Indigeneous tradition as well as modern research trace the origin of Indian drama to the Vedas. In the Ramayana we hear of drama troupes of women while Kautilyas Arthshastra mentions musicians, dancers and dramatic shows. Drama is a performing art, which has also been practised since times immemorial. Drama could spring from a child’s play. The child enacts, mimics, and caricates which was definitely the beginning of drama.
Since early times mythological stories of war between the gods, goddesses and the devils is known. Bharata wrote Natyashastra and created the plays known as Asura Parajaya and Amrit Manthan. Natyashastra is one of the greatest texts written in the field of drama and other performing arts.
The next epoch is that of the great Bhasa who wrote plays based on the stories of Udayana, the Ramayana and Mahabharata, Swapana Vasabdatta being his masterpiece. In the second century B.C. Patanjalis’ Mahabhasya refers to several aspects of drama i.e. the actors, the music, the stage, rasa in the performances called Kamsavadha and Balibandha.
While referring to drama, Bharata has mentioned nat (male artists), and nati (female artist), music, dance, musical instruments, dialogues, themes and stage. Thus we find that drama achieved a great level of perfection during the age of Bharata. For Bharata, drama is a perfect means of communication. He also started the concept of an enclosed area for drama. There is mention of a community called’ shailoosh’ which had professional drama companies. The practice of singing heroic tales became popular. As a result professional singers called kushilavas came into existence.
Many names were given to the forms of folk theatre in different provinces like:
Bengal – Jatra, Kirtania Natak
Rajasthan – Raas, Jhumar, Dhola Maru
Uttar Pradesh – Raas, Nautanki, Svaang, Bhaand
Gujarat – Bhawaii
Maharashtra – Larite, Tamasha
Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Karnataka – Kathakali, Yakshagana