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The Indian Folk Theatres

Updated on January 6, 2017

Kathakali Drama - Dance

Indian Folk Theatres

After the decline of Sanskrit drama, folk theatre developed in various regional languages from the 14th through the 19th centuries. Some conventions and stock character of classical drama stage preliminaries, the opening prayer song, the Stradhara, and the Viduasaka were adopted into folk theatre, which lavishly employs music, dance, drumming, exaggerated makeup, mask and singing chorus. Thematically, it deals with mythological heroes, medieval romances and social and political events, and it is a rich store of customs, beliefs, legends and rituals. It is a total theatre’, invading all the senses of the spectators.

Indian Folk Theatre

Krishna Leela

A Krishna dream that evolved in the 15th – 16th century is known as Krishna Leela. This drama is very popular in the Vraja region of UP. Boys used to dress as girls and act and sing in praise of Krishna. The style is semi- narrative and semi -dramatic.

Ras Leea

From Krishna Leela developed Ras Leela in the region. Mahabharata, Bhagavata and other Puranas, and folk lore provided themes for Ras Leela. The songs composed by the medieval poets on the divine pranks of Krishna in Vraj dialect, stuffed here and there with prose form the basis of Ras Plays. The round stage on which the Leela is performed is known as Ras Mandal.

As the play concerns the childhood of Krishna, the main actors of the play are children. Again, the boys perform the part of girls. The troupe director is called Swami. The play is divided into two parts: Ras and Leela. Ras is the opening part in which Krishna and Radha perform dance sequences. Leela starts after Ras and is the dramatization of some episodes from Krishna’s life. The tradition of dramatising Krishna’s pranks is performed in many regions.

The Folk Theatres

Ram Leela

Tulasidas, the composer of Ramacharitamanasa, started the tradition of performing Rama plays in Kashi. Episodes from Rama’s life are enacted at different places in Kashi during the period of Dassera festival. Rama Leela of Ramnagar is quite famous. At Janakpurdham the marriage of Rama and Sita is celebrated in the form of a festival. In Kerala, Krishna Attam and Rama Attam emerged during the same time. From Rama Attam evolved the famous Kathakali dance drama of Keral.


This is a ritualistic dance in Kerala representing ancestor worship. He dances also represent local gods and goddesses.


It is a unique style of staging Sanskrit dramas in Kerala. The traditional actors are known as Chakyar and the actresses are known as Nambyar. The dramas of Bhasa, Harsha, Mahenrdavikrama, Kulas – Hekharavarama and others have played in temples theatres known as Kuttampalam.

The Yakshagana – Karnataka Play of Drama Dance

Yakshagana – Karnataka

The themes are derived from the Ramayana, Mahabarata and the Puranas. The actors wear very colorful makeup and costumes. The chief narrator is called Bhagavata. He is accompanied by an orchestra and chorus . Only men participate in this dance – drama. There is jester too. He is called Konnagi. Traditionally it is an open -air performance.

Therukoothu – Tamil Nada

Staging is done at the Draupadi Amman temples from March to July every year. The source is Indian mythology. The narrator – conductor is called Kattiakkaran. The jester is called Komali. All the roles are played by men only. It is similar to Yakshagana of Karnataka.


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