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Shadow Play History – Chaya Nataka In Hinduism

 Shadow Play is known as Chaya Nataka in Hinduism. As per history, there are references to shadow play as early as the 12th century CE in ancient India.

Nilakantha (17th century CE), while commenting of ‘rupopajivanam’ in the Mahabharata (XII.CCXCV.5) remarks that ‘rupopajivanam’ is called jalamandapika among the people of South India, where, these plays portrayed the action of kings, ministers etc. with the help of shadows of leathern figures on a piece of cloth. Therefore, this type of picture-show seems to have existed in South India.

Dharmabhyudaya of Meghaprabhaharya (date unknown), calls itself a chayanatya prabanda in the prologue. Also, there is a definite state direction in this play, “to place” a puppet in the garb of an ascetic, “inside the curtain.”

‘Dutangada’ of Subhata, styled Chayanataka, is the oldest which can be dated assuredly. The play was enacted in the reign of the Chalukya king Tribhuvanapaladeva (1243 CE) during a festival held in commemoration of the restoration of Somnath Temple by King Kumarapaladeva (1147-72 AD). It describes the emissary of Angada to the court of Ravana to demand release of Sita and on failure of the negotiation, war ensues.

The three chaya natakas – Subhadraparinaya, Ramabhyudaya and Pandavabhyudaya – were written by Vyasa of Sri Ramadeva around 1402-15 CE under the patronage of Kalacuri kings of Rayapur.

Subhadraparinaya, dealing with the marriage of Subhadra and Arjuna, was produced under Brahmadeva or Haribrahmadeva; Ramabhyudaya, dealing with the conquest of lanka, the fire-ordeal of Sita and the return to Ayodhya, was produced under Maharana Meru; and Pandavabhyudaya, which describes Draupadi’s birth and marriage into two acts, was produced under Rana Malladeva.

Vitthala's chaya nataka is based on the history of the Adil Shahi dynasty of Bijapur (1489 – 1660 CE). Savitricharita of Shankaralala calls itself a chaya nataka. Another chaya nataka, Hariduta, deals with the story of Sri Krishna’s mission sent to Duryodhana before war.