The folk dramas (theater) is an integral part of the rural life of Himachal Pradesh. Every festival, fair and ceremony are blended with folk performance including dancing, singing, music, and dramatics. Though gradually changing and becoming obsolete with time, this ancient pastime is an important pillar of the cultural heritage of the region. These plays are based on myths, legends, history, religion, culture, manners, and mores of the people. Although the present-day folk theater tends to include even Ram Lila and Krishna Lila, the old forms still retain their popular appeal. The folk theater was a powerful way to convey the right messages to the rulers and the ruled.
Kariyala – Shimla, Solan and Sirmaur
- The word Kariyala is a distorted form of the Sanskrit word Kriyala, which means the theater. It is the most popular form of folk theater in Shimla district including the regions of Mahasu, Solan, and Sirmour.
- The theater form might have got its name from the Karyali village near Theog. The Kariayala presents in rainbow colors, the pageant of hill folklore. It expresses the joys and sorrows, love and longing of the hill people. The main thrust of the folk theater is entertainment.
- The language is primarily Pahari, but Hindi, Urdu, Punjabi and English words are added for additional humor by concocting them.
- The dialogues are in verse, but in between, the folk dance and folk songs also appear. If a character fails to retort he simply gestures in an awkward way to create laughter.
Chandroli, Swang and Dhaja – Hamirpur, Bilaspur, Sujanpur, Mandi, Kullu, Sirmaur, Bharmaur and Chamba
- The Shivratri celebrations at Mandi, the Dussera festival at Kulu, the Renuka fair at Sirmaur, the Minjar in Chamba, the Jataras at Chattarahandi-Bharmaur and the Holi fairs at Sujanpur, all have SWANG shows. These shows are also known as Jhankis or Dole (floats).
- In the month of December and January, the Swang of Googa and Chandroli take place. The Dandu or the Rolu who act like a clown in these sends the audiences into gales of laughter with his antics and lessens their burdens of daily problems temporarily. The female counterpart of Dandu is Chandrauli (Chandravali) who acts alternately as a hard to get arch female and a shrew and the Rolu cajoles and coaxes her to relent.
Banthda/Banthra and Buddha/Budechhu – Mandi and Sirmaur
- This theater form is popular in Mandi district.
- The word has come from Bhand meaning clown or jester.
- King Veer Sen, the ruler of erstwhile Mandi state in 1268-1303 AD, propagated Banthra as a medium to educate the people as his efforts to make them literate were becoming ineffective.
- As in Kariayla the Banths too appeared not on stage but in courtyards called akharas. This folk theater form is a blend of music, dance, and drama.
- It is a form of a comedy of manners and sometimes there is a comedy of action too.
- The performance is generally held near the Diwali festival and is accompanied by folk instrumentalists and folk singers or dancers.
- The protagonist in a folk theater is called Swangi or imitator.
- The lower castes of the society were not allowed to perform Banthara which was reserved for upper castes only. They were not allowed to satirize the deeds of the upper strata of society. So they invented their own theater called Buddha without any direct reference and used lyrical renderings.
- This theater form (Buddha) was found in Sundernagar and Karsogh areas of Mandi district.
- In Buddha, the lower caste actors were used to cover their bodies with the straw of wheat and jute with headgear of a cap fitted with three horns. The hands too were covered with straw gloves.
- The act begins with a devotional song or Bhakti geet followed by the farces of Buddha, Chandrauli, mascara, or the clown, Pahari or rustic, etc.
- Budechhu the oldest Folk Theater of the Transgiri area of Sangrah at Shilai in Sirmaur District of Himachal Pradesh.
Bhagtan or Bhagat– Chamba and Kangra
- This theater form was practiced in the Chamba district and the adjoining region inhabited by the Dogra tribe of Jammu and Kangra.
- It originated from the Raas Leela of Lord Krishna at Mathura and Brindavan and spread to other parts of the country like Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Jammu, and the Punjab hill states of Himachal Pradesh.
- Like Buddhas, they too belonged to the lower castes and conducted their activities by going from one village to another to entertain the people and to spread their messages of social appeal.
- There was no stage for the performance of this theater form, but some pasture called chowgaan or a wooden platform served the purpose.
- There was no green room, no script, and no makeup. In addition, the dances in the style of Raas Leela were also performed to the tunes of folk music.
- The act begins with dialogues between gopis or female friends of Lord Krishna, the part played by male characters.
- The Bhagatia artists are very few now and their performances are rare.
Jhanki and Haanter – Chamba
- This drama is performed by the artist in Chamba.
- It is believed that when people have leisure time after the hectic months of harvesting sowing they perform this drama during winter times.
Hiran or Harnatra – Bharmour and Chamba
- It is the folk theater of the Gaddi or shepherds tribe of Bharmour, Chhatri, Bassu, and Saho areas of Chamba district.
- It is performed in the spring season when the Gaddis or shepherds come out of the hibernating nightmare of winters in the higher ranges of Himachal Pradesh.
- The protagonists of this folk drama are called Khappar, Chandrauli, Gaddi, Gaddan, Sadhu, Sahib, Hiran, etc.
- Khapper is similar to Sadhu in Karyala and there may be more than three Khappers in a single performance. A male actor performs the role of Chandrauli.
- THE FOLK THEATRE IN HIMACHAL PRADESH by SANJAY SHARMA
- TOURISM IN INDIA by PROF. K. VIJAYBABU
- ARTS OF HIMACHAL PRADESH – WEB INDIA 123
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