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Lyne Bansat-Boudon

Bengali yātrā – sensibility reflected

Le Yātrā Bengali, ou la sensibilité en miroir

Bozena Śliwińska

Résumé

Le Yātrā est une forme de théâtre traditionnel profondément enracinée dans la societe bengalie. Il a créé des conventions originates et son propre monde d’émotions, accepté et partage a la fois par les acteurs et les spectateurs. L’origine du Yātrā est sujet à discussion. Prenant en consideration un sens du mot yātrā, « une chaîne festive, une procession, un pelerinage », on peut trouver trace de ses tout premiers commencements dans le rituel. Les Kṛṣṇa yātrā dévotionnels glorifiant les hauts faits du dieu Kṛṣṇa ont gagné un public – ses devots depuis des siècles. L’époque la plus cruciale pour le Yātrā a été le xixe siècle, porteur d’importants changements, parmi d’autres : l’introduction de thèmes séculiers – une assez grande nouveaute pour le Yātrā. Puis le xxe siècle a ajoute de nouvelles facettes au monde du Yātrā. Allant de pair avec une réalité changeante, le Yātrā a etabli sa position en tant que puissant moyen de communication et de diffusion d’idees variées, bien que sa réputation soit constamment critiquée par ses opposants. Le Yātrā est souvent accusé de grossièrete et de vulgarité. Cependant, le nombre croissant de ses spectateurs parle de lui-meme. La popularite du Yātrā et la place qu’il occupe sont indiscutables. Il est évident que le Yātrā attire le monde alentour et répond aux diverses attentes de la société bengalie.

Note de l’éditeur

La forme jātrā rend compte de la prononciation, mais pas de la graphie qui demeure en bengali yātrā, ou l’on retrouve le Sanskrit, yātrā. En dehors des citations, nous adopterons done la graphie yātrā.

Texte intégral

  • 1 The first version of this article was presented at the panel Bengali Sensibility of the 14th Europe (...)

Of the execrable representations called Jātrās we dare not give here detailed description; they are wretched from the commencement to the fifth act.1 The plots are very often the amorous of Krishna, or the love of Bidya and Sundar. In the representations of the Krishna-Jātrā, boys, arrayed in the habits of Sakhis and Gopinis (milk-maids), cut the principal figure on the stage. It would require the pencil of a masterpainter to portray the killing beauty of these fairies of the Bengali stage. Their sooty complexion, their coal-black cheeks, their haggard eyes, their long-extended arms, their gaping mouths, and their puerile attire, excite disgust. Their external deformity is rivalled by their discordant voices. For the screechings of the night-owls, the howlings of the jackals and the barkings of dogs that bay the moon, are harmony itself compared with their horrid yells. Their dances are in strict accordance with the other accessories. In the evolutions of the hands and feet, dignified with the name of dancing, they imitate all postures and gestures calculated to soil the mind and pollute the fancy.
The principal actors during the interludes are a
methar, who enters the stage with a broomstick in his hand, and cracks a few stupid jests, which set the audience in a roar of laughter; and his brother Bhulua, who, completely fuddled, amuses the spectators with the false steps of his feet.
(Smith 1851: 348-349)

1The above statement, almost 150 years old, full of disgust and horror, represents quite a common attitude towards the Yātrā shared both by English and Bengali people of that time. In 1848 īśvar Candra Gupta wrote: “... these [jatras] performed in so detestable ways, that they could satisfy only the pleasure-loving people of low tastes, but could not satisfy the refined tastes of the respectable section.” (Das Gupta 1938: 135.) Some years later (1857) another eminent author, Ram Narayan Tarkaratna, observed: “Every one who has been acquainted with the incomparable beauty and wealth of English and Sanskrit Dramas, has grown disgusted with despicable Jātrās.” (Ibid.) No mercy for the Yātrā, in the past and nowadays too!

2Well, what is this mysterious monster which provoked so furious and censorious opinions? The Yātrā – the most vivid and popular theatre form of Bengal, the most common means of recreation and entertainment, the history of which has not been recorded until the late eighteenth century.

  • 2 There are many opinions concerning the origin of Yātrā. They vary to a great extent, from attributi (...)
  • 3 Yātrāwala (yātrāoyālā) – a creator of yātrā, i.e. of its text as well as its stage presentation; in (...)

