The theatrical plays are supposed to have started from the time of Rajaraja Chola I (985-1014 A.D.). In those days, the dance dramas contained the scenes from the life of Krishna and other legendary stories. Several types of dance-dramas were frequently staged in temples. Almost every temple had a theatre or at least a stage attached to it, which was meant for different forms of entertainment. These dramas are generally performed during religious festivals.
During the reign of Rajaraja I, the folk drama Rajaraja Natakam was composed. It is believed to be a biographical drama, which highlighted Rajaraja I's military achievements and the building of the great temple at Tanjavur. The actors were awarded with wet land growing paddy and the best actor was conferred with title. The present day folk drama called therukkuthu was earlier presented with music, dance and long drawn speeches in Tamil Nadu.
The folk dramas of Tamil Nadu involved the musical instruments such as the harmonium, the mridangam and the flute. The therukkuthu is performed during the annual festivals or to invoke rain. This is presented with stories based on the themes like Valli Thirumanam, Pavalakkodi, Arjuna's Penance, Nallathangal, Madurai Veeran, Padmasuran, Kathavarayan, Ramayanam and Harishchandra Mayanakandam.
This is one of the fold dramas of Tamil Nadu. Mavli Natakam is a dance-drama linked with the Vedaranyam temple in Tanjavur district. This dance drama centres round the story of a big rat, which kindled the dying flame at the sanctum of that temple and as a result, received the blessing of the Lord of that temple.
The Nondi Natakam or folk-drama of the lame man is also very popular in Tamil Nadu. This is the story of a person who fell prey to a prostitute and lost not only his money as well as health. Thus he turned lame, as his leg and arm were cut off as a punishment for theft. Afterwards, this person became a devotee of Subrahmanya. Besides being a lame, he used to walk long distances to the Subrahmanya shrines thus overcoming physical handicap, inch by inch. Due to his strong devotion and mercy of the Lord, he regained his foot and arm. This satirical folk drama of Tamil Nadu in the chindu metre concludes with his return to normal health and prosperity.
One more folk drama type of Tamil Nadu is the Pagal Vesham. This is also known as the Day Costume drama. This drama is performed by an actor of great merit, who is an expert in the art of make-up and can conceal his identity.
This is a type of folk drama of Tamil Nadu. The Irular are an illiterate or semi-literate agricultural community of the Nilgiris. This folk drama is performed during the temple festivals. These are based on the epic stories and staged on the verandah of a house as the auditorium without screens. A hurricane lantern is also used as a stage-light. The actors who played the various characters of the drama are trained under a drama teacher and they rehearse the drama for days together.
This type of folk drama of Tamil Nadu involves a person, who conceals an egg within a heap of sand and draws seven lines. The man who tries to unearth it is called Modi and another man tries to prevent it by thrashing him. A buffoon intervenes and gives comic relief through light songs.