Forgotten amusements of Bengali’s Stage
The contribution of Baranagar
Voice Over: Jayanta Baksi
At that time “Nala-Damayanti” Yatra and the Yatra of Vraja Mohan Adhikary and that of Ram Sundar Adhikary became very popular in the country. Next to the “Nala-Damayanti” Yatra, the “Vidya Sundar” Yatra known as Sakher Jatra became highly popular in the country.
SAKHER JATRA OR AMATEUR JATRA
Once a few wealthy citizens of Calcutta formed a Jatra party from a sprit of recreation and that Jatra came to be known as Sakher or Amateur Jatra. Those amateur Jatras were also called “Reformed Jatras.”
We have already said that great changes were then going on in Bengal music. Khola and Nupurs gave place to Tobla and ghunghur. The old Vaishnaba lyric and songs (Mahajani Padas) were replaced by newly composed songs. They were set to new songs and the upcountry tune of the tappãs was gone. These Yatras delighted the people greatly because they were new. When those Yatras became regularly professional parties, they were even then called Sakher Yatras or Yatra for recreation’s sake. People understood that to be a Sakher Yatra in which there were Dholoka and Tabla and those in which there were Kholas and Kartals were called Kaliya-Daman. There was another distinction between the two. There could not be any theme in the Kaliya-Daman that was not concerned with the topics of Gods (i.e. a sacred subject). In the Sakher Yatras generally, “Vidya-Sundar” was performed, and occasionally “Nal-Damayanti” was acted. In course of time when Kaliya-Daman died out, the term “Sakher” also disappeared and the simple word ‘Yatra’ survived.
After the introduction of Vidya-Sundar, great changes were wrought in Yatras. After this the divine love-theme of Krishnaand Radha yielded to the amours of ordinary human lovers Vidya and Sundara. The social history of Bengal had some connection with these innovations in Jatra.
- Amongst the amateur Yatras, the Yatra party of Beltala and Ariadaha became greatly famous. What scanty history could be gathered about them is given below.
We do not know much about the origin of Sakher Yatra in Bow bazar (Calcutta) but it is said that a wealthy man named Radha Raman first formed an amateur Yatra party. But there is great doubt whether Radha Raman was first in the field or not.
- The formation of an amateur Yatra party, so far as we could gather, seems to be at Ariyadaha, in 24 Pergs.district.
- [Ariádáha or Ariadaha was the part & parcel of undivided Baranagar Municipal zone, prior to the formation of Kamarhati Municipality. Presently, this area is the division of Kamarhati Municipality – Jayanta Baksi]
In 1822 a Brahmin named Thakur Das Mukerjee formed a party in the name of his father Ramjoy.
[Even today, i.e. in 2012, one may easily come across the descendants of Thakur Das Mukerjee at Kamarhati; specifically next to Kamarhati Mosque. Descendants of Thakur Das Mukerjee are living here at ‘Kali Niwas’. Previously, the entire Kamarhati was under the jurisdiction of Ariadaha. Yet, the name of ‘Kamarhati’ was ‘Kumar Hatta’ – Jayanta Baksi].
Bharat Chandra’s Vidya Sundar was not printed yet, so he selected scenes from it from a manuscript copy of the poem. Pran Krishna Tarkalankar and Nemai Mitra helped him in this matter. The following was the cast:
Raja – Radha Mohan Chatterjee.
Sundara –KrishnaMohan Banerjee.
Vidya – Ishan (son of Radha Raman Chatterjee.)
Rai Baghini – Nemai Ganguli.
The song of the Nãndi (in prologue) was sung by Nemai Mitra and Tara Chand Banerjee. Kali Bhattacharjee and Kebalram, good songsters, were also in the party.
- Shortly after the performance, the founder and the master Thakurdas Babu and some other actors died. This was taken to be an inauspicious thing and the party was dissolved.
Naldamayanti of Bhowanipur party was very famous. We have the following from Samachar Darpan 13th July 1822:
“Naldamayanti Jatra has been performed by some rich men of Bhowanipur, the southern suburb of Calcutta. It will be superfluous to give any detailed account of the show; it is sufficient to inform our readers that there were dramatic representations of Nala, Damayanti,……interspersed with dialogues, songs and music. It was an excellent exhibition. A large sum of money raised by subscription has been spent by its organisers. Its first performance was held on Saturday-night, the 23rd Ashar in the house of Gangaram Mukherji of Bhowanipur.”
