Ancient Greek and Indian Theatre : Why a Comparison

Bharat Gupt is a Reader in English at the University of Delhi. Trained both in modern and traditional educational systems he has worked in theatre, music, culture and media studies. He has been on the Visiting Faculty of National School of Drama, Delhi. He was awarded the McLuhan Fellowship to work on the McLuhan Program, University of Toronto and the Senior Onassis Fellowship to undertake research on modern Greek theatre. He is known for his writings on Greek and Indian Drama concepts.

A comparison is called for not for the reason that Greece and India are two most ancient cultures or still have vibrant living theatre traditions, but because they have had similar and some common cultural perceptions, beliefs and aesthe-

tics of theatre presentation.

We have been raised to believe that ancient Greek drama was the beginning of ‘Western theatre’ and that it was far removed from the Indian traditions in content as much as in form. It is time to dispassionately re-examine this presumption and the historical reasons for its formulation. Greek drama was appropriated by post Renaissance Europe and was made to follow only certain Aristotelian concepts, neglecting at the same time all its ritual, sacred, semiotic and musical aspects. Europe, eventually, evolved its own form of theatre which constituted a realism which it imposed everywhere else.

Attempts to depart from realism in theatre are now half a century old and they are now not just a European but a global problem. Absence of the unity of visual sign, body movement, dance, vocal intonation and music in theatre has given rise to many explorations and experiments. Inspite of its great tradition Indian theatre is caught as much in this confusion as the West. A generation old effort by our directors to reinstate music, dance and ‘folk’ or ‘classical’ expressions have not been able to develop a convincing, abiding and distinct post-realistic form of theatre.

A rethinking on the ancient theatres of Greece and India that worked on the semiotic and the musical unity of the word and the sign need not be an attempt to revive or reify the specifics of the ancient forms but it can certainly help us to create the theatre of future that is not fragmented.

This enterprise of comparison can also bring to us a fresh methodology of comparison. Too long comparisons have been excercises in identifying historical influences and borrowings or similarities of milieus. But it is also possible to compare inner aspirations and their execution by cultures far removed in time and space. Such a comparison may succeed in working on consonances between cultures rather than our present habit of defining identities by dissonances.

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