A form of regional theatre performed primarily in the states of Odisha and West Bengal, also known as gananatya in Odisha. The origins of jatra as a theatrical form is linked to the advent of Gaudiya Vaishnavism in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, but the modern form of Odia Jatra evolved only in the late nineteenth century.
Similar to traditional Bengali jatra, Odia jatra is also performed in an open ground. The acting is accompanied by dramatic dialogue and music. Instruments such as the cornet, clarinet, and kettledrum provide musical accompaniment to the action on stage. Odia folk music forms such as Pala and Daskathia Pala are incorporated as sung dialogue. Odia Jatra frequently includes themes from epics and Puranic literature, such as Sita Haran (the Abduction of Sita), Duryodhana Urubhanga (the Breaking of Duryodhana’s Thighs), Parijat Haran, Rukmini Parinaya, Babu-Babuni, Rasa Lila and Subhadra Milan. Narratives from the Gita-Govinda of Jayadeva, an important text of the twelfth century, are also frequently depicted.
The modern form of Odia jatra is believed to have developed from musical and dance traditions in Odisha, such as the suang (a musical folk drama) and lila. The burgeoning secular theatre of early nineteenth century Bengal played an important role in this process: following the British annexation of Odisha in 1803, Bengali administrators arrived in the area and began to popularize festivals such as the Durga Pujo, accompanied by Jatra troupes from Bengal. As Bengali Jatra grew in popularity, local troupes that primarily performed suang adapted performative elements from it, while retaining the musical focus of suang.
The earliest known Odia jatra troupes were assembled in the late nineteenth century in the district of Balasore. Odia jatra performances then began to be organised at Barabati Sahi, Manikhamb and Makalepur, eventually gaining popularity and competing with visiting Bengali Jatra troupes. Jatra troupes were also organised and patronised by Odia zamindars (local landlords) in Cuttack. Unlike Bengali jatra troupes which travelled in search of work, most of these early Odia Jatra troupes performed locally under the aegis of their primary patron, or when another zamindar invited them to perform during festive occasions.
Playwrights such as Jagu Ojha, Gopal Das, Jagannath Pani, Balkrishna Mohanty and Govind Chandra Sur Deo, many from suang backgrounds, popularised Odia jatra through the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Baishnab Pani developed Gitabhinay plays, which combined the musical compositions of suanga with blank verses along the lines of Bengali Jatra, adding elements of humour and rustic language. This further popularised Odia jatra amongst rural audiences. However, popular Odia jatra was looked down upon by urban middle- and upper-caste and class audiences, both Bengali and Odia.
By the 1950s and 1960s, the abolition of the zamindari system resulted in a loss of patronage and support for Odia jatra troupes. This period also saw women begin to perform: all roles had hitherto been performed exclusively by men. Private organisations and institutions gradually began to organise annual jatra festivals in an effort to popularise the form, and the state government of Odisha began to grant pensions to veteran performers in the late 1980s. The Sangeet Natak Akademi also began to organize competitive Jatra festivals. Around this time, Odia jatra themes and performances incorporated influences fromOdia and Hindi cinema. All these factors contributed to jatra regaining prominence; it remains a popular form of entertainment amongst rural audiences in Odisha today.
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