Clowns played an important role in the religions lives of Asian societies. In India,Sanskrit Dramas based on the epic stories "Magabharata" and "Ramayan" began about 100 A.D. Most of the dialogue was in the Sanskrit language spoken only by gods, kings, ministers, generals, and sages. Viduska, a clown who was the heros servant and confidant, spoke Prakrit, the language of the general population. The interpreted the action for the audience.
When the kingdom of Pagan, in Burma, was destroyed by a Civil War in 1257 A.D., the scholars and writers fled into the countryside, and inspired the country folk to hold pageants representing the life of Buddha. The roles of the royal attendants were transformed into clown characters called Lu-byet (frivolous men).
The clowns of Native American cultures also played a religious role. In some tribes, a religious ceremony can`t begin until the clowns have made everybody laugh because they believe laughter lowers their defenses making them more open to learning. The actions of some of the clowns would be considered obscene by the WASP culture, but they were part of the clowns function for insuring fertility for the tribes crops and women.
In one ceremony, men of the tribe impersonate animals while wearing robes. Children hide inside the robes. Clowns grab the children, and try to run away with them. Other members of the tribe chase after the clown and try to rescue the children. The clowns let some of the children be rescued, but escape with others. The children represent the spirits of the animals the tribe will be hunting during the year. The ones the clowns escape with, represent those animals that will give up their lives so the tribe can live. The children who are rescued represent the animals that will get away to insure that the species will live to provide food in future years.
The Native American clowns frequently had a teaching function. They taught children the proper way to perform the tribes ceremonies. They also taught people to follow the tribes social rules by satirizing the people who broke them.
In the folk perception of southern India a king was hardly considered a king without his jester, and the continuing appeal of the court jester in India, in stories and comic books, is perhaps equaled only in Europe. He may have disappeared from the courts and corridors of power, but he still has a powerful hold on the collective imagination. Yet he is no rebel or revolutionary. His detached stance allows him to take the side of the victim in order to curb the excesses of the system without ever trying to overthrow it-his purpose is not to replace one system with another, but to free us from the fetters of all systems:
In Europe and India the most eminent jesters were household names, as top-class comedians are today, and stories about their jokes and tricks circulated freely, as they still do in India-there is even a kind of lentil soup named after Birbal. The star jesters of China may also have enjoyed this celebrity status, as Ban Gu`s biography of Dongfang Shuo suggests:
In India the same entrance requirements prevailed: make me laugh and you`re in. Tenali Rama, one of the three superstar jesters of India, is said to have earned his position as jester by making King Krsnadevaraya laugh. According to one story, he contrived for the king`s guru to carry him around on his shoulders within sight of the king. Outraged at the humiliation of his holy man, the king sent some guards out to beat the man riding on the guru`s shoulders. Tenali Rama, smelling impending danger, jumped down and begged forgiveness of the guru, insisting that to make amends he should carry him on his own shoulders. The guru agreed, and when the guards arrived the guru was duly beaten. The king found the trick amusing enough to appoint Tenali Rama his jester.