3Yātrā existed in Bengal (and neighbouring States) from the very early times (ati prācīn kāl haitei) or more precisely, at least since the second century B. C. (the evidence of Patañjali’s Mahābhāṣya – a dramatic presentation of Kṛṣṇa’s struggles with Kaṇsa).2 Yātrā (yātrā) literally meaning a procession, a festive train, a pilgrimage, was obviously a part of a religious ritual. In the course of time the joyous procession interspersed with displays of musicians, singers, dancers and a kind of pageants glorifying deeds of the adored deity has begun to lead its own life transformed into an independent theatrical form. The presentation of a God’s story (pālā) by means of acting, singing and dancing has become a very important and particular way of praising deities. Śiva, Caṇḍī, Manasa and Kṛṣṇa were honoured in yātrās. Through the ages the Yātrā has fulfilled the desires of worshippers for participating in the Divine. The advent of Caitanya (15/16th cent.) gave a strong impact on Kṛṣṇa yātrās which spread an idea of bhakti, or devotion, all around. Full of sentiments and emotions, they offered their participants intensive experiences of a religious and aesthetic nature. The Kṛṣṇa yātrās gained enormous popularity and became a model form imitated by succeeding generations of yātrāwalas.3

  • 4 Among Bhakti yātrās there were also yātrās about Caitanya-Nimai recognised by his followers as Kṛṣṇ (...)
  • 5 A prose dialogue was rather poor in early yātrās, quite often improvised by actors for the sake of (...)
  • 6 The first half of the 19th century belongs to such admired yātrāwalas as Paramananda Das Adhikari, (...)
  • 7 In Bengali language you say that you go to listen to a yātrā (yātrā śunā) not to see it.

4The Kṛṣṇa yātrās described various adventures of Lord Kṛṣṇa; among many there was his dalliance with cowherdesses (gopīs), especially with his beloved Rādhā. The very well-known story of Kṛṣṇa and Rādhā’s love was a favourite theme of Kṛṣṇa yātrās, or Bhakti yatras as they were also called. It was a perfect example of the intense relation between God and his devotee (bhakta).4 The story was presented on the stage mainly through a series of songs sung by actors-singers. The songs constituted the very structure of a Kṛṣṇa yātrā spectacle. They were of different kinds: lyrical, descriptive, narrative. They acted as dialogues of the Yātrā characters.5 The yātrāwalas composed songs for the sake of their own performances, however many of their compositions became so popular that other Yātrā parties took them over and introduced them into their yātrās. Some yātrāwalas6 were much admired for their emotional and heart-warming songs. They could attract crowds of people who came even from distant areas to listen to their yātrās.7 Let us emphasise here the extremely vital and ever-present feature of the Yātrā – throngs of enthusiastic spectators for whom participating in the Yātrā is an important social event. In case of the Kṛṣṇa yātrās, it is also the event of a religious character, a very particular act of devotion.

5Since the middle of the nineteenth century the Yātrā has been a subject of severe criticism and its decline has been regularly announced up till today. Actually the nineteenth century was a very crucial moment in the history of Yātrā. The Yātrā underwent many important changes then, especially those concerning its subject-matter, from religious to secular. In previous centuries, the very popular Kṛṣṇa yātrās, with their main theme of amorous sports of Kṛṣṇa and Rādhā, started to lose ground for the benefit of yatras about Vidyā and Sundar or Nal and Damayantī. The very human love story of the first couple dominated the Yātrā stage for decades.

  • 8 It was a part of the trilogy called Annadāmaṅgal or Annapūrṇamaṅgal.
  • 9 The princess Vidyā vowed to marry a man who would defeat her in a scholarly contest. Prince Sundar (...)

6The Vidyā-Sundar story (Vidyā-Sundar kāhinī) had been familiar to the Bengalis for quite a long time before it was written down by Bharat Candra Ray in 17528 and won the public. His creation provoked enormous fascination for the love story of Vidyā and Sundar as well as started a stream of other compositions based on it. There were three main characters in the story: the princess Vidya, her beloved Sundar, and Hīrā – the florist (mālinī) acting as a go-between for the two lovers.9 Various stages of an amorous relationship described in a lyrical setting attracted lots of people. The fascination was also shared by the Yātrā world, although at the beginning by an amateur part of it.

