In Nepal, drama owes its origin to ancient myth, folklore and religious practices. Early performances in the valley were held on a dabu or dabali, a 60cm (2foot) stone platform, while every chowk (street junction) and bahil (courtyard) might have been used as a stage for narrating tales of the gods and the demons. Post the unification of Nepal under the Shah Dynasty in 1767, the Kathmandu Valley performance absorbed some of the theatrical traditions of India, including romantic Parsi theatre popular in north India.
In 1846, when the Rana assumed power and controlled the monarchy, all public performances were banned, as well as public education. Religious performances continued among the indigenous communities of the Tarai plains and the hills. Ironically during the late nineteenth century, the Ranas imitating European architecture and styles, imported the concept of proscenium theatre for their private entertainment.
Despite the restrictions of the Rana, Moti Ram Bhatta adapted and staged Shakuntala in 1892, becoming the first recognized Nepali playwright and director. Manik Man Taludhar, Nepal’s first commoner theatre professional to be trained in Calcutta (present day Kolkata), returned to stage the playIndar Sabha in 1900.
Bal Krishna Sama from the Rana family is recognized as the father of modern Nepali theatre. In opposition to his Rana clan’s stand on performing art, he is recognized for inaugurating a golden age of the Nepali theatre with his work, Tansenko Jhari (rain in Tansen,1923 ), and he went on to write fifteen plays-comedies, tragedies and historical dramas which are influential till date.
Major developments occurred after the arrival of street theatre troupes like Sarwanam (1981), proscenium theatre practitioners like Arohan (1981), and the indigenous Maithili drama troupe, Janakpur-based Mithila Natya Parishas (1980).
With the restoration of multi-party democracy in 1990, theatre workers became development activists, performing plays under ‘awareness’ campaign banners. This sponsored work tended to restrict artistic progress , but in 2000, with the opening of a chapter of the International Theatre Institute and the consequent links made with international companies, Nepali theatre has found encouragement for a new wave of experimentation.
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