Drama in India has had a rich glorious tradition. It begins its journey with the Sanskrit plays. Indian tradition preserved in the "Natyasastra". The oldest of the texts of the theory of the drama, claims for the drama divine origin and a close connection with the sacred Vedas themselves. Origin of English drama can be traced to the ancient rules and seasonal festivities of the Vedic Aryans. The dramatic performances of those times mainly included depiction of events of daily life accompanied by music. Some members of the tribe acted as if they were wild animals and some others were the hunters. Those who acted as animals like goats, buffaloes, reindeers and monkeys were chased by those, playing the roles of hunters and a mock hunt was enacted. In such a crude and a simple way was drama performed during the age of the Vedic Aryans. Later, different episodes from The Ramayana, The Mahabharata and The Bhagvadgita were picked up and enacted out in front of the people. This kind of performance is still very popular in India especially during the time of Dussehra, when the episode of the killing of Ravana is enacted out in different parts of country.
A `rupaka' has ten classifications of which `Nataka' (drama), the most important one, has come to mean all dramatic presentations. The Sanskrit drama grows around three primary constituents namely Vastu (plot), Neta (hero) and Rasa (sentiment). The plot could be either principal (adhikarika) or accessory (prasangika). The former concerns the primary characters of the theme and pervades the entire play. The latter serves to the further and supplement the main topic and relates to subordinate characters other than the chief ones. This is further divided into banner (pataka) and incident (parkari). The former is a small episode that presents, describes, improves or even hinders the primary plot to create added excitement. The latter involves, minor characters. The Neta or the hero, according to the definition prescribed by the Natyashastra, is always depicted as modest (Vineeta), sweet tempered (Madhura ) sacrificing (Tyagi), capable (daksha), civil in talks (priyamvada), belonging to a noble family (taptaloka), pure (suchi) articulate (vagmi), consistent (Sthera), young (yuva) endowed with intellect (buddhi) enthusiasm (utsaha), good memory (Smrthi) aesthetics (Kola), pride (maana) and is brave (Shura), strong (dridha) , energetic (tejaswi), learned (pandita) and pious (dharmika). The main category in which the hero of Sanskrit drama normally falls is the `Dheerodatta' that is he who is brave and sublime at the same time.
Bharata's Natyasastra is the most significant work on Indian dance and drama. Besides everything about composition, production and enjoyment of ancient drama, a wealth of information of types of drama, dren, stage equipment, production and music is also dealt with in detail. According to the legend, when the world passed from the golden age to the silver age and people became addicted to sensual pleasures and jealousy, anger, desire and greed filled their hearts. The world was then inhabited by gods, demons, yakshas, rakshasas, nagas and gandharvas. It was the gods among them who led them by Lord Indra, approached god Brahma and requested him thus Please give us something which would not only teach us but be pleasing both to eyes and ears'.
Bharata ascribed a divine origin to drama and considered it as the fifth Veda. Its origin seems to be from religious dancing. According to Bharata, poetry (kavya) dance (nritta), and mime (nritya) in life is play (lila) produce emotion (bhava) but only drama (natya) produces flavour (rasa). The drama uses the eight basic emotions of love, joy (humour), anger, sadness, pride, fear, aversion and wonder attempting to resolve them in the ninth holistic feeling of peace. Thus, when the dramatic art was well comprehended, the natyaveda was performed on the occassion of the celebration of Lord Indra's victory over the asuras and danavas. In the Natyashastra there is a verse in its sixth chapter which can be quoted as Bharat Muni's own summary of his dramatic theory.
"The combinition called natya is a mixture of rasa, bhavas, ,vrittis, pravrittis, siddhi, svaros, abhinayas, dharmis instruments, song and theatre - house'.
The most renowned and talented dramatists of the ancient era are Ashwaghosh, Bhasa, Shudraka, Kalidas, Harsha, Bhavabhuti, Visha-khadatta, Bhattanarayana, Murari and Rajeshkhora, who enriched Indian theatre with their words like Madhya-Mavyaayoda, Urubhangam, Karnabharan, Mrichkatikam, Abhigyana Shakuntalam, Malankagnimitram, Uttar Ramacharitam, Mudrarak, Shasa, Bhagavadajjukam, Mattavilasa etc. Till the 15th century, plays of Sanskrit tradition were performed on stage in Tamilnadu, Kerala, Karnataka, Andhra, Utter Pradesh and Gujarat. Sanskrit dramas were staged approximately upto the 15th century, but thereafter, Indian drama activity almost ceased due to foreign invasions on India.
