2 Drama in India: An Introduction

Dr. Mrinmoy Pramanick

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Primary aim of Comparative Literature is to study literature from different languages, cultures, nations to know the difference or similarity in history, society and other creative expressions of human being and to know the differences in skills and practices in the communities. Comparative Literature is not only the study of different literary texts produced by different linguistic, cultural, national, religious communities but it is also a study of literature with other arts and other disciplines. Therefore studying literature with painting, dance, music and drama is also very significant thrust area of Comparative Literature discipline. Comparative Literature as a new field of academic practice arose in 19th century along with other disciplines of similar approach like Comparative Anatomy, Comparative Law, and Comparative Philology. The history of the nomenclature of Comparative Literature can be traced back in the history of 1816 when French scholars published anthologies of literature under the title of Cours de littératurecomparée. Villemen used the term littérature compare in 1829 and later this term was preferred by the French. In English, Comparative Literature was first used when Matthew Arnold translated Ampere’s histoire comparative in 1848. In 1886, the first book, Comparative Literature, written on the idea and objective of the discipline published in London, written by Hutcheson Macaulay Posnett. Though the practice, scope and definition of Comparative Literature, decisively modified throughout the ages. And in this present conjuncture each nation holds its own idea of Comparative Literature and Comparative Literature is practiced in different fashions across the globe. Comparative Literature first introduced as a method of reading literature in more inclusive way than the English departments used to practice literature. Later it was introduced as a discipline and innovated more methodologies to have comprehensive and inclusive idea and practice of literature. Comparative Literature promotes reading literature in its own language and in translation. As Comparative Literature is practiced in global spectrum, it prefers translation as a medium of accessing literature of the World. Comparative Literatureaccommodates the tools and ideas of the discipline of Translation Studies, Cultural Studies and Critical theory to build the ground of the discipline.


Definition of Comparative Literature:


Henry H.H. Remak, a well-known comparatist defines, “Comparative Literature is the study of literature beyond the confines of one particular country, and the study of the relationships between literature on the one hand and other areas of knowledge and belief, such as the arts (e.g., painting, sculpture, architecture, music), philosophy, history, the social sciences (e.g., politics, economics, sociology), the sciences, religion, etc. on the other” (3). French scholar Paul Van Tieghem defines three consecutive levels of literary study, such as national literature, comparative literature and general literature while talking about comparative Literature. “National literature treats questions confined to one national literature; comparative literature normally deals with problems involving two different literatures; general literature is devoted to developments in a larger number of countries making up organic units, such as Western Europe, Eastern Europe, Europe, North America, Europe and North America, Spain and South America, the Orient, etc.”(15-16). According to Tieghem, Comparative Literature is a study of literature based on findings from national literature and general literature merges comparative literature and national literature. One thing is worth remembering here that Tieghem imagined national literature as a singular literature which is different in Indian context as India is essentially multilingual and it produces a huge diverse range of literature which are themselves comparative by nature. Susan Bassnett defines comparative literature as the study of literature across the culture, time and space. According to her comparative literature is connecting literatures. She says, “The simplest answer is that comparative literature involves the study of texts across cultures, that it is interdisciplinary and that it is concerned with patterns of connection in literatures across both time and space” (1). Steven Totosy de Zepetnek in his celebrated book on comparative literature, Comparative Literature: Theory, Method, Application, analyses new aspects and objectives of comparative literature and placed it in non-euro-centric domain of literary understanding. He describes in the first chapter of the book, “In principle, the discipline of Comparative Literature is in totoa method in the study of literature in at least two ways. First, Comparative Literature means the knowledge of more than one national language and literature, and/or it means the knowledge and application of other disciplines in and for the study of literature and second, Comparative Literature has an ideology of inclusion of the Other, be that a marginal literature in its several meanings of marginality, a genre, various text types, etc. … Comparative Literature has intrinsically a content and form which facilitate the cross-cultural and interdisciplinary study of literature and it has a history that substantiated this content and form” (13).Sisir Kumar Das, pioneer of theorizing comparative literature in Indian context, writes, “Comparative literature is not an exercise in discovering the abstract universals of literature. It must deal with literatures in their concreteness and hence the study of Indian literatures together is but a part of the comparative literary studies as an academic discipline” (247). Tutun Mukherjee a renowned comparatist subscribes the idea of “indiscipline” of David Ferris “which defies containment: breaches which transcend disciplinary borders” (40). She further writes, “Ideally, comparative literature should have no home in any one nation or language. Indeed it possess the quality of being “supra” – above and beyond – defying boundaries, limits, groupings, and the ability to break free of its own standards and disciplinary entrapping. This ability of comparative literature to defy boundaries is what I postulate in order to map the terrain of what I see as the “new literary order” (40). This nature and scope of comparative literature proposed by Mukherjee is indeed describes the power of the discipline to be contextualized in any nation, linguistic region and in any geopolitical cultural. This nature of the discipline also focuses on the open ending scope of the discipline also. Mukherjee also proposed the idea of “Ex-centricity” to define the nature and scope of the discipline while she speaks, “Ex-centricity means perpetual moving away from the any kind of centrality in the choice of subject matter and/or manner of representation, perspective and positionality, theory and analysis”.