  • 10 However, it is also said that the first Vidyā-Sundar yātrā party was formed by a rich man called Ra (...)

7In 1822 Thakur Das Mukhopadhyay, a Brahmin from Barahanagar, formed a Yātrā party to play a Vidyā-Sundar story. It seems to be the first known Vidyā-Sundar yātrā performance10 as well as an amateur yātra party organised for the sake of amusement. Its members were not professional yātrāwalas. They gathered together to prepare and stage the Vidyā-Sundar story following the pattern of a Yātrā spectacle. The new phenomenon appeared in the Yātrā world and was named Sakher yātra – a yātra for amusement or amateur one. At the beginning, the Sakher yātrā parties were created by wealthy people who wanted to entertain themselves. More and more Sakher yātrā groups began to spring up in Calcutta and its suburbs. They were in fashion, although some of them only lasted for one show. The Vidyā-Sundar story became the very favourite subject of the Sakher yātrās. It was recomposed and repeated hundreds of times by different Yātrā parties.

8Occasionally the story of Nal and Damayantī from the Mahabharata was presented too. The very famous Nal-Damayantī yātrā troupe originated in Bhavanipur (Calcutta) and its first performance took place in the house of Ganga Ram Mukhopadhyay in 1822. It operated successfully for quite some time.

  • 11 All Sakher yātrās were very secular in character, full of jokes and comic episodes, and meant for e (...)

9The Sakher yātrās gained such an enormous popularity that they outshone the Kṛṣṇa yātrās and other mythological ones. In the course of time the Sakher yātrās lost their amateur character and became fully professional; thus, the term Sakher yātra losing its meaning of “amateur” and just retained “for amusement”.11 One of the most prosperous professional Sakher yātrā groups was the troupe of Gopal Ure, who was the great exponent of the Vidyā-Sundar story. Not only was he famous in Calcutta, but he travelled with his Yātrā party all over Bengal following numerous invitations.

10Step by step the Sakher yātrās won the village public who discovered a new dimension of the Yātrā, not longer just devotional or even sacred, but mundane or simply profane. However, the spectators in the countryside did not neglect their attachment to the old Kṛṣṇa yātrās (or other deity yātrās) as those yatras still remained a very important part of their social and religious life. Nevertheless the new ones were greeted quite enthusiastically.

  • 12 Caṭṭopādhyāy (1872: 415). The following song is quoted by the author as an example. Vidyā:

11The Vidyā-Sundar yātrās convulsed the established world of the old yātrās. It was mostly due to them that the Yātrā fell into disrepute. The very mundane story and its characters, profusion of songs and dances, and jokes – all that attracted the public. The comic episodes and interludes were very much admired by spectators, who burst into laughter at every moment and demanded more. The songs were of disputable taste and value, sometimes even quite abusive and obscene. Bankim Candra Caṭṭopādhyāy, who criticised the Yātrā a lot, noticed that it could not be listened to by a father with his son and daughter together.12

  • 13 Kaśinath (Keśe Dhopa) from Gopal Ure’s Yātrā troupe introduced the khemṭā dance into the Yātrā. He (...)
  • 14 Banerjee (1989: 89). This very statement of Banerjee refers to female khemṭā dancers. Their way of (...)

12There was a lot of dancing in the Vidyā-Sundar yātrās. Almost every character had a kind of a solo dance. The introduction of a khemṭā dance into a Yātrā performance13 had a tremendous success among the audience, although it was much censured by “outsiders” to the Yātrā world, or the higher orders of society. No wonder, as it was a joyful dance full of erotic overtones, suggestive gestures and movements – swinging steps, swaying hips and flashing limbs.14 The Yātrā music changed too. New instruments and new tunes appeared. The rough and noisy sounds of mṛdaṅga and khola drums as well as kartal cymbals stayed and slowly ceased with the Kṛṣṇa yātrās; the light and soft sounds of tabla, dholaka and ghungur bells became more popular, soon a harmonium would join the orchestra.

  • 15 As far as it is known women participated in:
    – the Nandaviday
    yātrā party organised at Nabincandra B (...)