The beginnings of Loknatya (People' Theatre) are noticed in every state of India from the 17th century onwards. We see in Bengal "Yatrakirtaniya' "Paol' and "Gaan' in Madhya Pradesh "Mach' in Kashmir "bhandya thar' and in Gujarat the forms were "Bhavai' and "Ramleela' in Northen India. There were "Nautanki, Bhand, Ramleela and Rasleela' in Maharashtra "Tamasha' in Rajasthan "Raas' and "Jhoomer' in Punjab "Bhangra' and "Song' while in Aasam it was "Ahiyanat' and "Ankinatya' in Bihar it was " "Videshiya' and "Chhari' in West Bengal and Bihar.
The rise of the modern drama dates back to the 18th century when the British Empire consolidated its stable power in India. In 1765 one Russian drama lover Horasin Lebdef and Bengali drama lover Qulokhnath had staged two English comedies Disgaig and Love Is The Best Doctor. But the real beginning was in 1831 when Prasanna Kumar Thakur established "Hindu Rangmanch' at Calcutta and staged Wilson's English Translation Of Bhavabhuti's Sanskrit drama Uttar Ramacharitam. Social drama of Girish Chanda Ghosh, historical dramas of D.L. Roy and artistic dramas of Rabindernath Tagore (Muktadhara, Chandalika) continued to reach upto the stage of realistic dramas during the period of the Worst - ever famines of Bengal and the second World War.
In 1852-1853, the famous Parsi Theatre was launched in Bombay which influenced the whole country in no time. Postagi Pharmji was the pioneer in establishing the Parsi Theatre company in India. Many new theatre experiences were brought up on stage during Parsi Theatre' evolution in India. On the other hand, the amateur theatre also developed with the works of Bharatendu Harishchandra, acclaimed as the father of Hindi drama. Pre - Independance Indian English Drama Indian English drama was started when Krishna Mohan Banerji wrote "The Persecuted' in 1837.
He wrote five complete blank verse plays besides his six incomplete plays. His complete plays are Perseus the Deliverer, Vasavadutta, Radoguna, The Viziers of Bassora and Eric and each of these plays is written in five acts. His incomplete plays are The Witch of Ilni, Achab and Esarhaddon, The Maid and the Mill, The House of Brut, The Birth of Sin and Prince of Edur. The length of these incomplete plays varies from one scene of fifty two lines to three acts.The most striking feature of Sri Aurobindo’s plays is that they deal with the different cultures and countries in different epochs, ringing with variety of characters, moods and sentiments. Perseus the Deliverer is grounded on the ancient Greek myth of Persues, Vasavadutta is a romantic tale of ancient India. Rodoguna is a Syrian romance, The Viziers of Bassora is a romantic comedy which takes us back to the days of the great Haroun al Rashid, while Eric is a romance of Scandinavia, a story of love and war between the children of Odin and Thor. Romance, heroic play, tragedy, comedy, farce, all find representation and thus the scale is large and the themes are diverse.
Bharati Sarabhai is the modern woman playwright during the colonial era of Indian English drama. She has written two plays The Well of the People (1943) and Two Women with some considerable measure of success. Of these two plays, the former is symbolic, poetic and is besides a significant contribution to the Gandhian social order, while the letter is realistic, written in prose and probes the private world of a sensitive individual “The Well of the People’ is not of course a drama in the conventional sense. There are no formed changes of scene, and the stage witnesses continuous action.” It is based on a real story published in Gandhi’s Harijan in which an old Brahmin widow unable to achieve her ambition of going on a pilgrimage to Benaras and have a dip in the holy Gangas, decides to get a well dug for the untouchables in her village. She says “All men/ And women alike can come, drink and drink/ Here at my well with Harijans.”
In the post Indepedence era Indian English drama does not make a noteworthy presence unlike poetry and fiction. A prime factor for this is that “drama essentially a composite art involving the playwright, the actors and the audience in a shared experience on the stage has its own problems of which the other literary forms are free. However, the post- Independence Indian English drama was benefitted by the increasing interest of the foreign countries in Endian English literature in general and Indian English drama in particular. The climate slightly changed. A good number of plays by Indian playwrights Asif Currimbhoy, Pratap Sharma, Gurucharan Das was successfully staged in England and U.S.A. But the plight of Indian English drama is that no regular school of Indian English drama was established in our country. This was mainly because the encouragement drama received from several quarters immediately after India got freedom but it was monopolised by the theatre in the Indian regional languages while Indian English drama continued to feed on crumbs fallen from its rich cousins table.