Indian Comparative Literature:


Many of the comparatist across the world have opined India is one of the most significant area of doing Comparative Literature because of its multilingual, multicultural, multiethnic, and multi- religious nature. Buddhadev Bose, an early comparatist in India, says, “Potentially, India is one of the richest fields for comparative literature. The age and complexity of our civilization, the diverse elements that compose it, that ‘world-hunger’ of which Tagore spoke a hundred times and which took possession of us with the dawning of our modern age – all these provide the material and the atmosphere demanded by the nature of this discipline” (Bose 20). The connection among Indian Literature can be best read through the methodologies of Comparative Literature. Moreover there are coexistence of painting, performance and literature within a text in Indian culture. Variety of genres in pre-colonial Indian literature and influence of literary and cultural movement like Bhakti in Indian tradition also necessitates the idea of comparative study of different Indian literatures. The culture of translation among Indian languages and from modern Indian languages to English also can be understood best by comparison. From Sanskrit to Euro-American, from Euro-American to Indian Dalit and tribal aesthetics practiced in Indian literary culture in different time also initiates for a comparative framework while reading Indian Literature.


Susan Bassnett subscribed comparatist SwapanMajumdar’s finding about emergence of comparative literature in South Asia as a method of reading national literature. Such initiative is found in China, in Taiwan, in Japan and definitely in India. Majumdar comments on describing the context of comparative literature in South Asian countries, “it is because of this predilection for national literature-much deplored by the Anglo-American critics as a methodology-that Comparative Literature has struck roots in the Third World nations and in India in Particular”(5). Ganesh Devy opined that the rise of comparative literature in India is directly related with the rise of nationalism in India.


Indian comparatists have successfully grounded comparative literature in Indian context and they have proposed methodology and objective of studying comparative literature in India. Collective initiative of the Indian comparatists suggested Indian school of Comparative Literature. Critics and theorists quite often dealt with the nomenclatures like Indian Comparative Literature, Comparative Indian Literature etc. Doyen of comparative literature in India Sisir Kumar Das defines comparative Indian literature, “Comparative Indian Literature is not merely a search for a national literature counteracting literary chauvinism nor is it a search for a universal literature which is the professed aim of the study of comparative literature. What is more, comparative literature is not an exercise in discovering the abstract universals of literature. It must deal with literatures in their concreteness and hence the study of Indian literatures together is but a part of the comparative literary studies as an academic discipline. The future of comparative literature in this country will naturally be directed towards an intensive study of various Indian literature in the main; but as long as it realizes that its texts and contexts are Indian, its methodology comparative, but its main objective is literature, it will serve the cause of comparative literature”.


Comparative Literature as an academic discipline in India was first introduced in Jadavpur University, Kolkata by a renowned poet and critic Buddhadev Bose in 1956. But first theoretical discussion on Comparative Literature was happened when Tagore was invited in the ancestor of the Jadavpur University, National Council of Education in 1906 to deliver a lecture on Comparative Literature. He titled his lecture as Visvasahitya (World Literature). Tagore received Comparative Literature as World Literature which is supposed to deal with great literatures across the world despite their regional, linguistic and cultural identity. After Tagore, it was AsutoshMookerjee, the then vice-chancellor of the University of Calcutta who introduced Modern Indian Languages department in 1919, envisioning the study of Indian languages together to know ourselves. It was the time of nationalist movement and nation building and Mookerjee was first Indian to introduce Indian languages and literatures in an academic department. His initiative necessarily initiated the idea of comparison among Indian languages and literatures and it begins the study of Indian literatures as a cluster in India as Mookerjee made University of Calcutta to produce text books in different languages from the university press.


