An Overview of Folk Theatrical Forms of Eastern Rajasthan

An Overview of Folk Theatrical Forms of Eastern Rajasthan

Ram Narayan Meena

Academic Officer (Sanskrit)

National Institute of Open Schooling,

(Ministry of Human Resource and Development)

A-24, 25, Sector-62, NOIDA, U.P.-201309


Rajasthan is a culturally colourful and rich state and has very long tradition of folk theatrical forms. We can witness the different types of forms like Khyāl, Nautanki, Jaipur Tamāśā, Bhavāi, Kathputali, Swāng, Gavari and Oral tradition of Nath,Yogi’s in eastern part of the state.

Keywords: Folk Theatre, Drama, Narrative Folklore, Diversity, Culture and Heritage.

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Geographically, being a largest state of India, Rajasthan is a culturally ‘melting pot’ where people have multi folk cultural identities. Being a culturally rich, Rajasthan is called “Rangeela Rajasthan” which means people in Rajasthan live with variety of cultural thoughts and it gives Rajasthan a status of “Albela”[i] state in the country.

Rajasthan has a very long and vibrant tradition of folk theatre forms from the very long back and have a very rich tradition of professional performers like Dholis, Jogis, Bhaats, Nats, Mirasis, Bhands and Bhopas. These performers of folk arts widely made the folk theatre popular.

Under colonial rule, kings of the different provinces used to organize play performances by inviting different drama troups and performers in their court just for the entertainment of the king and courtiers. This thing encouraged the theatre and these troups slowly started to perform in towns and small villages.

We can witness the history of folk theatre of Rajasthan in folk life but lack written records. Despite having a long tradition, its standarised theatrical forms could not enriched. After coming up of ‘Parsi theatre’ in this region, folk-forms of the Rajasthan came under its influence and after that drama writing in Rajasthani language began.

Shiv Charan Bhartiya is known as the first Rajasthani language dramatist. His first published drama was ‘Kesharvilas’ which is written in 1900 A.D. and after that he published ‘Bhdhapa ki Sagai’ in 1906 and ‘Pataka Janjal’ in 1907. His writing exposed the social evils.

Bhagwati Prasad Daruka was another Rajasthani language dramatist who wrote ‘Vriddh Vivah’ in 1903 and ‘Bal Vivah’ in 1918 (1920). Gulab Chand Nagauri wrote ‘Marivadi mausar aur sagai janjal’ in 1923 and Narayan Das Agarwal wrote ‘Kanya bikri’ in 1938. Narayan Das Agarwal wrote ‘Maharana Pratap’ in 1994 in which he made experiment like Sanskrit language dramas where divine or main characters (so called upper clan characters) speaks in main language (i.e. Sanskrit language) and other character delivered their dialogue in dialects (i.e. Prakrit language or Apabhramsa language) which they use in their daily life. In this way Narayan Das Agarwal added new thing in Rajasthani drama however these types of dramas were unstgaeable due to the lack of multy-lingual speakers in form of actors.

Under the inspiration of freedom movement and social reformation movement in early dacdes of 20th centuary many drama have been written in Rajasthani language. ‘Bhoomika’, ‘Jethva Ujali’, ‘Eklavya’, ‘Ek Aur Yuddha’ are the important plays of the Rajasthani language which were staged. 

After independence, Shyam Agarwal and Ranendra Bhargav represented the drama ‘Under Secretary’ in 1958. D. P. Thukral, Maya Israni, Arun Mathur, Bharat Ratna Bhargav, Mohan Maharshi, Sartaj Mathur, Bhanu Bharati, Rizvi Usman, Arjun Dev Charan, Manmohan Mathur, A. Hamidulla are the famous exponents who contributed much in the field of Rajasthani drama.

Many government  and other institutions like ‘Abhisarika’, ‘Kala Sangam’, ‘Bhartiya Lok Kala Mandal’, and ‘Jawahar Kala Kendra’, ‘Rajsthani Natya Akadamy’ etc. also played crucial role in the promotion of folk theatre and drama.

Other theatrical personalities like Habib Tanvir, Ugam Singh etc. also contributed. Habib Tanvir produced ‘Charandas Chor’ drama which was based on Vijaydan Detha’s famous story.

Besides the drama writing, Rajasthan have different types of folk theatre like Khyāl, Nautanki, Jaipur Tamāśā, Bhavāi, Kathputali, Swāng, Gavari, Oral Tradition of Nath, Yogi’s etc. Here we will introduce the theatrical forms parvailed in ‘Eastern Rajasthan’.