The plays have been written in prose but at the same time poetic plays also survive in the post colonial era. M.K. Naik rightly opines “……. that Tagore-Aurobindo-Kailsam tradition of poetic drama continues, but which a difference in the hands of of poetic drama continues, but which a difference in the hands of Manjeri Isvaran, G.V. Desani, Lakhan Dev and Pretish Nandy.” Manjeri Isvaran’s Yama and Yami (1948) is a dialogue in poetic prose, with a prologue and an epitogue, dealing with the incestuous love of Yami for her brother. G.V.Desani’s Hali (1950), an entirely different kind of play, received high praise for its originality, symbolism and rich imagery. Lakhan Dev’s Tiger Claw (1976) is a historical play in three Acts on the controversial murder of Afzal Khan by Shivaji. His two plays are Vivekananda (1972) and Murder At The Prayer Meeting (1976).
The use of blank verse is flawless and the last play compels us to remind of T.S.Eliot’ s Murder In The Cathedral. Other verse plays of the period include P.A.Krishnaswami’s The Flute of Krishna (1950) M.Krishnamurti’s The Cloth Of Gold (1951). S.D.Rawoot’s Immortal Song. Karm and The Killers (1959) Satya Dev Jaggi’s The Point Of Light (1967) Pritish Nandy’s Rites for a Plebian Salute (1969). Hushmat Sozerekashme’s Vikramjeet (1970), Sree Devi Singh’s The Purple Braided People (1970), P.S. Vasudev’s The Sunflower (1972) and S.Raman’s Karme (1979). The number of prose playwrights is larger in comparison to verse playwrights. The most prolific playwright of The Post-Independence period is Asif Currimbhoy, who has written and published more then thirty plays.
Some important plays are The Tourist Meeca (1959), The Restaurant (1960) The Doldrumness (1960) The Coptives (1963) Goa (1964), Monsoon (1965) An Experiment With Truth (1969) Inquilab (1970) The Refugee (1971), Sonar Bangla (1972) Angkeer (1973) and The Dessident M L A (1974).
Pratap Sharma wrote two prose plays A Touch Of Brightness (1968) and The Professor Has A War Cry (1970). His plays were staged even abroad successfully but they failed to be staged in the country. Sex, moreover remains the prime theme of his plays but Pratap Sharma shows a keen sense of situation and his dialogue is often effective.
“In his satire of current fashion, in his exposure of prose and presence, Ezekiel comes very close to the spirit of some English social satirist in theatre”.
Contemporary Indian drama, deviating from classical and European models, is experimental and innovative in terms of thematic and technical qualities. It is not an off spring of any specific tradition and it has laid the foundation of a distinctive tradition in the history of world drama by reinvestigating history, legend, myth, religion and folk love with context to contemporary socio-political issues. A cumulative theatrical tradition evolved by Mohan Rakesh, Badal Sirkar, Vijay Tendulkar and Girish Karnad, prepared the background of contemporary Indian English theatre.
In the play Tale Dande, he discovers the vital relationship between contemporary society and literature. His use of myth as a structure and metaphor in his play gives “new meaning to the post from the vantage point of view of present”. In the play Nagmandala, the conflict is between patriarchal and matriarchal views of society. It is about the life of Rani, a typical Indian woman in male dominated society. She is married to Appanna, a wealthy village youth. The focus in the play is on sexual liberty of to sexes: male and female. In order to counter mail dominance, Karnad adopts a strange device in which King Cobre gets sexually involved with Rani and ultimately she becomes pregnant. Like his other female protagonist, she is encouraged to pass through chastity ordeal. Regarding the position of Rani, Smita Nirula holds,
“Rani is never free to express herself, to be herself. She is either daughter, wife, lover or mother. She is always playing a role imposed upon her, except in her dreams in the lonely nights that engulf her. She is a woman used, abused. She can either live as a whore or a Devi. There is no element of person for her”
Karnad’s dramatic art lacks stability still his success lies in technical experiment with an indigenous dramatic form. The collective efforts of Karnad and Karalam Narayana Pannikar are significant in their binding of the traditional forms of Indian theatre with the modern. Born in 1828, Vijay Tendulkar began his career as a journalist but from the very first play Grihasth in 1955 to Safar in 1992, his plays have given Indian theatre a rich and challenging reprtoire. Leading the Vanguard of the avant-garde Marathi Theatre, Vijay Tendulkar symbolizes the new awareness and attempts of Indian dramatists of the century to depict the agonies, suffocations and cries of man, focusing on the middle class society. In all his plays, he harps upon the theme of isolation of the individual and his confrontation with the hostile surroundings. Influenced by Artaud, Tendulkar, relates the problem of anguish to the theme of violence in most of his plays. He does not consider the occurrence of human violence as something loathsome or disgusting in as much as it is in note in human nature.He says,
“Unlike the communists I don’t think violence can be eliminated in a classless society, or for that matter, in any society. The spirit of aggression is something that human being is born with. Not that it is bad. Without violence man might have turned into a vegetable.”
