Independent Study on Folk Theatre by Ishita Ahlawat and Mansi Panwar



Another  folk  form  of  Gujarat.  The  term  Madalya  is  derived  from  Madal,  a large tribal percussion instrument, similar to dhol. Madalya plays central role in the play. This form is thus named after it.

The body language, gestures as well as movements of the body are self- expressive. The imaginative use of makeup is really impressive.


The Dangi is a small district located in southern Gujarat. It shares more than 50% of the border with Maharashtra and this has influenced its culture and language  a lot.  Dangi  is a tiny forest  area.  However from 1818  onwards, it came under the British. The British had realised importance of its rich forests of teak and bamboo and wanted to exploit these. Until this arrival the dangs were divided under four rulers of the tribe of Bhils, the original inhabitants of this area.

In order to own the forests, British struck a deal with these kings. They were given a meagre ‘privy purses’ in exchange for the ownership of the forests. The property rights of the forests were transferred to the Indian Government after Independence.

The transfer of forests did not affect Dangi’s much at first. But later on the restrictions imposed by the British authorities and subsequently by the Indian Government too, brought it home to them that they no longer had any rights on the forest produce. This irritated the Dangis. These tribes indulged in their traditional habits of cutting the trees etc. This seemed to flout the ‘rights’ and ‘laws’ of authorities, who then beat them, punished them and even jailed them at times. They were doing what they had been doing for centuries. But that was   no   longer   legal   and   so   the   chastisements.   This   disrupted   their understanding and they could not reconcile to the new phase of life. This led to irritation and resentment against these restrictions, for these affected their sources  of  income  adversely  too.  It  was  the  forest  department  which  was earning profit from the forest produce instead of them, and they turned into mere labours for the forest department.

The Bhils felt displaced and alienated in their own land. Their anger and frustration, resentment and protestations found expression in Theater. The Madalya form proved a proper medium for airing their helplessness and resentment against the new set-up. It has an innate strength of expressions and  can  communicate  their  innermost  feelings,  thoughts using  humour  and laughter to bring the message to fore.

This form has the capacity to advocate the social changes needed in their own society by exposing its evil practices. Several skits reveal the major characteristics of the socioeconomic life of the Dangis as it used to be and how it was jeopardized.   Madalya form of Theater acted as a ‘safety value’ to let off their   steam   of   frustration   and   resentment   which   otherwise   could   have resulted in open rebellion.


Madalya  is  a  night  long  affair.  It  is  performed  from  late  evening  to  nearly early  morning. The audience surrounds the  performing area  and the actors face in all the directions. In an open plot, the vesh is performed with lightning provided by the petromax lamps or torches or electricity if available.

A Madalya team belongs to a village and is named after that village. The performers are usually numbered between 14 and 20 with 4-6 Madal players, 2-3  Gamars  (lead  singers),  5-7  Chorus  singers,  1-2  Sohangis  one  Rambha Patra (female character) and one Sutradhar or Patil. Four to six huge Madal drums are used simultaneously in Madalya. The performance is inaugrated by the Madal players, The singers stand in either a straight line or in a semi-circle. They open the performance by Naman Geet, a kind  of  prayer to  Ramdev,  Mahadev,  Krishna’s  Dwarka,  Unaidevi,  Pandavas etc.  The Madal  drum players give the beats  and  also dance  in rhythm in a linear or circular movement. The movement patterns are of seven types and these are selected according to the skit. Madal has to be played in a particular taal. There are three basic taals Thirsya, Dobing and Madal. The Thirsya taal is used at the times of marriages and is similar to Dadra Taal of Indian music. Dobing taal is used when the Madalis are playing the drum and dancing. The Madal Taal is most frequently used like when the performance begins.

The lead singer or singers (Ganar) sing the songs and the chorus repeat the lines together, The song gives a brief idea of what is to follow in the next phase of performance or another skit that would be coming up.

One can recognize this Theater form not only by the madal drum but also some typical  arrangements  of  characters in  them.  The  common  characters  are Sohangi  (Vidushak  or  the  fool),  Gandey  Natwa  (  Sutradhar  or  Patil) and Rambha Patra (female character) played by men only.


It is interesting to note the costumes and makeup in this character, as they are prominent by their simplicity and sometimes totally without any special provision. Sohangai wears only a loincloth, the usual dress of Dangi. Others may wear pants and shirts. Patil wears a shirt and dhoti along with a cap to show his power. The Rambha Patra wears a saree and blouse, sometimes jewellery too and always covers his head with the loose end of the saree.

Make-up is also minimal  and  used  only  to heighten expressions . the usual theatrical make-up is not used at all. Some sohangis paint their chest and face with soot and lamp black. A beard made of string of jute is used to indicate old man, old woman. Dark glasses, tiger masks, artificial moustaches are used to and when needed in a skit.

Kudkas is an instrument to indicate the power of the Patil who uses to hit the Sohangi for his pranks throughout the vesh. Other props are adapted from whatever material is at the hand. Even human bodies are made use of. For example, they substitute logs by rolling human bodies or men arrange themselves in such a fashion that we can see a stone wall made of them.

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