13Though it was not common practice to employ women in Yātrā troupes as all characters were traditionally played by men, we come across some scarce information about women taking part in the nineteenth-century yātrās. That practice seems to start together with the appearance of the Sakher yātrā parties which brought in female singers and dancers. The presence of women in the performance was a big novelty very appreciated by many or disapproved by others.15

  • 16 The National (later Great National) Theatre was established in Calcutta in 1872. However, different (...)
  • 17 It was written in 1875 and inspired by Euripide’s Iphigeneia in Aulis and Michael Madhusuda Datta’s (...)
  • 18 Let us mention another early Bengali playwright, Raj Krishna Ray (1855-94), who wrote for his own s (...)
  • 19 That time, in Yātrā performances proper prose dialogue portions began to appear, though songs still (...)

14The mid-nineteenth century changes in the Yātrā coincided with the appearance of modern Bengali drama on the public stage.16 Although new plays were mainly inspired by European dramas their authors did not stay indifferent to very indigenous tradition represented by the Yātrā. Those two worlds, newly appearing and old, affected each other. To a certain extent they mixed together with favourable results. One of the most successful plays of Jyotirindranath Tagore, Sarojinī,17 presented on the public stage was also rendered into many Yātrā plays and enjoyed popularity all over Bengal thanks to Yātrā groups touring around. Girish Candra Ghosh, the eminent figure in the theatrical life of that period, referred in his writing and stage production to the Yātrā. Many of his works were melodramatic and semi-devotional in character, full of lyrical songs (Rāvaṇavadha, Sītāharaṇa). They could be treated as an example of a fruitful fusion of the old and new.18 Thus Yātrā-like performances occasionally appeared on the proscenium-stage, which was something unfamiliar to the traditional Yātrā operating on the open-air stage with spectators sitting all around on the ground. For the Yātrā meeting with the proscenium theatre was an interesting experience, although not revolutionary. In the course of time some changes in the Yātrā could be observed. The Yātrā actors started to use more and more elaborate costumes (earlier unknown to the Yātrā as actors simply wore their everyday clothes). Sometimes they tried to act imitating theatrical spectacles.19 The subject-matter of yatras was enriched through employing a great deal of social and political contemporary themes.

15The fierce criticism of the mid-nineteenth century did not restrain the Yātrā from its further development, if not existence. Although accused of many crimes – vulgarity and obscenity were on the top of the list – the Yātrā survived that outburst of repugnance commenced by its own countrymen (bhadralok stratum) as well as the foreigners (Englishmen). However, it did not lose its audience, on the contrary, it gained new admirers in the course of time. The yātrās of different nature and subject-matter coexisted peacefully and newly appearing themes were successively added. Though the popularity of Kṛṣṇa and other mythological yātrās dramatically decreased by the end of the nineteenth century, it does not mean that they completely disappeared. They can still gather thousands of spectators, especially during religious festivals.

  • 20 According to the poetic theory of rasa, different feelings (bhāva) experienced very personally are (...)

16No doubt the Yātrā draws the admiration of the people, both in the country and in Calcutta, where new cultural trends originated. The Yātrā has been familiar to Bengali people for ages. It is a part of their religious and social life. The heroes and their deeds are well-known to spectators, who can watch the same story a hundred times with the utmost interest. They experience different feelings invoked during performances, from fear and agitation to wonder.20 Passionate acting provokes their vivid re-acting. Performers and spectators create a community of the initiates. Every gesture, every word, every tune on the stage finds its very response among the audience. And vice versa, the reaction of the spectators deeply influences the performers in their actions. The Yātrā peformance is a social gathering during which emotions as well as various ideas are exchanged. It is an important event the whole community looks forward to.

  • 21 Svadeśī – of one’s own native land, indigenous. The name of Svadeśi yātrās, in general, refers to t (...)