Sircar’s first contact with Grotowski’s ‘Poor Theatre’ influenced him greatly in formulating his Third Theatre. In Indian English drama the influence of Mohan Rakesh can not be ignored. Hr wrote in Hindi but for exceptional dramatic relevance, his plays have been translated in English and other regional languages. He published his first major play Ashadh Ka Ek Din in 1958, Leharon Ke Rajhansa appeared in 1963 and Adhe Adheere was first staged in 1969. The play Pair Tale Ki Zamin was completed by Kamleshwar after his death and published in 1974.
As a playwright, his main concern was to portray the crisis of contemporary man caught in the web of uncongenial surroundings and the persistent threat to human relationship. Mohan Rakesh perceived drama as a complex art involving the uniform contribution of actors, scenic effects, light and music and effective stage direction. Mohan Rakesh made extensive experiments in theatre. He used words and languages not as dialogues or direct statements but as the tools of suggestion to convey the meaning beyond the verbal connotation. In Ashadh Ka Ek Din, he highlights the dangers of sycophancy that whitess of his age face in desire of dignified official position. In Leharon Ka Rajhans, he reflects on the problem of relations between man and woman, ego clashes, divided self and on going illusion and nothingness. Adhe Adhure deals with the clash of ego between husband and wife, disintegration of family relationship, the prominence of individual interest against the commitments of the family. Besides, women dramatists also tried to enrichthe soil of Indian drama by projecting the inner world of feminine psyche in the theatre.
Women’s theatre coalesces with Street Theatre movement, using the same technique in performance and production. It can be attributed as a ‘Theatre Of Protest’ because women wuters expressed their resentment against the politics of exploitation on the basis of gender discrimination. They also revived the traditional myths of Sita and Savitri and tried to reinterpret the epics from women’s point of view. The dramatic work of Usha Ganguli and Mahasweta Devi can be placed in their category. MahasWeta Devi emerged as a dramatist having a quest to explore something challenging and new. His five plays are Mother of 1084, Aajer Urvashi O’ Johny, Byen and Water. The play Mother of 1084, is a moving account of the anguish of an apolitical mother who had witnessed the horrors of Naxalite Movement. In Aajir, Mahasweta Devi deals with the issue of the fast deterioration of values and their effects on society, particularly on illiterate people. Urvashi O’ Johnny is a play written for emergency through the love affair of Johnny with Urvashi, a talking doll. The play Bayen presents a moving account of harsh reality of a woman,s life in rural India. The play Water, is the story of a professional water-diviner, Maghai Done who is an untouchable boy. Her plays represent a profound concern for human predicament and sincere hope for the better future of mankind.
Read this article to know about the history of Indian English Drama, its characteristics and the main playwrights.
Introduction to Indian English Drama
In simple words, Drama is a genre of English Literature, which is normally in prose and which tells a story and is intended to be represented by actors impersonating the characters and speaking the dialogue. It involves the playwright, the actor, the audience, plot-construction, characterisation, dialogues, music, dance, posture, stage setting etc. Indian Drama is the broad concept comprising entire Indian myths and culture.