Ram Basu the famous Kabiwalla used to help the Bhowanipur party as the Probhakar (16th Sept 1854) on “Ram Basu” gave the following account:
“The reputation of the Naldamayanti Jatra performed by the gentry of Bhowanipur is still in existence. Ram Basu composed all its songs and dialogues. Everybody was pleased with those songs and dialogues.”
- After this in South Baranagar and Janai two excellent Vidya Sundar Yatra parties were formed.
- In the south Baranagar, the Jatra party had the following cast:
Malini – Sj. Madhu Bhattacherji,
Raja – Sj. Gopi Mohan Chatterji.
Nakib – Sj. Radha Nath.
Vidya – Sj. Ram Chandra Bhaduri.
Sundara – Rupnarayan Banerjee.
Jagat Narayan Banerjee also acted the part of Vidya. Sj. Madhu Bhattacherjee was an excellent speaker, a good singer and was a fine Kathak. He had also proficiency in Sanskrit. Gopimohan was a very handsome person and was cousin to Sj.Kali Chatterjee the famous athlete and wrestler of Baranagar well-known for cutting a buffalo with one stroke during the Durga Puja. They performed the Yatra at the neighbouring places specially at Uttarpara very successfully.
Before amateur Yatras came into existence, women never took any part in the Yatra performance. With this change women slowly came to be admitted even in Krishna Yatras, of course occasionally. We shall quote the following, though of a later period, to give our readers an idea of such innovation:-
A new Yatra “Nanda Vidaya,” was performed by the “Glee Club” company and was in turn applauded and derided by spectators. Babu Ram Chandra Mukerjee, a wealthy inhabitant of Jorasanko had induced the “Half Akhrai” party of the locality the first musical association in Calcutta into a Yatra party and had been both the secretary and the poet to it. In course of the year some four or five thousand of rupees had been spent over the affair and in addition to the bonafide members, the services of two girls the elder of the two named Sidam being about 12 years old and of six or seven boys were secured. The time for entertainment extended from 9 in the evening to 7 in the morning.” “The Hindu Intelligence” March, 26, 1849 A. D.
The Bhaskar also reports about the same facts: -*
“The performers were gorgeously and fitly dressed and Behala, Tobla and Dholok musicians acquitted very admirably. The songs were sweet and melodious and amongst others Titoo Ram Boral played the part of Nando, Rajnarain Chatterjee that of Mantri and Nabin Chandra that of Upãnando. The songs of Chhidam took everyone by surprise. All were charmed by her songs.”
Nando Vidaya was also performed at the house of Krishna Sinha on the 14th April 1849 in a remodeled way. †
But even then Krishna Yatra did not entirely lose its popularity; the old sentiments yet survived. On the one hand there were Sakher Jatra and theatres and on the other side was the indigenous Yatra of Govinda Adhikary. But it was often found that Govinda always used to command a huge crowd. Govinda, too, as we have seen, had to make some changes according to the taste of the time. Thus he had to give up the old method (school) of the Kaliya Daman.
* 30th March. 184&
† Bhaskar 17th April, 1849.
FROM AMATEUR TO PROFESSIONAL
Since the amateur Theatre of the rich was short lived, amateur Yatras came to be ran on professional line. Parties from other places also came to Calcutta, held their performances and then went away. We mention below some of those parties:
“A band of performers from Manipur is now exhibiting inCalcuttawho represent the sport ofKrishnawith the Gopies. The musicians are men, but the singers are women and they are dressed asKrishna, Lalita, Vishakha, Chitra, Ranga Devi, Sudevi, Champaklata, Vidyadhari and Indu Rekha; their flat nosed countenances are rather indifferent representation of the beauty of the Gopies.”
“A company of performers under Haladhar is also acting with great success at the house of the Babus. They represent the Yatras of Bidya Sundar, the destruction of Sambhu and Nisumbha and others (quoted from Samacher Chandrika) Asiatic Journal, (Apl. 1829, pp. 513).
- In the year 1832–33 Nabin Krishna Bose of Shyam Bazar, tried to found Theatre on the basis of this Vidya Sundar play.
- That Theatre did not last for more than 3 or 4 years. Therefore Yatra was regarded as the chief source of entertainment.
