Drama or theatre as an art form was introduced by the Greeks as and when the attempted invasion of India in 326 BC occurred by Alexander the Great. The Sanskrit word for Curtain is Yavanika, which has its etymological roots in the word Yavana, Sanskrit for Greek (the word Yavana is a distortion of Ionia. Most of the soldiers in Alexander's army were from Ionia, a province in Ancient Greece).
Though initially encouraged and inspired by Greek theatre, Sanskrit plays are completely different from their Greek counterparts; the most famous Greek plays are tragedies, while almost all Sanskrit plays are romantic, funny or both. Copious plays written in this period are still available yet very little is known about the authors themselves. This is mainly because of the reticence that Sanskrit writers displayed about writing about themselves in their forewords. Most of the information about these playwrights has been available by the references made to the writers by other writers of the same or later periods.
Sanskrit plays are the earliest store house of Indian Literature - the Mrichakatika, which is supposedly composed by Shudraka in the 2nd century BC. Dramas in Sanskrit literature consist of The Natya Shastra, the plays by Kalidasa, and Sudraha.
The Natyashastra (ca. 2nd century AD, literally "Scripture of Dance," written by Bharata which is sometimes translated as "Science of Theatre'") is a bedrock work in Sanskrit literature on the subject of stagecraft. Bhasa and Kalidasa are major early authors of the first centuries AD, Kalidasa qualifying easily as the greatest poet and playwright in Sanskrit He deals primarily with famous Hindu legends and themes; three famous plays by Kalidasa are Vikramorvasiyam (Vikrama and Urvashi), Malavikagnimitram (Malavika and Agnimitra), and the play that he is most known for: Abhijanamshakuntalam (The Recognition of Shakuntala). Abhijnanasakuntalam ("The Recognition of Shakuntala") speaks about the story of King Dushyanta. While in a hunting trip, he met Shakuntala, the adopted daughter of a sage and was tied in nuptial ties. However, a misfortune befell them when he is called upon to court: Shakuntala, pregnant with their child, unknowingly outrages a visiting sage and invites a curse, by which Dushyanta would forget her entirely until he encounters the ring he had left with her. On her trip to Dushyanta's court in an advanced stage of pregnancy, as an act of blunder, she misplaces the ring and has to come away dejected and unrecognised. The ring is discovered by a fisherman who recognises the royal seal and returns it to Dushyanta. He retrieves his memory of Shakuntala and sets forth to find her. After more exertions and travails, they are finally reunited.
Malavikagnimitra ("Malavika and Agnimitra") speaks about the story of King Agnimitra, who falls in love with the picture of a deported servant girl named Malavika. When the queen chances upon her husband's ardour for this girl, she turns maddened and has Malavika incarcerated. However, with twists of fate and luck, Malavika turns out to be a trueborn princess, thus legalising the affair.
Vikramorvasiya ("Pertaining to Vikrama and Urvashi") speaks about the story of mortal King Pururavas and ethereal nymph Urvashi, who fall in love. As an immortal, she has to return to the heavens, where an untoward accident causes her to be hurled back to the earth as a mortal. Urvasi is also cursed that she will die (and hence return to heaven) the instant her lover sets his eyes on the child whom she will bear him. After a sequence of misadventures, including Urvashi's transient transformation into a vine, the curse is lifted and the lovers are granted to remain together on the earth.
In the late (post 6th century) dramatists include Dandin and Sriharsha. Nagananda, is one which is attributed to King Harshawhich is an outstanding drama that outlines the story of King Jimutavahana, who sacrifices himself to save the tribe of serpents. It is also unique in that it invokes Lord Budha in what is a predominantly Hindu Drama.
Natyashastra is an ancient form of Indian theatre with details performing arts, encompassing theatre, dance and music. It was written during the period between 200 BC and 200 AD in classical India and is traditionally attributed to the Sage Bharata. It is elaborate of all treatises on dramatic criticism and acting ever written in any language and is regarded as the oldest surviving text on stagecraft in the world. Bharata in his Natyashastra demonstrates every facet of Indian drama whilst covering areas like music, stage-design, make up, dance and virtually every aspect of stagecraft. With its kaleidoscopic approach, with its wider scope Natyashastra has offered a remarkable dimension to growth and development of Indian classical music, Indian classical dances, drama and art. Natyashastra indeed laid the cornerstone of the fine arts in India. Natyashastra of Bharata Muni contains about five thousand six hundred verses. The commentaries on the Natyashastra are known, dating from the sixth or seventh centuries. The earliest surviving one is the Abhinavabharati by Abhinava Gupta. It was followed by works of writers such as Saradatanaya of twelfth-thirteenth century, Sarngadeva of thirteenth century, and Kallinatha of sixteenth century. However the abhinavabharati is regarded as the most authoritative commentary on Natyashastra as Abhinavagupta provides not only his own illuminating interpretation of the Natyashastra, but wide information about pre-Bharata traditions as well as varied interpretations of the text offered by his predecessors.
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