Saturday, March 20, 2010


Jatra is a popular form of folk theatre from the Eastern region of India, mainly Bengal. It is the enactment of a play with a cast and comprises music, dance, acting, singing and dramatic conflict. Earlier, religious values were communicated to the masses through the powerful medium of Jatra.
The origins of Bengali Jatra are quite hazy and the historians and literary critics have widely divergent views. Nevertheless, it is to be mentioning that the word Jatra can be traced in the Natyashashtra, the bible on the arts and science of dance. It was also attributed that there are dramatic presentation in Bengal to Jaydeva's “Geet Govinda”. And it can be said that Jatra is a mix of various popular and classical art forms.
In Bengal, there was a form of singing called the Carya(Charya), which was popular between the 9th and the 12th centuries. The commentaries on the Amarakosa mention its existence and some fragments from these are quoted in copperplate grants. The languages of these songs are considered to be a creation of sections of people who were followers of Mahayana Budhhism. There are also references to a Buddha Natak. While no definite deductions can be made from this evidence, it is clear that this was a kind of musical drama, which was possibly prevalent during that time. During the same period, the Carya Padas were popular in Orissa.
SriChaitanyaDev (social reformer) and his followers contributed to a reawakening and were responsible for bringing about a national integration in many parts of India at the cultural level at a time when all Indian regions were affected by political and economic devastation. They were the Creators, the directors of Drama and self-consciously used the vehicle of drama for religio-social purpose. History owes them the first definite presentation of theatrical spectacle where Chaitanya himself played Rukmini. This then was perhaps the beginning of the ‘Krisn jatra.’ So he is, undoubtedly, the predecessor of the contemporary Jatras of Bengal.
Today, the style of writing plays for Jatras has undergone changes. Jatra plays are now, no longer limited to the mythological, historical or fantastical subjects. They include social themes to suit modern taste. Jatra is performed on a simple stage with the spectators surrounding it on all sides. The chorus and the musicians take their position off stage. There are no stage properties except a single seat meant to serve various functions - a throne, a bed or a way-side bench. Onstage, the actors move in a very theatrical manner. They deliver their speeches in high-sounding words and have to be loud enough to catch the attention of the spectators seated on all sides. Consequently, they espouse an exaggerated style and are heavily made up. Their costumes dazzle, their swords blaze and their words boom to the accompaniment of the crashing cymbals. Sometimes the actors depict subtle emotional moods like love, sorrow, pathos, but the element of exaggeration is always present, as they have to project themselves as larger than life figures.
As in the case of other theatre forms, the main Jatra performance is preceded by some preliminaries. Here they constitute the singing of a melody and the playing of several instruments. Many Ragas including Syama Kalyana, Bihag, and Puravi etc. are used. Singing of the same melodic line follows the playing of the instruments. Soon after the conclusion of the musical overture, a group of dancers rush in from the gangway and begin a dance. Often, the group dance is followed by a solo dance.
In the last four or five decades the advancement hindi cinema in the rural Bengal has a influence over the transformation Jatra. These need to be much more flashy with colourful dresses, coloured lights, revolving sets etc. and in the mean time various popular personalities of the film fraternity of Bengal and Mumbal are joining to experience the pulse of jatra. this trend has also an effect on it.
The Jatra forms are an important branch of the parent tree of Indian literatures, languages and theatre forms. Its survival appears to have thrown seeds, which have given modern Bengali theatre a new direction.
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