Krsna and Arjuna - Berhampur Jatra
[ Photo courtesy Maharanaganesh @ Blogspot ]

Sep 29, 2013 — CANADA (SUN) — A serial presentation on Jatra performance art.

Jatra (literally 'going' or 'journey') is a form of folk drama combining acting, songs, music and dance, characterised by stylised delivery and exaggerated gestures and orations. Jatra is believed to have developed from ceremonial functions held before starting on a journey. Other explanations are that it developed from processions brought out in honour of different deities, such as Lord Jagannath's Ratha Yatra. Jatra can be traced back to at least the 16th Century, when Lord Chaitanya Mahaprabhu performed the role of Rukmini in a Jatra, as described by Vrindavan Das in Chaitanya-bhagavat (1548 A.D.) Scholars such as Kapila Vatsayan believe this to be the birth of Krishna Jatra, which grew as Vaisnavism spread throughout Bengal.

As described by Banglapedia, 'Krishna Jatra included song and dance, improvised prose dialogue and comic episodes. There were no actresses, and female roles were played by male actors, who were supported by musical and choral accompaniment. The jatra performance was held in open space, on level ground, with the audience seated round the stage. There was no raised platform or curtain. There were occasional exchanges between spectators and performers.

Unlike western drama, there was no dramatic conflict in Krishn Jatra, which was confined to only one of the nine classical rasas, the shrngar. Unlike Mangalkavya, Krishna Jatra stressed the individual's relationship with Krishna, which produces different manifestations of love.

Dhanu Yatra: Kansa in a scene from Krishna and Balaram's visit to Mathura

Krishna Jatra emerged as one of the leading performance genres in the 17th Century. Chandra Shekhar Das, a disciple of Advaita Acharya, is known to have composed a few play-texts of Krishna Jatra, the first of which is titled Harivilas. The deification and immense popularity of Sri Chaitanya led to the emergence of a variant of Krishna Jatra known as Chaitanya Jatra, in which Chaitanya appeared as the leading character.

By the 18th century, a number of other forms of Jatra had developed: Shakti Jatra, Nath Jatra and Pala Jatra. Krishna Jatra and Chaitanya Jatra, however, continued to dominate. Perhaps the most important developments in Jatra during the 18th Century were the introduction of comic characters such as Narada and Vyasa, and the gradual secularisation of the form. This change is evident in Vidyasundar Jatra, skillfully adapted from Annada Mangalkavya by Bharatchandra. It is possible that the period also saw the growth of itinerant Jatra troupes.

Posters advertising Jatra performances in Kolkata

Jatra performances were held in temple yards, public festival sites and courtyards. From the account by Vrindavan Das, early performances in the 16th Century were given on level ground. The rising popularity of Jatra in the 18th Century led to improvise raised stages of bamboo poles and planks or wooden platforms. Spectators continued to sit round the stage. Some scholars believe that in the absence of adequate lighting facilities these performances were held during the day. Music and songs continued to dominate. Musical instruments included the dholak, mandira, karatals and khol. The adhikari (manager-narrator) played the role of narrator, explaining and commenting on the songs and linking the scenes, often extempore.


Syed Jamil Ahmed, 'Drama and Theatre', History of Bangladesh 1704-1971: Social and Cultural History, Sirajul Islam ed, Asiatic Society of Bangladesh, Dhaka, 1997


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