Later on Comparative Literature as an academic discipline established in quite few universities in India. In few universities it is Comparative Literature (Jadavpur University, Punjab Central University), in few universities it is Comparative Indian Literature (University of Delhi, University of Calcutta), in few Universities it is with English department and titled as English and Comparative Literature department (Central University of Kerala, Pondicherry Central University), in Gujarat Central university it is department of Comparative Literature and Translation Studies and latest department is introduced by Assam University, where it is Indian Comparative Literature. Verities in the title of the discipline shows diverse understanding of Comparative Literature in Indian context.


Major theorists who are founder of the idea of Comparative Indian Literature or how Comparative Literature can be contextualized in India are Buddhadev Bose, V.K. Gokak, K.M. George, NavaneetaDevsen, R.K. Dasgupta, Sisir Kumar Das, Amiya Dev, Indranath Choudhury, Tutun Mukherjee, Harish Trivedi, K. Satchidanandan, Subha ChakrabortyDasgupta, Ipsita Chanda, P.P. Raveendran, E.V. Ramakrishnan, R.K. Dhawan, Avadesh K. Singh, Chandra Mohan and many others.

Comparative Literature and Other Arts:


Rene Wellek and Austin Warren comments the relationship between literature and other arts like painting and music is ‘various and complex’ (125). They pointed out there is both way communication of influence, inspiration and adaptation between literature and painting, music, theatre. Ganesh Devy’s seminal work on Being Bhashaand Off Many Heroes represents many examples of relations between literature and other arts in Indian culture. Comparative Literature does a methodological study of literature and other arts, tries to find out intrinsic relation between literature and different art practice in different communities or across the cultures. The objective of this study is to find more adequate and inclusive reading of literature. Mary Gaither says, that literature and artistic expression of any given epoch can be approached in seven ways in Comparative Literature. Those are, “1) details of a literary text elucidated by a picture, 2) details of a picture clarified by a literary text, 3) concepts and motifs of literature clarified by the arts of design, 4) motifs of picture elucidated through literature, 5) and 6) literary-linguistic forms and literary-stylistic expressions in literature and art, and 7) borderlines between literature and art” (163-164). There are many ways to find relationship between literature and other art, for example literary theorist Calvin Brown finds relationship between literature and music through the study of folk epic and opera and influence of writer upon musician and musician upon writer.


If we trace the literary traditions of India, it is quite visible that the idea of literature is emerged in multiplicity from different cultures and different Indian traditions unlike Europe. Oral tradition is very common in different Indian linguistic communities and this trend was or still alive due to absence of culture of recording the literary evidence with modern technological mediums including printing press. In Indian culture painting is appeared as a mode of narration, and only medium of narration, for example we can talk about Warli community and Warli painting of Maharastra, Patachitraof Bengal etc. Pandavani, a folk theatre form of Jharkhand narrates the story of Mahabharata which has been existing in community practice since long time and to them this performance is one of the literary expressions not being the piece of mere performance. Growth and development of Indian bhasha literature shows performance and literature appeared in the culture as siblings. A remarkable category of popular performances of medieval India found their source of narrative from literary manuscripts and literary manuscripts also accommodated the narratives from performance traditions. This is how not only theatrical texts but also others texts were used to be performed, for example, narrative poetry from medieval Bangla ManasamangalKavya, Padmabatietc. used to be performed as well. So, India has intrinsic relation between literature and performance in its heritage.


