The tradition of folk theatre in Haryana is very old. Plays, to begin with were staged in the open with audience sitting around. A combination of music, dance, poetry and speech was called Natya.
Folk theatre is divided into two categories
(1) Temple based religious theatre with Indian Epics and Puranas being the source material for characters.
(2) Community-based secular theatre, of minor forms and lighter variety.
In reality several themes are mixed together - mythological love, popular history and religious themes, all with overtones of secular values.
Haryana Swang follows in the old tradition, being the most popular variety of performance based on the 'open stage' technique. It is an all male cultural troupe of twenty to thirty artistes, including the director, producer musicians and actors. The female roles are also played by males, but female troupes are not altogether unknown. Towards the end of the nineteenth century and beginning of the present, all women Swang troupes performed in western Uttar Pradesh and the adjoining 'Khadar 'area of Haryana.
The origin of Swang is traced to one Kishan Lala Bhat, who laid the foundation of the present style of folk theatre. In Haryana the most celebrated name is that of Dip Chand Bahman of village Shiri Khunda in Sonepat. He was popularly known as Shaskespeare or Kalidas of Haryana.
The stage of Swang does not require the elaborate arrangements of the modern dramatic performances. There are no curtains or a green-room for make-up. There is only a wooden plat form about three and a half metres long and of the same breadth. The rest is all a display of skill and stamina of the artistes who perform as long as six hours. They do not use loudspeakers.
An hour before the show, the musicians of the orchestra begin to create the proper atmosphere. The artistes sing some religious or other songs connected with the play. Then the Guru appears ands the artists touch the feet to evoke his blessings. The play opens with a song bhait in praise of the Goddess of knowledge (Bhawani).
With a brief introduction about the play, the performance starts. The Haryan Swang has enriched it self by borrowing and adopting a variety of themes, it embraces romances like Sorath, Nihalde, Padmawat, Nautanki etc. There are historical and semi-historical themes based on Epics, such as Raja Rissalu, Kichak Badh, Draupadi Chirharan, Amar Sing Rathor, Sarwar Neer, Jaswant Singh etc. Themes of old literature, such as Gopi Chand Bhartari Hari, Harischander, Raja Bhoj etc are also adopted. Mythological themes like Prahlad Bhagat and Punjabi romances like Pooran Bhagat, Heer Ranjha etc have become a part of the vast and varied themes on which the Haryanvi rural theatre operates.