17At the turn of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries the Yātrā turned to new subjects dealing with a political situation of Bengal and India. The Svadeśī21 yātrās, whose greatest exponent was Mukunda Das, were deeply engaged in the anti-British movement. They described everlasting fights between Good and Evil, then represented by the Indians and the British, respectively. In Mukunda Das’s yātrās:

... topical political figures and situation gradually crept into the mythological framework of the jatra. The gods and goddesses became freedom fighters and patriots. The devils and villains were transformed into members of the ruling class. An actor playing a British officer, dressed in tight trousers and brandishing a tin sword, gesticulated like a demon character in traditional jatra.
(Bharucha 1983: 90-91)

  • 22 Many Svadeśī yātrās were banned and their authors imprisoned. Mukunda Das was jailed a few times fo (...)

18The Svadeśī yātrās full of patriotic spirit won the public of various social strata, both of low and higher orders. They spread the idea of independence and nationalism22 all over the country as they did it with the idea of bhakti some centuries earlier. We must be always aware of the fact that Yātrā parties can reach even the most remote places in their constant wanderings. Sometimes they are the only link with the outer distant world for villagers.

  • 23 All over Bengal there are also small amateur Yātrā companies which usually operate only in their na (...)

19The twentieth century, particularly its second half, belongs to highly organised professional Yātrā companies, most of them Calcutta based.23 Their number increases regularly (at the beginning of the 90s there were 130 top Yātrā groups). They form a very interesting socio-cultural phenomenon called “Yātrā industry”. Calcutta is a starting point for the Yātrā companies to go on an annual tour lasting from September till April/May. Their routes cover the whole country (West Bengal). A repertoire is changed almost every year. Each Yātrā group has at least two plays prepared for a season. The subject-matter of modern yātrās mainly concentrates on all problems of the contemporary Bengali society, from fighting for women’s rights, through rural disturbances, up to political events. Needless to say, there are also regular love stories described in different “social settings”. The yātrās on mythological themes are not so often played as they used to be. However, every Yātrā company tries to have one of such a nature in its repertoire as the mythological (purātan) yātrās are very much admired by peasants who still constitute a majority of the Yātrā recipients.

  • 24 In modern yātrās their number is rather small in comparison with Kṛṣṇa yātrās which mainly consiste (...)

20There are still musical and lyrical elements in the Yātrā – instrumental overture and musical background for dialogues, songs – though one cannot say about their preponderance24 – and a flamboyant, vigorous acting style the Yātrā is famous for. The emotions accompaning a performance are of the most intensive nature. The spectators react spontaneously. They easily recognise and reject false tones, insincere acting or simply the characters and situations they dislike. The audience hissing at a play is quite a big threat for any Yātrā company, because it means a heavy loss. The Yātrā audience is enormous; it is said that every third Bengali watches a Yātrā spectacle at least once a year. Taking only this fact into consideration the Yātrā should not be ignored. It is an extremely powerful medium of communication. It highly influences the public mind and transmits ideas and messages of different kinds. No wonder that contemporary yātrāwalas are tempted to present and comment every important political or social event. Their efforts are greeted with great enthusiasm (e.g. the “Lenin” yātrā by the Tarun Opera in the 70s).

  • 25 Is there anyone who could guess what the term the old good yātrā means?

21The modern Yātrā is severely criticised as its nineteenth-century ancestor. The accusations against it are similar: vulgarity, rudeness, violence, and a new one – commercialisation. The Yātrā is blamed for losing its character, imitating a regular proscenium theatre as well as film, using new techniques and stage devices. According to many it should have stayed the old good yātrā25 – no actresses (since the fifties/sixties appearing in the Yātrā), no microphones, no electric bulbs, no new instruments and tones, etc. The shortening of performances is considered the most damaging result of commercialisation. Now, the Yātrā play lasts about three hours (it used to be six to eight, even twelve, hours long). Such a short spectacle enables the Yātrā companies to give two or three shows a night.

22The attacks do not cease but the Yātrā world seems not to care about them. The increasing number of Yātrā recipients speaks for itself. No doubt all those innovations have influenced and altered the Yātrā – changes brought by time cannot be prevented. However, the Yātrā retains its very own features and its social context stays the same. It is not a museum piece and should not be treated as such. The Yātrā mantains the main source of recreation, entertainment and education. There is no rival for the Yātrā. Even the film industry cannot compete with it. The film bosses are aware of this fact and do consider the Yātrā season and the schedule of Yātrā performances before launching new films in Bengal.

