Types of Plays

Book twenty of the Natyashastra makes distinctions between ten kinds of plays.  The ten categories account for long, multi-act plays and very short one-act plays and everything in-between.  The list of ten types of plays is as follows:

  1. Nataka
  2. Prakarana
  3. Samavakara
  4. Ihamrga
  5. Dima
  6. Vyayoga
  7. Anka
  8. Prahasana
  9. Bhana
  10. Vithi

The Natyashastra distinguishes these categories from each other on the basis of the number of acts in each.  An “act” (anka) is generally understood as a cohesive dramatization of events that occur within the course of a day.  However, the Natyashastra does not demand that these events run contiguously.  Therefore, an act might include episodes from the morning, mid-afternoon, and late evening.  Furthermore, these acts

The two principal genres of Sanskrit drama both include five to ten acts.  The Nataka corresponds most closely with what Aristotle called Tragedy, although there are some distinct differences.  As in Tragedy, the characters of Natakas are divine—gods and demons—and royalty, and stories are not invented but taken from “history” (which, in this case, would include stories that are found in the Mahabharata and the Ramayana).  Natakas concern stories of cosmic import, reiterating the divine roles of kings and sages of myth.

On the other hand, Natakas do not end badly.  Where the Tragic hero falls, the hero of a Nataka triumphs.  Sanskrit plays, in general, including Natakas, affirm a celestial order that sustains a temporal order that serves the cosmic good.  The royal heroes of the plays exist as a function of cosmic order, and, consequently, survive and thrive in conjunction with the cosmos.  Kalidasa’s Shakuntala is the best known example of Nataka.

Prakarana, the other principal category that includes five to ten acts, roughly corresponds with Aristotelian comedy.  Prakarana plays concern middle-class characters who are invented by the playwright.  The stories take place outside of palaces and royal circles, in the lanes and houses of town, and are concerned with middle-class interests in money, love, legal justice, and bourgeois honor.  With plots hanging on the complications of mistaken identities, petty revenge, theft, and political intrigue, Prakarana plays also end happily.  At least, like Natakas, Prakaranas affirm the identities of their middle-class heroes, and their place in a permanent cosmic order.  Shudraka’s Mrcchakatika (Little Clay Cart) is the best known example of Prakarana.

The remaining categories are shorter and more narrowly focused.  The Samavakara and Ihamrga, for instance, use fewer than five acts, and exclusively concern divine characters.  Furthermore, Ihamrga plays only concern war over a woman.

The Vyayoga and Anka plays are one-acts, concerned only with the events of a single day.  The Anka is to revolve around sorrow, and is expected to involve, especially, the lamentation of female characters.  Bhasa’s Urubhangam may be an example of Anka.