Religion in Asian Theatre

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  • Topic: Bunraku, Noh, Kabuki
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Religion in Asian Theatre

From 350-1350 c.e. theatre began to die off in the western countries due to Christianity and the fall of Rome. At about this time, the performing arts began to emerge on the Eastern hemisphere. The creators of Asian theatre new nothing of the theatre in Rome or Greece so there was no influence during the fabrication of this new form of theatre. Eastern theatre is much more stylized in that they believe in “total theatre,” which is using every element of theatre be it music, dance, text, etc. Asian theatre relies heavily on movement and also emphasizes the power of symbolism combined with their religious influences to tell compelling stories (Wilson, and Goldfarb 85-110). This is what separated the East from the West. India was the first Eastern country to introduce theatre to its public. In 2000 b.c.e. Sanskrit works were found written by the Aryans. This is the base of India’s literary traditions and where their storytelling begins. In around 400 b.c.e. Buddhism reached its peak and because of Gautama Buddha’s teaching of keeping the body and mind pure, theatre was not seen fit as entertainment. During the “Indian Golden Age” of c. 320 c.e., however, Hinduism flourished and it greatly influenced the Sanskrit dramas that were being performed at this time. The goal of obtaining oneness with the gods and the concept of Brahman was the center theme of most Sanskrit dramas. The two most famous Sanskrit dramas are the Mahabharata, which is the longest epic poem in the world, and the Ramayana. Today, only about fifty Sanskrit plays remain and are still being performed in various court circles (Wilson, and Goldfarb 85-110). After the “Indian Golden Age” came a more structured form of Indian theatre. Bharata Muni wrote a book sometime between 200 b.c.e. and 100 c.e. entitled Natyasastra which loosely translates to “The Study of Theatre” or “The Art of Theatre.” This book is often compared to the Roman/ Green De Architectura in that is describes the fundamentals of Asian theatre as well as the mythological origin of the theatre. In the Natyasastra contains the concept of the Rasa. The Rasa are strong emotional feelings that let the spectator relate to the dramatic situation. There are eight Rasas that align with eight human emotions (Wilson, and Goldfarb 85-110). Each Rasa is also associated with a deity that presides over is. The first is erotic which is presided over by the god Vishnu, second there is comedy that is associated with Pramata, then there is fury with Rudra, compassion and Yama, disgust is managed by Shiva, horror with Kala, Heroic and Indra, and finally the feeling of wonder is presided by Brahman (“Wikipedia”). These Rasas provide guidelines for the actors to follow as they attempt to connect with their audience. They are all related to a series of metaphysical guidelines, and by using them it is said that “[t]heater can thus serve as a means toward enlightenment; art becomes a way to move toward metaphysics and the divine” (Wilson, and Goldfarb 85-110). Kalidasa is said to be the greatest playwright of this era. He wrote Shakuntala which is considered the most excellent classical Indian drama. Shakuntala is an epic love story between Shakuntala, her husband Dushyanta, and the dire importance of one’s actions. By the end of the 9th century Sanskrit drama had begun to fade out and completely disappeared at the end of the 12th century when the Arabs invaded India (Kalidasa). Theatre emerged in China in about 2000 b.c.e., but there is speculation that it was there much earlier than this time. During the Zhou dynasty there were three basic philosophers that influenced Chinese theatre. These philosophers were Confucious, Lao-tzu, and Mencius. Confucious believed all human beings are perfectible and that we have a complete responsibility to our “group” or family. Lao-tzu taught the purpose of the path to realization and to have patience and harmony through nature through Taoism. Mencius...
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