces of Kathak, is used as a connecting link between Veshas and also between different incidents within one Vesha.  The performers are called Bhavayas.  Till the 20th century the men played female roles.  The Sutradhara or anchor of the Bhavai is known as Nayaka who sings, acts and directs.  He is also the producer of the performance. As a folk dramatic form, Bhavai is specially known for its social plays, which are full of humour. It is not merely a theatre form to be seen, but an atmosphere to be experienced with the players themselves. The Bhavai of Rajasthan is more musical and less theatrical when compared to that of Gujarat.


Daskathia and Chhaiti Ghoda: Daskathia is one of the several narrative forms that flourished in Orissa. It is a performance in which a devotee narrates a story dramatically to the accompaniment of a wooden musical instrument called kathia. This is a performance of two narrators, Gayaka (chief singer) and Palia (assistant) who is the co-narrator. The Chhaiti Ghoda troupe of performers comprises of two players on the musical instruments dhol and mohuri and three other characters. A dummy horse is improvised out of bamboo and cloth and the dancer enters into the hollow body and dances, while the main singer along with co-singer delivers discourses, mainly from mythology.


Gondhal: In Maharashtra, the dramatic narration of mythological stories, hero-lauds and folk legends form a part of a ritual dedicated to various deities. This interesting ritual with its narrative performance has deeply influenced the dramatic and narrative traditions in Maharashtra and its neighbouring regions.


Garodas: In Gujarat the members of the Garoda community practice the art of narrating stories with the help of painted pictures. It is performed with a paper scroll with pictures painted in water-colours one below the other and separated with a thick black line.

Jatra (Yatra): The popular folk drama form of Eastern India is the Yatra or Jatra, as it is known in Bengal. It assumes different forms in different regions within the eastern parts of India, which include mainly the states of Assam, West Bengal and Orissa. Yatra literally means a procession or a pilgrimage from one point to another. It is generally an open-air performance. Jatra originated in Bengal as a ritual theatre devoted mainly on themes relating to the life of Lord Krishna.  The illustrious Vaishnava saint and religious performer Chaitanya used the medium of Jatra to propagate his teachings of Krishna by inspiring his devotees to participate in communal singing and dancing.  Apart from the exploits of Krishna, the Jatras dramatised the Puranic legends, folk-tales and episodes from Ramayana and Mahabharata. In West Bengal, famous playwrights or palas attempted to bring structural perfection to the Jatra. These palas were called by various names like Rama Jatra, Shiva Jatra and Chandi Jatra. Later Jatra adopted more secular themes and historical romances, love stories and even patriotic themes during the freedom struggle were added to the repertoire. The most famous was Bidya Sundar, which started a new trend in Jatra.  In Orissa, a unique form of Yatra known as Sahi Yatra is performed in the by-lanes of Puri as a kind of street theatre. Jatra today is one of the most popular folk theatres in India. West Bengal alone has to its credit 300 Jatra companies, and Jatra competitions are held during the Durga Puja festival.


Kariyila: This is the most interesting and popular folk drama form of Himachal Pradesh. It is most popular in the districts of Shimla, Solan and Sirmour.  The season of Kariyala generally starts after the festival of Deepavali. Kariyala is an open-air theatre, which consists of an entertaining series of small playlets, farces, skits, revues and burlesques. It is generally staged during village fairs and on some festive occasions.  The Kariyala entertainment starts in the evening and goes on throughout the night staging various popular items one after other. The square-performing arena is called Khada. In the centre of Khada, a bonfire is lit which is considered very sacred. A number of musical instruments like chimta, nagara, karnal, ranasingha, shahanai, basuri, dholak and khanjiri are used to provide background music.


Keertan: Keertan is the most popular narrative form which is prevalent in almost all parts of the country under different names such as Katha Kalakshepam and Harikatha. Keertan means to laud, extol, exalt, worshipping of the deity by chanting his praises and celebrating the praises of god with music and singing.

