History of Street Plays in India

“Street play” – the word itself gives us feeling of enthusiasm, engagement of audience, creativity, drama and the reflection of local culture in performance.

A still from a street play (Source: Google)

In India, Nāṭya Śāstra (नाट्य शास्त्र) is one of the ancient and earliest scripture on the performing arts. It covers all the subject related to theatre art such as dramatic composition, plot of the play and the construction of a stage, classification of acting, body movements, make up and costumes, role of director and also musical instruments. We can say that the Nāṭya Śāstra is the encyclopaedia for the performing arts including in it the aesthetic “Rasa” theory.

Natyasastra (Source: Google)


India has a vibrant and prestigious history of street dramas. In ancient times, dramas were staged at seasonal festivals or celebrated some special functions in Sanskrit language. In the era of 15th to 19th centuries, actors and dancers were given special reputed places in the courts of several Indian kings. For example, “Tamasha” the Marathi folk theatre was introduced by Peshwas of the Maratha kingdom in the 18th century. Maharaja of Travancore and Mysore also competed with each other to establish the superior talent of their drama troupes. The kings of Banaras were the pioneer of patron grand Ramleela, a 31day play based on Ramayan. These different dramas and plays led to the impact of local myths, outfits and masks into the ancient form of plays resulting in the progression of diverse regional and local styles of folk theatre. This folklore continued in the lavish courts of India even under British rule.

Tamasha Marathi folk theatre (Source: Google)

Therukoothu, the most popular and ancient folk tradition of Tamil Nadu literally means street (theru) theatre (koothu). It is believed that therukoothu was originated in between 200BCE – 200CE. It was actually acted on the streets with open air settings, with very few properties attractive and colourful costumes. Other then therukoothu, street plays like pallu, kuravanji and nandinatakam are still performed in South India.

Therukoothu folk tradition of Tamil Nadu (Source: Google)

By the passing time, in different states of India, different street plays and folk theatre were performed and encouraged by the regional people such as JATRA, the Bengali theatre, which is performed in the open air square platform. This art form is popular in Bengal but originated in the eastern states of Orissa and Bihar as well as in Bangladesh. It is very living and vivid form of art. Main plot of Jatra is based on Hindu mythology, popular legends and even current events. There were many theories about the origin of Jatra.

Journey of Jatra street dramas (Source: Google)

Other than these, India have many more types of street and folk plays such as,
•Ramman, Religious Festival Theatre of the Himalayas.
•Storytelling
•Puppet shows
•Kathpuli Marionette Theatre of Rajasthan
•Payakathakali, Puppet shows of Kerala
•Tolpavakoothu,Ramayan of Shadows.

In recent times street plays have upheld speed and acquired the stage of a moral nature with right kind of fun. Now it is known as ‘Nukad natak’, ‘Sheri natak’, ‘Nautanki’, ‘Rahs’ etc. Hence this is the most easy and favourable way to connect with layman. Now these are much direct, short and simple emblems with the social or political message. The catchy phrases, dialogues, songs, dance, humorous scenes and also their costumes help in making a long lasting and powerful effect on the viewers.

Nukkad Natak (Source: Google)

These plays can really transform our emotions, strengthen the bond between us and our culture and lead the way towards positive change. It not only enlightens people and for sake of entertainment, but it also represent unspoken thoughts of the society by these dramas. These plays can create a positive impact and can lead to radical changes in our society. Tushar Malica writes on Youth Ki Awaaz “Change in society comes with the change in the mindset of the people and street plays can rightly achieve that goal” and we can’t help but agree to it.

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