Ancient Indian Culture Theater: Bharatamuni also specified that every player should have a Sutradhara. Sutradhara literally means ‘holder of a string’. The Sutradhara was like the producer-director of today. Every play had to begin with an innovation of God. This invocation was called the Poorvaranga. Even today plays in Indian languages begin with a devotional song called Naandi. The Ramayana and the Mahabharata can be called the first recognized plays that originated in India.

Indian Dramatists

These epics also provided the inspiration to the earliest Indian dramatists. They do the same even today. One of the earliest Indian dramatists was Bhasa. His plays have been inspired by the Ramayana and Mahabharata. Bhasa’s date cannot be definitely ascertained.

However, the fact that he lived before Kalidasa is proved by the latter’s reference to Bhasa as one of the early leading playwrights. As Kalidasa lived in the 4th century, Bhasa should have lived in the early centuries of our era. Bhasa was a natural dramatist who drew heavily from the epics. But Kalidasa can be called an original playwright.

Ancient Indian Culture Theater and Drama

Kalidasa was known to have written many plays. Some of them were; Abhijanan Shakuntalam, Kumarsambhavam, Meghadutam, and Malavikagnimitram. Kalidasa was the court playwright at the Gupta court. He lived at Ujjain, the capital of the Guptas. For some days, he was the Gupta ambassador at the court of the Vakatakas at Amaravati.

It was here he wrote the play Meghadutam. But nevertheless despite lack of patronage two more leading playwrights came after Bhavabhuti, they were Shudraka whose main play was the Mricchakatikam, and the second dramatist was Rajashekhara. His play was titled Karpuramanjari.

Ancient Indian Culture Drama

However, the decline of Sanskrit theatre was evident from the fact that while Mricchakatikam was in Sanskrit, the Karpuramanjari was in Prakrit. Prakrit was a colloquial form of Sanskrit. Rajashekhara himself said that he chose to write in Prakrit as the language was soft while Sanskrit was harsh.

Ancient Indian Culture Theater and Drama
Vijayanagara Empire

Sanskrit plays continued to be written up to the 17th century in distant pockets of the country, mainly in the Vijayanagara Empire of the South. But they had passed their prime. The later Sanskrit dramas are mostly imitations of Kalidasa or Bhavabhuti.

Like in the case of the other fine arts, the Indian theatre has left its mark on the countries of South-east Asia. In Thailand, especially it had been a tradition from the middle ages to stage plays based on plots drawn from Indian epics.

Ancient Indian Culture Theater

Thus, in ancient India, fine arts formed an integral part of the culture. Music and dance evolved highly in ancient India and new forms of dances and music came into being. Music was usually accompanied by instruments to provide bass and rhythm. Dances required elaborate costumes, jewelry, and make-up and were usually performed in temples or royal courts.

Ancient Indian Culture Theater and Drama

Theater also originated in ancient India and was an integral part of the daily culture. People enacted scenes out of daily life like wild animals hunting for food. Some people became small animals like cows, goats, etc. who were “preyed” upon by people playing the role of carnivores like lions, tigers, etc. The culture of ancient India has been refined and modernized over the ages. What we see today was a sophisticated version of what existed thousands of years back.