Khyal: It is a popular folk dramatic form of Rajasthan and is full of dancing, singing and music. Khyal has assumed different names in different regions of Rajasthan. It is also known as Tamasha, Rammat, Nautanki, Maach and Swang.


Maanch: Maanch is an enchanting folk opera of Malwa region in the state of Madhya Pradesh. It evolved about two centuries ago in Ujjain. The themes are usually based on mythological events or romantic folk tales.


Nachya: It is an interesting folk theatre form of Madhya Pradesh, the urbanised version of which reached the metropolitan centres and became quite popular. The play begins with an invocation song sung in honour of Lord Ganesha, Saraswati and other deities venerated by the local folk. There are two types of Nachya theatre. One is the humorous Gammat Skit and the other one is the Jokkad Pari performance.


Nautanki: Nautanki is an offshoot of the Swang or Sang.  It is very popular in Haryana and other parts of North India.


Oja-Pali: Oja-Pali of Assam is a very interesting form of story telling which utilises many dramatic techniques to illustrate the narrative and enhance its visual impact. This art form is associated with the worship of Manasa, the serpent goddess of Assam. The performers take many days to narrate the story, which is divided into three parts: Deva Khanda, Baniya Khanda and Bhatiyali Khanda. The Oja is the main narrator-singer and the Palis are his associates or members of his chorus. There is yet another type of Oja-Pali parties in Assam, known as the Vyah-Gowa Oja-Pali, which narrates stories from the Assamese version of Puranas and the epics.

Pandavani: It is a form of story telling evolved by the tribals of the Chhatisgarh region of Madhya Pradesh to amuse and instruct the people. This narrative form was developed to tell the story of the five Pandava brothers and considered to be of two types - Kapilak and Vedamati. A team of Pandavani performers is composed of one main narrator-singer, one or two co-singers, who also play on musical instruments like tabla and harmonium. Pandavani is a performance of a story, which did not quite develop into a regular dramatic form.

Picture Showmen: The Picture Showman in ancient India was known as Mankha, and this art of narrating the story with the help of pictures was known as Mankha Vidha. This art dates back to 6th century BC.


Powada: In Maharashtra the narrative hero-laud is called Powada. The first available Powada in Marathi was written on the thrilling episode of Shivaji killing his adversary Afzal Khan. The tradition of Powada singing was kept alive by the folk singers of Maharashtra known as Gondhalis and Shahirs. The Powada is presented in a most dramatic manner. High pitch singing and melodramatic acting is its soul.

Swang: The major theatrical tradition of folk entertainment in North India, especially Haryana, is that of Swang. It is a musical folk drama which enacts near similar stories in all its related regional variations. These stories are in verse and are sung in different classical, semi-classical but mostly in popular folk musical modes. A number of musical instruments like the ektara, dholak, kharta, sarangi and harmonium put flavour to the dialogues. Ali Baksh of Rewari, who is regarded as 'the father of folk theatre in Haryana', is the pioneer of the Swang tradition. Pandit Deep Chand, known as the "Kalidasa of Haryana", modified and polished Ali Baksh style of folk theatre. Other luminaries of Swang include Swami Har Dev, Qutabi, Dhoom, Pandit Bhartu and Pandit Lakshmi Chand.

Tamasha: Tamasha evolved itself from the earlier forms of folk entertainment in Maharashtra. It is known for its humour and erotic singing and dancing. It is one of the rare folk theatre forms of India in which women play the feminine roles. Naughty episodes of Krishna Leela are invariably enacted in the opening part of a Tamasha play. The Lavani songs, which are sung along with dancing, are delightfully naughty and erotic.


Villu Pattu: Villu Pattu literally means bow-song. This form of recitation (using a bow-shaped musical instrument) of Tamil Nadu developed in the 15th century. There are seven to eight persons in a bow-song party who form a kind of chorus that supports the main singer-narrator. The stories from Ramayana, Mahabharata and the Puranas are told in these ballad style songs.


© Copyright culturopedia.com  All Rights Reserved 2015-2018