Drama in India is older than in Western Literature, as when Indian Drama was at its zenith, the Western countries were in chaos. Indian drama came 2000 years before Aristotle’s monumental work ‘Poetics’. The journey of Indian Drama begins with the Sanskrit plays, among which Natyashastra is the oldest text of the theory of the Drama. Thus the origin of Indian drama is found in the Vedic Period. Most celebrated dramatists of the ancient era are Ashwagosh, Bhasa, Shudraka, Kalidasa, Harsha, Bhavbhuti, Vishakhadatta etc. Literature in Sanskrit is classified into two categories—
- Drishya:- that can be seen; and
- Sravya-:- that can be heard
Drama falls in the category of Drishya
Indian English Drama dates back to 18th century when the British Rule became stable in India. British brought with them, the theatre. But during the initial decades of their rule, they could not present English Drama due to the unawareness of Indians regarding the English Language. Hence, a lot of English plays, like those of Shakespeare were translated into Indian Languages and then presented before the Indians. Gradually, Western education made its way to India. As a result, Indian English Drama came into existence.
English Drama in India was started by Krishna Mohan Banerji with his work The Persecuted (1837). It was a social play dealing with the conflicts between East and West. The real beginning of the English Drama in India was with Is This Called Civilization by Michael Madhu Sudan Dutt in 1871. Indian English Drama could not progress for two decades after M.M.S. Dutt due to some plausible reasons. e.g. English is not the mother tongue of Indians, hence it was difficult to make a dialogue between Indians in English sound look natural and convincing. This difficulty was overcome by eminent playwrights like R.N. Tagore and Sri Aurobindo. Indian English Drama made quite progress after R.N. Tagore and Sri Aurobindo.
☞ Most of the playwrights preferred to write short plays as compared to full length plays.
☞ As far as themes are concerned, social problems were the main focus of this era. Plays dealing with legendary and historical themes occupied next place to the social ones.
- Playwrights like the Sri Aurobindo, Bharati Sarabhai drew their themes from the ancient myths and legends and interpret them in terms of a contemporary social problem.
- Playwrights like Kailasam and Ramaswami Shastri focussed on highlighting the greatness of epic heroes and heroines.
- Playwrights like Chattopapadhaya, Ayyar and Narayanan made contemporary issues the theme of their plays.
- S.P., Annayya, Ayyar etc took interest in history and current politics.
☞ Coming to models and techniques, most of the playwrights opted for the Elizabethan model.
☞ Many playwrights did not adhere to the Classical Sanskrit Drama and Ancient Techniques.
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☞ RABINDRANATH TAGORE: – He was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature and was entitled as “the epitome of Indian Spiritual Heritage”. He wrote primarily in Bengali, but most of his plays were translated into English. His best-known works are Chitra, Sacrifice, The Post Office, The Cycle of Spring etc. Tagore was first to use symbolism and allegorical significance as a prime technique in his plays. He presented a synthesis of East and West in his plays.
☞ SRI AUROBINDO: – He wrote five complete and six incomplete verse plays. There is a variety of periods and places in his plays. He dealt with human evolution and love in his drama. His famous plays are-Perseus the Deliverer, Prime of Edur, Eric etc.
☞ HARINDRANATH CHATTOPADHAYA: – His plays fell under four groups- Devotional, Social, Historical, Social and Devotional. In his social plays, he presents social evils and problems through symbolism. He is deeply influenced by Progressive Writer’s Movement.
☞ S.P AYYAR:- He was a social reformer who exposed ills of contemporary Indian society. His main grounds were widowhood, religious orthodoxy, superstition and hypocrisy.
☞ P. KAILASAM:-He wrote both in English and Kannada. His dramatic genius is fully expressed in his plays:- The Burden, Fulfilment, The Purpose etc. He was regarded as the father of modern Kannada Drama.
☞ BHARATI SARABHAI:- She gave a touch to Gandhian Touch to Indian Drama. Her two famous plays-The Well of the People and The Women are based on Gandhian Philosophy.
☞ N. LOBO PRABHU: – It was the last great name in Pre-independence Indian English Drama. Out of his dozen plays, only two were published before independence-Mother of New India and Death Abdicates.
☞ There is a lack of understanding, in case of a few playwrights regarding the structure of the plays, as the so-called ‘acts’ of their plays were not acts in real but scenes.
☞ Language has remained a major obstacle to almost all the playwrights of this era. Many playwrights had tried to overcome this problem but could not succeed.
- Sri Aurobindo’s long speeches trouble the action of his plays.
- Kailasam enhances the beauty of his language with his excessive rhetoric and archaism.
- There is artificiality of dialogues in the plays of Ayyar and Chattopadhaya.
- English Drama in India was not staging worthy drama but read-only drama
☞ There was lack of interest among the audience.
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