  • Khyāl Theatre: Khyāl theatre is very popular folk theatre of Rajasthan. Some studies[ii] Show that Khyāl theatre emerged near about 18th century and remained same in coming 200 years[iii]. But theatrical traditions of the area indicate that origin of Khyāl theatre came up within the Bhakti movement because the stanzas used by Kabira are directly connected to the folk performance of the Khyāl and its plot. Due to the diversity of culture in Rajasthan, Khyāl theatre have different forms in the name of the city, acting style, the community or the author’s name such as ‘Śekhāvāti Khyāl’, ‘Kuchāmani Khyāl’,  ‘Cidāvi Khyāl’, ‘Jaipuri Khyāl’, ‘Mārvādi Khyāl’, ‘Alibuxi ‘Khyāl’, ‘Turra[iv]-Kalagi Khyāl’,  ‘Turra-Kalagi Dangal (Akharas)’, ‘Hela Khayal Dangal’
  • Nautanki Theatre: Nautanki folk theatre of Rajasthan is very famous folk art which entered in 19th century in the regions around Haryana and Delhi and after that spreaded all over Rajasthan and even in north part of the country. Its emergence is considered from the ballads and bards recitals and that is why artists of Nautanki theatre have both acting and singing qualities. The story plot of the Nautanki is generally based on mathology, historical narrations, folklores, romances and contemporary Socio-Political issues.
  • The Oral Tradition of Narrative Folklore of Naths or Yogis (Jogis): This is also a very famous folk art which is rooted in folk life from long ago and is related to the tradition of monks, hermits and the ascetic tradition. Thease Naths or Yogis used to go to one place to another and telling folklore stories of the life of ‘Guru Gorakhnath, Raja Gopichand, Baba Bhritari, Raja Vikaramaditaya and Bhakta Puranmal etc.’ in native narrative languages.
  • Jaipur Tamāśā: This is a unique form of musical dramatical folk play having classical touch. It emerged in 18th centuary near the ‘Agra’ Region which is called ‘Khayāl-Tamāśā’ during the regime of Mugal emperor Aurangzeb. After the ban on musical folk arts by Mugal emperor, the ‘Khayāl-Tamāśā’ artists moved in Jaipur under the patronage of Maharaja SawaiJaisingh where this art enriched by Bhatt family with renamed ‘Jaipur Tamāśā’.  ‘Jaipur Tamāśā’ has full of dancing and acting styles and is based on classical, semi-classical and folk melody.
  • Bhavāi Theatre: Bhavāi folk theatre of Rajasthan is very similer to ‘Swang’ folk theatre and considered its origin near about 13-14th century in ApabhramsaJain religious verses. ‘Abul Fazal’ also mentioned in his book ‘Ain-e-Akbari’ regarding the Bhavāi[v].  Presently Bhavāi folk theatre has satire on Socio-Political isuues and criticism like injustice, inequality etc. in its plot. Changing the local regional language in plot, Bhavāi folk theatre now uses the words of ‘Hindi-Urdu- Marwari’ mixture language in play representation.
  • Kathaputli Theatre: The word ‘Katha’ means story and the word ‘putli’ means puppet; combining the two wards come out as ‘Kathaputali’ and story (In play form) represented through puppet/puppets is called Kathaputli There are many kinds of puppets used in Kathaputli theatre all over the world like glove puppet, string puppet, rod puppet, shadow puppet and many others. In Rajasthan, the kathaputali artists use string puppets and these puppets called ‘marionettes’[vi]. Many strings are attached with the different parts of the puppet like waist, hands and the head.  Sutradhar[vii] of the Kathputali theatre (who is also the called main puppeteer) drive puppets through the strings of the puppet and another artists narrate the story with songs and dilouges. There are also fixed some other artists who help the Sutradhar with music instruments like Dhol[viii], Jhanj-Manjeera[ix] and Harmonium.
  • Swang (Mime) Theatre: According to the studies of some scholars[x], Swang theatre is considered its origin near about the 15th centuary A.D. as we got some indication about the Swang theatre in the literature of Bhakti movement poet Kabir and also in the Abul Fazl’s  ‘A’in-e-akbari’.  Braj language (Dialect of Hindi language) text ‘Hasyarnava’ written by Rasarup or Kamarup is considered the first written text written for Swang theatre between 1686 and 1689[xi] and ‘Madhava Vinoda’ written by Somnath Chaturvedi in 1752 is the another Braj Language text of Swang[xii]. Swang thaetre has good combination of dance, songs, dialogues, mimicry (Nakal) and presentation of dance-drama.

In nutshell, we witness very long tradition of various popular forms of theatrical art of Rajasthan. This tradition has under gone through many changes from time to time and enriched at high degree level and manifested its uniqueness among other cultural traditions of India. As a result Rajasthan became a favorite attracting place for artistic people from the nation and worldwide.

In contemporary time, theatrical forms of Rajasthan must be preserve and promote through developing traditional infrastructure and encouraging folk theatrical forms and artists of the region.

[i] Having different characteristics.

[ii] Devilal Samar, “The Dance Dramas of Rajasthan,” Cultural Forum 6, no. 3 (May 1964): 44.

[iii] Grounds for play: the Nautanki theatre of North India(ISBN-9780520072732), University of California press, Berkeley and Los Angeles, California, USA, December 1991

[iv] A cluster of gold threads tied on the turban (Pagari) of actor.

[v] In a tree-less tract even a bunch of eranda (caster oil plant) makes a good show (Bhavāi);   accessed on 07.09.2012.

[vi] A small figure of a person operated from above with strings by a puppeteer.

[vii] Main artist of the Kathputali theatre who handle strings of the puppets.

[viii] Drum

[ix] Cymbals

[x] Hansen, Kathryn. Grounds for Play: The Nautanki Theatre of North India. Berkeley:  University of California Press, c1992 1992. ( page no.64

[xi] Ibid, page no.64 (This study by Hansen is based on Ram Narayan Agrawal, Sangit , 42-44; Shivkumar Madhur, Bharat ke loknatya , 27; Somnath Gupta, Hindi natak sahitya ka itihas , 16; Gopinath Tivari,Bharatendukalin natak sahitya , 77.)

[xii] Ibid, page no.64