Jatra

Jatra (Bengali: যাত্রা, origin: Yatra meaning procession or journey in Sanskrit) is a popular folk-theatre form of Bengali theatre, spread throughout most of Bengali speaking areas of the Indian subcontinent, including Bangladesh and Indian states of West Bengal, Bihar, Assam, Orissa and Tripura As of 2005, there were some 55 troupes based in Calcutta’s old jatra district, Chitpur Road, and all together, jatra is a $21m-a-year industry, performed on nearly 4,000 stages in West Bengal alone, where in 2001, over 300 companies employed over 20,000 people, more than the local film industry and urban theatre. The word `jatra’ means journey or going. The origin of jatra intrinsically a musical theatre form, is traditionally credited to the rise Sri Chaitanya’s Bhakti movement, wherein Chaitanya himself played Rukmini in the performance of Rukmini Haran (“The abduction of the Charming Rukmini”) from Krishna’s life story, a first definite presentation of this theatrical spectacle. The performance, which lasted through the night in 1507 AD., has been described in Chaitanya Bhagavata, Chaitanya’s hagiography by a disciple Vrindavana Dasa Thakura. Though there are evidences of existence of a form of singing called the ‘Carya’, which was popular between the 9th and the 12th centuries in Bengal, which existed in Orissa simultaneously as the popular ‘Carya Padas’ form. Jatra performances resemble, the Nautanki of Uttar Pradesh, the Tamasha of Maharashtra and Bhavai of Gujarat. Though its birthplace lies in the religious landscape, replete with various Bhakti cults of Hinduism, by the end of the 19th century it was replaced by morally didactic content, and eventually became secular, when it gained entry into urban proscenium theatres during Bengal Renaissance. The survival of the form over such a vast period of rapidly changing social milieu, while catering to a heterogeneous audience, has been credited to its innate malleability and ways of adapting to changing social dynamics, and thus staying not just relevant and alive, but also thriving, unlike urban theatre which at some point gets plagued by its own puritanical intellectualism, disconnects with the current, and thus remains perpetually in dearth of mass audience.