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9 Traditional Indian Folk Theatre Forms that You Need to Know

Here are some folk theatre forms which throw light on Indian ancient traditions


The folk or traditional arts of India have been used for moral, religious, and socio-political purposes from ancient times. It must also be noted that folk forms are religion, community, caste, culture, and language/dialect-specific and bear values and associations often unique to them.

The folk media are close to the hearts and minds of the people; so their appeal is at a personal and intimate level. Further, their families’ format and content, as also the local and colloquial dialects used, make for clarity in communication.

Folk media are available to all the sundry and enjoyed by persons of different age groups-all at a very low cast. The greatest advantage of the folk media over electronic media is their flexibility in accommodating new themes. The folk forms preserve and disseminate in a lively manner, the traditions, and cultures of our forefathers. 

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Folk theatre forms enacted in urban and rural India today are barely 400-600 years old. Here are some significant folk theatre forms:


The Tamasha(which means fun)  is an extremely lively and robust form of the folk theatre of Maharashtra, going back to over 400 years. It is purely commercial entertainment, with the star performer being the female artiste who has to sing the favorite songs of the patrons as they shout “Daulat Ziada” (may the wealth of the donor increase). The form had originally no religious or social message to convey. 

Folk Theatre Forms
The Ramlila celebrates the story of the Ramayana, while the Raslila focuses on the exploits of Lord Krishna and his love for Radha. Flickr

Powada or Pawala

The Powada of Maharashtra is a folk ballad form that shot into prominence during the 16th century. It is filled with dramatic gestures and is dominated by tales about the events of history. It is sung to the accompaniment of musical instruments like ‘Daph’, ‘Tunetune’, and ‘Majira’, generally by a group with a leading voice. 


The Keertana is a kind of concentrated drama, a monodrama in which one gifted actor enters swiftly a whole series of characters and moods. The ancient sage ‘Narad’ is believed to have invented and practiced the form with great success. It spread from Maharashtra to Karnataka and Tamilnadu about 150 years ago. 

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Yakshagana is ‘the song of Yaksha’, the most popular folk drama of Karnataka first performed in the 16th century. Yakshagana is full of songs and repartee. The narrator here is known as the Bhagavata who sings verses and exchanges witty remarks with the players and handles the cymbals and songs.


The Dashavatara is a religious folk theatre form of South Konkan, perhaps first launched by a priest called Gore about 400 years ago. It is the Konkan variation of Yakshagana. It is a re-enactment of the ten incarnations of Vishnu, and the story of the lord and his devotees. It is generally performed within the precincts of a temple, for it is regarded as an act of worship. Male artists alone are allowed to play various roles, even those of women. 


The Nautanki is a North Indian folk drama form performed on an open and bare stage. It gets its name perhaps from the charming Rani Nautanki pf Multan whose younger lover disguised himself as a woman to gain entry into her chambers. The narrator here is called Ranga or Sutradhar, the themes are basically derived from ancient folklores like the tale of Laila and Majnu, heroic deeds of Amar Singh Rathod and Sultana Daku. The musical instruments used are ‘Makkara’ ( kettle drum) and ‘Dholak.’

Folk Theatre Form
Therukoothu is Tamilnadu’s street theatre, bringing together dance and the classical literary forms-prose (Iyal), music (Isai), and drama (Natakam). Flickr

Ramlila and Raslila

The Ramlila celebrates the story of the Ramayana, while the Raslila focuses on the exploits of Lord Krishna and his love for Radha. The Ramlila is enacted all over north India in September or October during the Dussehra Festival. The Raslila, a dance drama, is performed on various occasions in Vrindavan, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Manipur, and Kerala. 

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The origin of Jatra (journey), the folk theatre of Bengal and Odisha, is obscure, though it is very likely that the form got its name because of the nomadic habit of its performers. Jatra compositions focussed on episodes from the lives of Krishna and Radha.


The Bhavai is the foremost folk theatre form in Gujarat. A stylized medieval dramatic form, the Bhavai has a Ranglo and a Naik, besides other characters. The Ranglo is the stock-character who is the jester or clown of the play, while Naik is the Sutradhar or manager with whom he carries on a bantering dialogue.

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Therukoothu is Tamilnadu’s street theatre, bringing together dance and the classical literary forms-prose (Iyal), music (Isai), and drama (Natakam). It is believed to have evolved from Villupattu (ballad) and Nondi-Natakam (a morality play).



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