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.
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
or Swanga. Each
Vesha has its own plot and locale.
There need not be any continuity of homogeneity among them.
has four broad category of themes i.e.
mythological, social, royal Rajput and contemporary. The
of Krishna and Gopi, the
and Chhela-Vatau, the
Ramdev and the
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
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
with traces of Kathak, is used as a connecting link between
and also between different incidents within one Vesha.
The performers are called
Bhavayas. Till the 20th century the men played female roles.
or anchor of the Bhavai is known as
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.
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,
(chief singer) and Palia (assistant) who is the
co-narrator. The Chhaiti Ghoda troupe of performers
comprises of two players on the musical instruments
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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 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.
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 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
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
Nautanki is an offshoot of the Swang or Sang.
It is very popular in Haryana and other parts of North
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.
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
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.
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
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 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.
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.