  • 26 The spectators burnt a place where a yātra was held, when they realised that their admired actor –  (...)

23As the nineteenth-century yātrāwalas gathered crowds of people, so modern Yātrā artists attract the huge public. The Yātrā performers come from all strata of Bengali society and their profession is not hereditary. Everybody can join a Yātrā party, if he or she is talented enough as well as accepted by the audience who is the most competent and serious judge. The best actors and actresses are treasured by the owners of Yātrā companies and they gain enormous fame – equal, if not superior, to film stars. They have their admirers all over Bengal who do not miss a show. The spectators always look forward to watching and listening to their favourites and can get furious when they are disappointed for any reason.26

  • 27 Well, some of their opponents claim that this satisfaction is rather a result of the amount of mone (...)

24Many Yātrā companies employ famous film actors and actresses (Vasant Chowdhury, Lolita Chatterjee, Supriya Chowdhury among many others) to make their offer more attractive and gain larger audience. For the film stars playing in yātrās is a new experience and they are perfectly satisfied with it.27 Lolita Chatterjee says:

The satisfaction that one derives from interacting with a 25,000-strong crowd is immense. The response, whether good or bad, is instantaneous, which works as a strong incentive for the artiste to deliver his or her best.
(Sen & Mukherjee 1988: 23)

  • 28 In the period of fascination with the idea of communism (the 60s and 70s) the audience all over Ben (...)

25As we have noticed the Yātrā is continually being adapted to the altering reality around. Its form is attractive and flexible enough to answer any expectations and demands of the society. The Yātrā’s adaptability is amazing. It is open to novelties which are immediately transformed according to its own needs and means. The yātrāwalas carefully watch the surrounding world to react to its most urgent questions. Any theme can be presented in the Yātrā with a successful result. The modifications in a Yātrā performance are usually caused by external influences (well, sometimes it is a matter of altering fashion), however, they do not break the very structure of it. Let us mention one of the biggest innovations – introducing a prose dialogue to great extent. That has not eliminated songs which are still the vivid part of the Yātrā and always very much praised by the audience. Having a strong certain position and a huge circle of recipients the Yātrā catches attention of “outsiders” – film creators and theatre people (Utpal Dutt, Sombhu Mitra) as well as propagators of different ideas who find in the Yātrā a perfect vehicle for popularising them.28

26There is still a strong prejudice against the Yātrā and it might not be easy to overcome it. Whatever we may say about the Yātrā and its condition – criticism or praise – it is firmly rooted in the Bengali society. The Yātrā answers the needs of the altering world and reflects the state of the community it operates within – its hopes, values and sensibility. It is a dramatised picture of its audience expectations. The popularity of the Yātrā is indisputable. This fact can support an opinion that the Yātrā suits the taste as well as fulfils the deepest desires of the public. Let us finish with the words of Utpal Dutt whose theatre activity is deeply inspired by the Yātrā:

With the jatra there are certain values, certain spiritual values, human values which have to be respected, which cannot be violated, because going to the jatra in the village in Bengal is a ritual. They go to see it with their families, no matter how much the bourgeoisie are trying to commercialize it. There still remains a spiritual communion between the jatra player and the audience. They expect certain things and if they don’t get them they turn violent.
(Bhattacharya & Bhattacharya 1984: 37)

Bibliographie

REFERENCES

Bandyopādhyāy, A. K. (1973), Bāṁla Sāhityer itivṛttā, vol. IV. Calcutta, Modern Book Agency.

Banerjee, S. (1989), The Parlour and the Streets. Elite and Popular Culture in the Nineteenth-Century Calcutta. Calcutta, Seagull Books.

Bharucha, R. (1983), Rehearsals of Revolution. The Political Theater of Bengal. Calcutta, Seagull Books.

Bhaṭṭacārya, G. S. (1972), Bāṁla loknāṭya samīksā. Calcutta, Rabindrabharati Visva-vidyalay.

Bhattacharya, M. & Bhattacharya, M. (1984), “An armoured car on the road to Proletarian Revolution”. Interview with Utpal Dutt by M. B. & M. B., Journal of Arts and Ideas, July-Sept., 8, pp. 25-42.

