Karyala, a folk theatre of Himachal Pradesh, which is performed without script and director and is the true reflection of cultural riches, is slowly slipping into the past.

Popular in Solan, Shimla and Sirmour districts all through the times, karyala is an impromptu theatre form. It does not need any stage and it is mostly performed around Deepawali. It is also organised by a person for the deity on the fulfilment of his wish or mannat. Artists who perform karyala are known as Karyalchies. They carry their musical instruments like flutes, drums, harmonium, ransinga, etc., with them.

This theatre is a fusion of music, dance, drama and versification. Makeup of the karyalchies is very simple. They sport beards and wigs made from jute or other things which are easily available. It is only performed by males. The basic purpose of karyala is to provide entertainment as well as to inform people about things that happen around. It is enjoyed by all age groups. It establishes direct rapport with the audience because it is performed in their local language.

This folk theatre is performed through the night. In his book ‘Karyala folk theatre of Himachal Pradesh’, SSS Thakur explains the origin of the word karyala relating to the local flower known as karyal i.e. kachnaar, the famous blossom. It may also derive its prigins from another pahari word karail which means an undertaking, a vow, request to the deity for the fulfilment of a certain wish.

The audience sits outside the arena or ghyana. Before starting the performances the artistes worship God Bijju, known as Bijeshwer or Deo Bijju. The first item of karyal is the dance of Chandravali. Some people say that she is one of the gopis of Krishna, some say she is Goddess Parvati and some say she symbolises Laxmi.

Deep Ram Sharma (56), an employee of a bank, who has performed karyala for 42 years, said, “My maternal grandfather (Nanaji) and uncle (mamaji) were also karyala artists. It is not like routine theatre or movies where readymade dialogues are provided to artists. It gives informative messages to audience and provides healthy entertainment. It is our cultural heritage and we are trying to keep it alive through our performances”.

Hira Singh (42) from Bhrari, Shimla has also been a karyala artist for 15 years, He said it is a group effort and artists can play any role as they never rehearse.

Karyala is an effective tool to communicate with rural masses in the simplest and attractive way. It doesn’t need large amounts of money and is not time-consuming. Most of the content is devoted to entertainment.

However, the art form is gradually vanishing with not many youth, even in rural areas, showing any interest in its preservation. Cultural experts find that in the digital age of communication, folk theatre should be protected for it is a treasure of the Himachali tradition.