Journal of Arts & Ideas, no. 8 (July-Sept 1984) p. 43.

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Western Responses to Traditional Indian Theatre;

A Glance

Akshara K V,


AS IN the case of the histroy of Indian civilization,2 the history of the traditional Indian theatre was first'discovered' and'documented' by Westerners. In order to rule the country the colonial administrators—political, social and religious-had to understand the native culture to some extent and that started a long process of research, of transcribing and translating the Sanskrit religious and literary texts and of analysing classical dance and drama.

The approach of these colonial scholars to Indian traditions was obvious and typical. Firstly, their interest in the subject was nothing more than antiquarian or humanistic, and so, their response were either a complete denial or an absolute fascination of a disinterested scholarship. If one lokoked at the Indian theatre as a monotonous, irrelevant piece of ritual, others admired the Sanskrit drama as a well-crafted vision of a royal poet. Both of these attitudes did assume that the Indian theatre did not change much through the centuries, (which assumption was also supported by the antiquarian historians), neither of them perceived the concrete social implications of the Sanskrit drama behind the guise of the apparently religious, mystical stories and both the attitudes ignored the co-existance of a non-religious and secular theatre tradition. Secondly, the methodology of this research—the analysis and the classification—was completely Western oriented and was insensitive to the Indian materials. The classic debate whether there is 'tragedy' in Indian drama and the application of the word 'theatre' for all the performing arts—are the best examples.

During the last eighty years or so the scene has changed, as active theatre directors and theoreticians from the West started responding to the Indian

Journal of Arts and Ideas 43

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