Caṭṭopādhyāy, B. (1872 [1279 B. S. J), “Yātrā”, Vaṅgadarśan, Paus, pp. 409-415.

Das Gupta, H. (1938), The Indian Stage, vol. II. Calcutta, S. N. Ganguly Press.

Gargi, B. (1991), Folk Theater of India. Calcutta, Rupa and Co. (1st ed. 1966, Seattle & London, University of Washington Press.)

Sen, M. & Mukherjee, S. (1988), “From silver screen to Jatra Pala”, The Telegraph Magazine, 16th Oct., pp. 22-23.

Śliwczyńska, B. (1994), The Gītagovinda of Jayadeva and the Kṛṣṇa-yātrā. An Interaction between Folk and Classical Culture in Bengal. Warsaw, Warsaw University, Oriental Institute ( “Orientalia Varsoviensia” Series 6).

Smith, H. (1851), “Bengali games and amusements”, Calcutta Review, XXX (15), pp. 334- 350.

Notes de fin

1 The first version of this article was presented at the panel Bengali Sensibility of the 14th European Conference on Modem South Asian Studies, Copenhagen, August 1996. Therefore the title refers to the name of that panel.
In Bengal, the 19th and 20th centuries have brought many new interesting phenomena relating to different aspects of life. A new sensibility – literary, cultural and religious – has appeared as a result of the meeting of various traditions: indigenous Bengali and Pan-Indian Classical as well as Western. It is expressed in the literary and artistic creations of the Bengalis, in their cultural activities. In the opinion of the author it also concerns the world of Yātrā.

2 There are many opinions concerning the origin of Yātrā. They vary to a great extent, from attributing to the Yātrā the most ancient one (if not primaeval) up to ignoring its existence before the 18th century. The evidence mentioned is often quoted to prove the presence of, at least, Kṛṣṇa yātrās in the 2nd century B. C.
For a detailed discussion about the Yatra’s origin, see Ś
liwczyńska (1994: 73-93).

3 Yātrāwala (yātrāoyālā) – a creator of yātrā, i.e. of its text as well as its stage presentation; in the old type of yātrās there was a person called adhikārī (adhikārin, a stage manager). He was a composer of yātrā songs (text and music), a main actor-singer, a director of a play and an owner of a Yātrā troupe (yātrār dal). The adhikārī could be called a yātrawala proper as he was responsible for an entire Yātrā event.

4 Among Bhakti yātrās there were also yātrās about Caitanya-Nimai recognised by his followers as Kṛṣṇa himself, (e.g. Nimaisannyāsa by Krishna Kamal Gosvami and Lochan Adhikari).

5 A prose dialogue was rather poor in early yātrās, quite often improvised by actors for the sake of a single Yātrā performance.

6 The first half of the 19th century belongs to such admired yātrāwalas as Paramananda Das Adhikari, Premcand, Badan, Govida Das Adhikari, Krishna Kamal Gosvami; all of them were creators of the old type of yātrās (Kṛṣṇa, Ram yātrās).

7 In Bengali language you say that you go to listen to a yātrā (yātrā śunā) not to see it.

8 It was a part of the trilogy called Annadāmaṅgal or Annapūrṇamaṅgal.

9 The princess Vidyā vowed to marry a man who would defeat her in a scholarly contest. Prince Sundar came to compete. Both fell in love. Sundar, lodged outside the palace, digged a tunnel leading to Vidyā’s chambers and the lovers could meet every night. Vidyā’s florist Hīrā was their messenger. The princess became enceinte. Sundar was caught to be executed. In the last moment he was saved by Goddess Kali, his identity revealed and finally he married Vidyā.

10 However, it is also said that the first Vidyā-Sundar yātrā party was formed by a rich man called Radha Mohan Sarkar from Bowbazar in Calcutta slightly earlier. Comp. Bandyopādhyāy (1973: 542).

11 All Sakher yātrās were very secular in character, full of jokes and comic episodes, and meant for entertaining people, therefore they could also be called “fun yātrās” or “entertaining yātrās” (raṅga yātrā).