Comparative Drama Studies:


“The study of Comparative Literature complements the study of Drama, as the analytical and comparative skills you learn are suited to both programmes, and results in a strong understanding of broad range of texts, written or performed. Your literary appreciation will aid the practical drama elements, as you will have a clear understanding of the cultural and historical background of the playwright” (http://www.kent.ac.uk/courses/undergraduate/265/comparative-literature-and-drama). Comparative drama studies as an approach towards literature and other arts helps to build one’s skill to enhance the culture more critically. It involves the historical context of dramatic text or any other texts adapted into a drama form along with the historical position of the author. This study also involves the study of relation among literature, theatre, play and drama. It also expands one’s understanding of drama in more inclusive way with the comparative study of different mediums like film and theatre and comparative study with broader literary sphere like World Literature. Such kind of study is important as methodology in literature department as, “drama and the theatre while also exploring world literature as well as film and the visual arts, across national or linguistic borders, across different time periods, and across the boundaries between different genres and media” (https://www.royalholloway.ac.uk/mllc/coursefinder/bacomparativeliteratureculturedrama.aspx). This study introduced cross connection among different genres and mediums like poetry and drama, narrative and drama, and drama and film etc. In the comparative study of literature and drama, methodology for examining relationship between literature and other art is also required, as being composite art drama involves use of other arts too. For example a Bengali text of poetry SojonBadiarGhatby Jasimuddin is adapted as a theatrical text by a popular group theatre Nandikar, TarasankarBandopadhyay’s novel HnasuliBnakerUpokatha is adapted in theatrical form by Pub-Pashchimtheatre group. There are quite a few examples of adapting dramatic texts into film and Shakespeare is more adorable in practice. Hindi movies, like Makbul, Omkaraand Hayder is very popular example of such case. Satyajit Ray also adapted An Enemy of People by Norwegian playwright Ibsen into a Bengali movie called Ganasatru.


In comparative drama study or in the study of drama in the discipline of comparative we can have different area to be approached. We may examine development of language and class division in society through a drama text like Kalidasa’s where he used different language for King, queen, servants and common people. In this case a single dramatic text itself is comparative to read the history of language and society. We can examine the method of adaptation and creation of new text when a literary piece of play, poetry, story or novel has been adapted as dramatic text in print or on stage. Our experience of reading a play is quite different than performing it, so this habit reading and performance also can be approached in the discipline of comparative literature or comparative drama studies. Adaptation of dramatic text in movie or translation of it in other language also a subject of comparative study. In Indian context, while we read history of Indian literature, Indian narrative and Indian theatre, comparative approach is unavoidable to write the history of literature and history of drama. Most of the popular ancient and medieval texts are performative, even if the text if a music performance, we can find dramatic consciousness there, for example Devdasi dance in medieval temples, or performing music in Royal court or in any religious program.



Comparative Literature examines analogy, reception, influence and pattern of connections among literary texts and literary traditions, literary cultures and literary history, literary genres and literary movements across the culture, time and space. We understand comparative literature as a platform of intermedial and interdisciplinary study of literature with other arts and any other relevant discipline. In India, in case of studying literature as a cluster of Indian Literature or Comparative Indian Literature follows its own pattern and method emerges from the growth and development of the history of different literatures in India. So, Indian comparatists anchor their enquiry from comparative literature to comparative Indian literature. Adaptation study, intersemiotic study and intermedial study of literature is perfectly found in the study of drama, and so drama is an interesting field of examining comparative literature. Comparative drama studies helps comparatist to understand the relation of literature with other arts and other mediums with the possible political and historical significance of adaptation and representation of a text.




This module talks about the definition of comparative literature and very brief and general understanding of the discipline. Comparative literature reads literature with the reference of literature and other arts and other disciplines across the time, space and culture. It reads the pattern of literature in different culture and how literary texts of different cultures can be read in connection. For this methodological inclusive study of literature comparative literature does study of influence, analogy, reception, adaptation and intermediality. This module also describes India’s very significant and specific claim on comparative literature and also describes the Indian school of thought on comparative literature stating brief history of the discipline in India along with naming the Indian comparatists. This module gradually talks about interdisciplinary nature of the discipline and briefly describes comparatist’s approach towards literature and others arts. It also shows how this approach is intrinsically required in the study of literature, especially in India. This approach also gives impression that this way comparative literature tries to find inclusive and adequate reading of literature and literary context. At the end of discussion this module finds the significance of drama as a literary genre and how it can be fitted in the comparative framework. It also shows how Indian tradition conceives literature and performance together in its practice of culture among different communities. Not only the methodology of studying literature and other art in comparison, this module also describes the possible approaches towards drama to have comparative study.

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