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India has a longest and richest tradition in theatre going back to at least 5000 years. The origin of Indian theatre is closely related to ancient rituals and seasonal festivities of the country. Bharata's Natya Shastra (2000 BC to 4th Century AD) was the earliest and most elaborate treatise on dramaturgy written anywhere in the world. The traditional account in Bharata's Natya Shastra gives a divine origin to Indian Theatre, attributing it to the Natyaveda, the holy book of dramaturgy created by Lord Brahma.

In Natya Shastra, Bharata Muni consolidated and codified various traditions in dance, mime and drama. Natya Shastra describes ten classifications of drama ranging from one act to ten acts. No book of ancient times in the world contains such an exhaustive study on dramaturgy as Natya Shastra. It is addressed to the playwright, the director, and the actor because, to Bharata Muni these three were inseparable in the creation of a drama The Sanskrit word for drama, nataka, derives from the word meaning "dance". In traditional Hindu drama, expression was achieved through music and dancing as well as through acting, so that a play could be a combination of opera, ballet and drama.

According to legend the very first play was performed on heaven when the gods, having defeated the demons, were enacting their victory. Hindu theorists from the earliest days conceived of plays in terms of two types of production: lokadharmi (realistic), which involved the reproduction of human behaviour on the stage and the natural presentation of objects, and natyadharmi (conventional), which is the presentation of a play through the use of stylized gestures and symbolism and was considered more artistic than realistic.

Theatre in India started as a narrative form, with recitation, singing and dancing becoming integral elements of the theatre. This emphasis on narrative elements made our theatre essentially theatrical right from the beginning. That is why the theatre in India has encompassed all the other forms of literature and fine arts into its physical presentation: literature, mime, music, dance, movement, painting, sculpture and architecture - all mixed into one and being called 'Natya' or Theatre in English.

Roughly the Indian theatre can be divided into three distinctive kinds: the Classical or the Sanskrit theatre, the Traditional or the Folk theatre and the Modern theatre.

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