12 Caṭṭopādhyāy (1872: 415). The following song is quoted by the author as an example. Vidyā:

ekhan upāy āyi, kara tare ānite

Now, find the way to bring him [to me],

kāmānale jvele chale, bhule āche
manete

[him] who lit the fire of lust [in me] but
himself is distant.

kabe se sudin habe, sudhākar prakāśibe

When will this happy day come, when will the moon rise,

bāri bindu barasibe, cātakire bẫcāte

and scatter drops of nectar to save the life of [his] cātaki-bird?

13 Kaśinath (Keśe Dhopa) from Gopal Ure’s Yātrā troupe introduced the khemṭā dance into the Yātrā. He was a very skilful dancer. He used to play a part of Hīrā in the Vidyā-Sundar story. Thanks to that role Keśe Dhopa rose to fame. Soon other Yātrā parties brought the khemṭā dance into their performances.

14 Banerjee (1989: 89). This very statement of Banerjee refers to female khemṭā dancers. Their way of dancing was greatly employed in Yātrā spectacles.

15 As far as it is known women participated in:
– the Nandaviday
yātrā party organised at Nabincandra Basu’s place (1835),
– the Vidyā-Sundar
yātrā party of Bau Mastar,
– the Vidyā-Sundar
yātrā party organised by the mistress of Raja Vaidyanath.
For more details see B
andyopādhyāy (1973: 451 ff.) and Bhaṭṭacārya (1972: 241).
One of the first Yātrā parties with a female member was the troupe of Pyari Mohan. He lived together with “a well-to-do public woman of Bhowanipur” and they both formed a Nal-Damayantī
yātrā party. Compare Das Gupta (1938: 129).
Since reputation and social position of some women connected with the Yātrā (as the above) were rather dubious, no wonder that any female appearing in a Yātrā performance was treated suspiciously.

16 The National (later Great National) Theatre was established in Calcutta in 1872. However, different private theatres, following the example of a European proscenium stage, existed earlier and presented English as well as Sanskrit plays adapted and translated.

17 It was written in 1875 and inspired by Euripide’s Iphigeneia in Aulis and Michael Madhusuda Datta’s Kgṣṇakumarī.

18 Let us mention another early Bengali playwright, Raj Krishna Ray (1855-94), who wrote for his own stage. His plays concerned mythological subjects from Purāṇas and their stage presentation followed the pattern of Yātrā performances.

19 That time, in Yātrā performances proper prose dialogue portions began to appear, though songs still remained the important part of spectacles.

20 According to the poetic theory of rasa, different feelings (bhāva) experienced very personally are transmuted into poetic sentiments (rasa) of much general nature. E.g. an unpleasant feeling of fear (or pleasant one of astonishment/wonder) experienced by a spectator very individually inspires the sentiment of fear – bhayānakarasa (or respectively, the sentiment of wonder – adbhutarasa) devoid of any personal connotation. The entirely impersonal poetic sentiments can be shared by people of similar feelings. Thus feelings evoked during a Yātrā performance also undergo a transformation into sentiments.

21 Svadeśī – of one’s own native land, indigenous. The name of Svadeśi yātrās, in general, refers to the Indian national movement against the British.

22 Many Svadeśī yātrās were banned and their authors imprisoned. Mukunda Das was jailed a few times for his anti-British yātrās.

23 All over Bengal there are also small amateur Yātrā companies which usually operate only in their native place.

24 In modern yātrās their number is rather small in comparison with Kṛṣṇa yātrās which mainly consisted of songs, or even with Vidyā-Sundar yātrās employing a great deal of songs.

25 Is there anyone who could guess what the term the old good yātrā means?

26 The spectators burnt a place where a yātra was held, when they realised that their admired actor – Chota Phani – who was supposed to act, would not appear in the spectacle (Kakadip village, 1963). Compare Gargi (1991: 25).

27 Well, some of their opponents claim that this satisfaction is rather a result of the amount of money earned by film stars in yātrās and not of any artistic experience. What about both reasons?

28 In the period of fascination with the idea of communism (the 60s and 70s) the audience all over Bengal was quite familiar with figures of Marx, Lenin, Mao Tse-tung and others as they were heroes of many Yātrā plays. For villagers those people from the outer world symbolised their own struggles with landlords and misery around.

Auteur

Warsaw University/ Institute of Oriental Studies

© Éditions de l’École des hautes études en sciences sociales, 1998

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