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Sangeet Natak in Marathi language literally means Musical Drama. As the name suggests, this form of drama combines prose as well as poetry in form of songs to convey the story. In a manner, they are very much similar to Musicals. Sangeet Natakas played a vital role in the development of Marathi theater and thus the Marathi cinema as well as Indian film industry. Sangeet Natak start with praise of Lord Natraja which is called as Naandi (नांदी) or Mangalaacharan (मंगलाचरण) or Suchakpad (सूचकपद) usually the famous one "Panchatunda Nararundamaldhar" from Sangeet Shakuntal. They are popular for use of Indian classical music.
The Sangeet Natak's originated in sangli by Vishnudas Bhave. The Marathi theater dates back to 1840s. The first public performance on Marathi stage was of the play Seeta Swayamvar (सीता स्वयंवर) by Vishnudas Bhave in 1843. But the integration of music in the dramas took place quite late in 1879 when play writer and producer Trilokekar presented his musical play Nal-Damayanti (नल-दमयंती). It was the first musical play on Marathi stage.
But only when Balwant Pandurang Kirloskar (popularly known as Annasaheb Kirloskar) staged his first musical play Shaakuntal on October 31, 1880 in Pune did the trend of Sangeet Natak really start. Kirloskar included 209 musical pieces in his Shaakuntal of 7 acts. They consisted of a mix of Hindustani and Carnatic classical music, and lighter music.
The new trend of Sangeet Natakas caught up with the popularity quite quickly. With British Raj then existing in India, Sangeet Natakas were compared with the Operas and thus local Marathi Indians found synonymous recreation. In the blooming times, Sangeet Natakas were mainly based on mythological stories of Mahabharata or Ramayana which would hence easily connect with the masses. They did not cover the complete epics but were limited to only small stories in them.
With popularity & success, experimentation started on stage with abandoning mythological themes and bringing social issues to audiences. Sangeet Sharada, for example, by portraying the feelings of a teenage girl to be married to a widower in his late seventies, brought out a social message. Few dramas, like Kichak Vadh, even agitated the British rulers to the extent that they were banned. Kichak Vadh compared the Britishers with Kichak, an evil character from Mahabharata who tried to dishonour Draupadi. Draupadi was then synonymous with the oppressed common Indian masses.
As the Sangeet Natakas mainly used Indian classical singing forms in them, not many artists could perform well to hold the attention of the audiences. Trials of bringing light music can be seen through plays like Moruchi Mavshi.
- Annasaheb Kirloskar who founded the Sangeet Natakas also offered other famous plays like Sangeet Saubhadra and Ramrajyaviyog.
Bal Gandharva's Gandharva Natak Mandali; Vasudeorao Dongre's Dongre Mandali; Pandoba Gurav Yavateshwarkar's Waikar Sangeet Mandali; Janubhau Nimkar and Keshavrao Bhosale's Swadesh-Hita-Chintak Mandali, which evolved into Lalit-Kaladarsha Mandali; and Master Dinanath's Balwant Natak Mandali were the other main performing companies which were formed in Maharashtra.
- Jaymala Shiledar (1926-2013) - Jaymala, her husband Jayaram and daughters Kirti and Lata kept Sangeet natak alive during the lean period of 1960s to 1990s. She was a protege of Bal Gandharva.
List of famous Sangeet Nataks
To attract the audiences, many of the Sangeet Nataks used to prefix the word Sangeet before their actual name.
- Sita Swayamvar
- Sangeet Saubhadra
- Sangeet Maanaapmaan
- Kichak Vadh
- Mruchhakatik (1889)
- Sangeet Sanshaykallol
- Katyar Kaljat Ghusli (1967)
- Shapsambhram (1893)
- Sangeet Sharada (1899)
- Sangeet Swayamvar (1916)
- Ghashiram Kotwal
- He Bandha Reshmache
- Moruchi Mavshi
- Geeta Gati Dnyaneshwar
- Sangeet Vidyaharan
- Ekach Pyaala
- Madanachi Manjiri
- Punya Prabhav
- Marathi book by Govindrao Tembe "माझा संगीत व्यासंग" (My Study of Music); published 1939