Origin Of Theatre In India

Theatre is defined as a form of performing art in which live performers present real events or fictional events before a live audience in a specific place, often a stage.

“I regard the theatre as the greatest of all art forms, the most immediate way in which a human being can share with another the sense of what it is to be a human being.” 

Oscar Wilde

The origin of Indian theatre dates back to 2nd century BC. The earliest form was Sanskrit theatre. Indian theatre was heavily based upon Natyashastra authored by Bharata. It eventually modernized with the advent of British rule.

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Indian Theatre can be classified into 3 parts – classical, traditional and modern.

Classical – Some notable playwrights of this era are Kalidasa, Bhasa, Harsha, Shudraka, Vishakhadatta and Bhavabhuti. Classical era plays were based on stories that were already known to the audience such as folk tales, history or epic. This era lasted upto 1000CE.

Traditional –  Traditional era mainly consisted of different Hindu religious cult and divinities. It dealt with vice and virtue and thereby was larger than life. This era witnessed the introduction of monologue and soliloquy. Different types of traditional theatres performed throughout the country are Jatra, Rasleela, Bhavai etc.

Modern – Contemporary Indian theatre is rooted in the British era. It was heavily influenced from western dramas. In contrast with the stylized techniques used in traditional Indian theatre, the acting became melodramatic and naturalistic. Not just historical and religious themes, but for the first time social and political themes were enacted. Playwrights like Shambhu Mitra, Vijay Tendulkar, Ibrahim Alkazi, Girish Karnad and Utpal Dutt etc. made new experiments and contributed in developing the theatre form to reach where it is today.

Indian theatre and society

The theatre and society in India have always been interconnected. Even during the colonial era, the plays were heavily based on nationalism and patriotism. The first famous play of this kind, Nil Darpan,  was written by Dinabandhu Mitra in Bengali. This play was based on the theme of forced cultivation of indigo inflicted on the native planters by British rulers. Plays like Khadrin Verdri, Desheeya Koti, Bharat Durdasha, Andher Nagri also reflected the plight of then India.

19th century plays condemned the social evils and superstitions like caste system, untouchability, dowry, child marriage, to name a few.

Indians were now introduced to plays of foreign languages. Many plays of Shakespeare were adapted in India.

Indian theatre witnessed many changes in the post-independence era. Cinema posed a challenge to the entertainment theatre and thus, amateur theatre flourished. While entertainment theatre thrilled masses, it was often criticized, particularly by educated people. This opened the door for literary drama and amateur drama. One such notable playwright of literary drama was Rabindranath Tagore.


Indian theatre has played a significant role in spreading awareness among the masses. Street theatre deals with various daily life issues like corruption, domestic violence, child labour, women empowerment etc.  In collaboration with various NGOs, theatres also conduct plays in rural areas to spread awareness.