Folk Drama of India (Indian Folk Drama)

The Folk Drama of India

Indian Folk Dramas have grown over the centuries and are a part of the life and culture of the rural people. Folk plays in the form of songs, dances and dramas have nourished a rich tradition. Though many of these have now become extinct and some are languishing, the rural folk have preserved and fostered, quite a few folk-plays such as Ram Leela, Rasaleela, Prahlad Natak, etc. Brief accounts of these are given below:

Rama Leela Folk Play

It is a religious folk play in India. The word Leela literary means sport and therefore ‘Ram Leela’ portrays the sport of Rama, the King.

Ram Leela performances start from Ram Navami day and usually deal with the various incidents from the story of Ramayana which continues for several nights. The folk art of Ram Leela revolves around the heroic deeds of Lord Rama. Besides Lord Rama, the important characters of the play are Goddess Sita (wife of Lord Rama), Lakshman (brother of Lord Rama), and Lord Hanuman.

Actors playing the role of demons, wear masks. Actions in the play adhere to dance-music or song-music which is cast in the form of dialogues. The band of chorus singers with orchestral music repeats the refrains.


Several Vaisnav poets have written innumerable songs of devotion pertaining to Radha and Krishna. Rasa Leela centers on the immortal love story of Lord Krishna with Radha and the Gopis and are played for nights together. Now-a-days dialogues have been added. The chorus singers always sing the refrains.

Bharat Leela

This Folk Drama  is more popularly known as ‘Dwari Leela’ (Dwari means sentry). Folk plays in India draw their plots from mythologies, epics, tales, ballads or romantic legends. Bharat Leela draws its plot from the epic tales of Mahabharat. It is therefore, called Bharat Leela. In these play four essential characters, namely Arjuna, Subhadra, Satyabhama and Dwari participate. The core of the Lela relates to love and subsequent marriage of Arjuna with Subhadra. Dwari (Sentry) plays a very major role. Orchestral music adds grandeur to the play.

Moghul Tamsha

It is a satirical play on the Mughals and is confined to Bhadrak area. It is multi-lingual performance, with songs and dialogues being used in Persian, Urdu, Hindi languages. It was inspired by the Marathas, ruling over Orissa, who satired on the earlier Muslim (Mughal) rule.

Moghul Tamsha is still a living tradition. It has no definite plot. The main actor is Mirja Saheb who is the Mighul administrator. People masquerading as personal service-holders of Mughul rulers are called one by one to the stage. They sing songs and introduce themselves. Enough humor and satire is provided through the dialogues. Music is provided with Dhol and Jodi-Nagara. The folk-play provides entertainment to the people.

Prahlad Natak

It is typical play of Ganjam district of Orissa (now Odisha). Literally it means a play about Prahlad, the devotee boy. This unique folk theatre embodies many of the rich folk, classical and tribal traditions of Orissa. The play was written by Gopinath Parichha, a well known poet and playwright of South Orissa in the 19th Century. The subject matter is the appearance of Lord Nrusingha, the suppression of pride of demon Hiranyakashipu and yearnings of devotee boy Prahlad.


‘Suanga’ means joking. It is a folk drama and its tradition is very old in India. It is a development over the Leelas. Suang mostly concerns itself with stories from legends, folk lores, and episodes from mythologies and often from history. In Suang, all the characters sing, dance and act. Due to greater popularity of ‘Jatra’, Suanga has slowly died out.

Rath Yatra

Yatra originated as a development over the folk play i.e. Suanga’ during last quarter of the 19th century. The main developments were introduction of dialogues in blankverse, use of foreign musical instruments, dazzling costume, humour with rustic characters in local dialect. Mostly Oriya Suanga playwrights changed over to Yatra, after Yatra emerged with its popular appeal. Yatras no longer confine themselves to mythological or historical plays. Popular legends and social themes found place in the plays. In its earlier stages, the Zamindars used to patronize them.

For the first time Yatra parties (troupes) were formed in Orissa in 1878. But later, Yatra parties were formed on professional lines. Pioneers of professional Oriya yatra were Jagannath Pani, Gopal Das, Balakrishna Mohanty, Govind Chandra Sur Deo, Krishna Prasad Basu and Baishnab pani.

Baishnab Pani modernised and revolutionized the Yatra form in Orissa. His contribution to the growth of mass culture as a way of popular entertainment is immense. He introduced duet dances and prose dialogues in blank verse and used techniques of Western Opera. These plays with their embellishments were also called ‘Geeti Natya’. Modern Yatra parties have become very successful under the spell of cinematic imitations. Even modern plays are being adopted for staging yatra. Modern cinema has deeply influenced the form of yatra. There are duet dances. Songs in the present-day yatras are set to popular tunes mostly in imitation to cinema songs. Yatra parties not only perform in rural areas, these are also being staged in small towns. It has become very popular and very lucrative business. More and more professional troupes are entering the field.

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