(Last Updated on : 02/04/2012)
History of Kannada Theatre or, theatre of Karnataka, is rich with cultural heritage that speaks volumes about the vastness of the performing art called drama in Kannada language. Earliest evidence of Kannada theatre, perhaps, dates back to the twelfth century. As it was during this time that development and nurturing of various folk theatrical elements like; Yakshagana
, took place. Puppetry also formed a significant part of the Kannada theatre
folklore. History of Kannada theatre also covers momentous chapters on Folk theatre of Karnataka - ritual possession or Gombeyata
, which were part of worship like; Karaga and Bhutaradhane. Also, there were few devotional narratives by and for specific religious sects, as in Kamsale and Viragase.
History of Kannada theatre is blessed with bountiful flow of Kannada literature
and classics in Kannada language
, from the time of Kavirajamarga of Nripatunga of the 9th century A.D. This era also clearly indicate the growth of the theatre in two branches - one at the court under royal patronage and the second, flourishing among the common people, mostly perhaps in the country-side. A march into the past would reveal the important milestones of literary and epigraphical evidences. History of Kannada theatre tells the unique tale of "Court Theatre". It must be carefully noted that the earliest existing written play belonged to the last phase of the 17th century A. D. It was a play written by Narasingararya, named Mitravinda Govinda. He, who was a court poet under the kind patronage of King Chikka Devaraja of Mysore
, was also popularly called Singararya or Singarya. Another important part of the Kannada theatre during that era, which has received several references, was the "Nataka Shale". It was basically a platform, beautifully decorated, for enactment of plays and dramas. The "Nataka Shale" used to be full of extremely good looking designs and patterns.
The history of Kannada theatre, atleast, the post folk era - the modern Kannada theatre - begins during nineteenth century, when the British Empire already set up its rule in present day Karnataka
. The printing and publishing houses had been established and educational institutions were completely functional. This of course helped in the development, expansion and spread of Kannada language. The period between 1880 and 1920 is often termed as the "Kannada Renaissance". With popularity and awareness regarding language and culture among people, modernity creped into Kannada theatre
in the nineteenth century. And the fever of modernity began to spread to the other erstwhile provinces of Bombay (Mumbai
, and Madras (Chennai
The wave that was generated brought in sweeping changes, and facilitated in the formation of new theatre companies and dramaturgy. However, it is often argued that modernity had seeped into Kannada theatre even earlier, when Yakshagana
troupes began to travel outside their traditional geographical domain in the first half of the nineteenth century. A little later, north Karnataka evolved new forms of Sannata depicting contemporary themes.
Major development in 1870s and 1880s had been, respectively, the setting up of new troupes and formation of new kind of dramaturgy. The first development was primarily because of mythological influences from Ramayana
. During late 1860s and early 1870s, theatre companies of Maharashtra
and people associated with Parsi theatre
travelled to Karnataka, from their respective states. And later, the centres they visited became the place where first Kannada troupe were established. In the year 1877, in Dharwad district
, Kritapura Nataka Mandali was founded. And during the same year, Halasagi Company near Belgaum
was established. In 1879, Chamarajendra Karnataka Nataka Sabha, under the patronage of the royal court, commenced in Mysore and few years later in 1881 another troupe, the Rajadhani Nataka Mandali, came up in the same place. Kannada theatre immensely derived motivation and inspiration from Marathi theatre and Parsi theatre. So in order to create an independent identity of Kannada theatre, pioneers consciously chose to follow a commercially viable professionalism and an amateurish local support base, and artistically, between the spectacular musicals of the imported theatres and the earthy folk idioms of the native traditions. Thus a clear distinction was created between professional and amateur theatre in Kannada language.
There was always a quest to try out new formulas in Kannada theatre. Hence there is clear evidence of dramatists adapting and or translating Shakespeare and Western plays on the one hand, and classical Sanskrit drama on the other. This helped to rejuvenate the folk theatres of Karnataka as well. Two legendary plays written during 1880s that dealt with socio-political issues were; 1887 play, Iggappa Hegade vivaha prahasana i.e. "Iggappa Hegade's Farcical Nuptials" that explored a social problem and employed the dialect of the Havyaka Brahman community of Uttar Kannad district, and second play, Sangya-Balya i.e. "Sangya and Balya", written during the same time - orally composed and performed in north Karnataka around the same time, also narrated a contemporary story. Santakavi, a pioneering dramatist of Kannada theatre was pivotal in reshaping the history of Karnataka theatre, through his composition of drama.
The history of Kannada theatre owes a lot to the Company Nataka, for the spread of theatre culture in and around the state and also outside Karnataka. Company Nataka is a combined them dealing with many theatre companies. These theatre companies or groups travelled all over Karnataka between 1900 and 1950 and performed the adaptation of Parshi theatre. Many theatre companies came up during this period which houses many talented and skilful actors. Some of the popular names of theatre companies are Kadasiddeshwara Sangita Nataka Mandali also called Konnur Company, Mahalakshmi Prasadika Nataka Mandali, Gubbi Company, Vishva-Gunadarsa Mandali, Halgeri Company, Sri Dattatreya Sangeeta Nataka Mandali etc.
Amateur theatre, however, underwent a change after 1915. Talented playwrights emerged, and also new theatre troupes came to the fore. New theatre practitioners also appeared to the scene. T. P. Kailasam contributed greatly to Amateur theatre in Bengaluru. Likewise K. Shivarama Karanth made quite a few experiments in Dakshin Kannad and, later, Sriranga or Adya Rangacharya involved himself deeply in the amateur movement in north Karnataka while Parwathavani wrote entertaining comedies.
Literature helped in popularizing Kannada theatre in a major way. With the "Kannada Renaissance" many novelists, poets, writers and dramatists started to write closet drama than as theatre pieces. The most important were B. M. Sri i.e. Srikantiah in 1884-1946, who tried to bring the tragic mode of the West into Kannada drama. Kuvempu i.e. K. V. Puttappa, chiefly reworked epic plots and Srinivasa or Masti Venkatesa Iyengar, who composed epic, historical, and social plays but with a unique touch of realism in characterization.
History of Kannada theatre is rich with various aspects of Karnataka as a whole. The culture, tradition and literature of Karnataka have been an immense contributor towards making the Kannada theatre rich in history.