- Baranagar was then famous for music.
- Shyama Charan Banerjee who acted the part of Sundar in Nabin Babu’s party was a resident of this place.
- Another good musician was Pyari. Pyari used to beg from door to door by playing on his Violin. Pyari was a resident of Baranagar and he was of handsome appearance.
- A well-to-do public woman of Bhowanipur having heard his songs, grew enamoured of him. Pyari and that woman lived together for some time and they then formed a Yatra party and performed Nal-Damayanti. The audience was greatly pleased with the performance and in course of time beggar Pyari came to be known as Pyari Mohan. Pyari built a big house and lived there.
- After this other Yatra parties were formed under the leadership of women and performed Vidya Sundar. Of them the party of Tara Hara and that of Bou Master are worthy of special mention. It is said the mistress of Raja Vaidyanath also organised a Vidya Sundar Party with females. The Raja, too, spent much money and was bracketted with Nabin Babu as Kalua-Bhulua:
“Nabin Babu Kalua
Raja Vaidyanath Bhulua.”
Ram Krishna Kãnsãri was a famous musician of Bhowanipur and used to teach music in Pyari’s Yatra party. He was a master in music and dancing and was an expert player on Violin. It is said Nabin Babu appreciated Pyari Mohan’s performances very much. Kansari’s “Dakshajajna” Jatra was very popular.
By that time the party of Ramdhan Sutradhar also gained reputation. He used to earn about Rs. 50 to 60 each night by his performance. He had shares with other members. He took one-fourth and the three-fourths were distributed amongst the rest. But whatever presents were made to the party belonged to his share. People called Ramdhan as Ostadji (or master of music) and his fame spread from Ganga Sagar (the junction of the Ganges with the sea) to the Gangetic regions.
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Netai Das was a famous Kabiwala. Poet Iswar Gupta gave a long article about him in his famous organ “Sambad Probhakar”:-
“Every rich man when he wanted to have any Kabi on the occasion of any festivity engaged Netai Das first. There was great wit-combat between him and Bhavani Benia. Hence the common expression is the duel of Netee Baishnava. People used to come to hear from a distance of one or two days’ journey. The house where his performance was held was crammed to its utmost and it was a job to make way through that dense crowd. Though there were several Kabi parties at that time, those of Hari Thakur, Netai Das and Bhavani Banik were most famous. Netai had a great following. The residents of Kumar Hatta, Bhat Para, Triveni, Bally, Chandan Nagar (Farash Danga), Chinsura and other places, both high and low were all in admiration when they heard Netai’s name uttered before them. They seemed to be overjoyed when Netai came out victorious and their regrets knew no bounds when Netai was defeated by his rival, they thought as if they would lose everything by his defeat. Many even gave up their food and sleep. In the beginning there were even quarrels and fighting between the adherents of two parties.
What to speak of others, the Brahmins of Bhãt Pãra called Netai Das Nityananda Prabhu (Lord Gouranga’s colleague).
When he stood up to sing, his admirers cried out “the Master is on his legs.” Netai had one special gift, he could amuse both the high and the low.”
We may here quote from “Ekal and Sekal” of Rajnarayan Bose: –
“Kavi Yatra, Panchali and similar other things were the chief sources of entertainment to the people, and of these Kavi was the foremost. The poems and songs of Haru Thakur, Netai Vaishnava, Narsing, Ram Basu and Bhavani Benia were appreciated and prized everywhere.” (Ekal and Selcal p. 18).
[Rajnarayan Bose was the maternal Grand Father of renowned Rishi Aurobindo or Sri.Arabindo Ghosh – Jayanta Baksi]
2. Last and not the least, I must place on record my extreme thankfulness to Babu Sachchidananda Bhattacherjya, a premier businessman of Bengal and a patron of literature, who, I am proud to say, is one of my quondam pupils, for taking upon himself the responsibility of making arrangements for the publication of this work. [Comments of the author Sri. Hemendra Nath Das Gupta, 31,Haldarpara Road, Kalighat,Calcutta in preface mentioned as ‘Aplogia’ (Page: IV)
[Babu Sachchidananda Bhattacherjya was one of the eminent Industrialist of India and the resident of Baranagar. Not only will his contribution in Industrial growth but also in the arena of social work be discussed, in an elongated manner in the later phase – Jayanta Baksi].
The above portions are collected, typed & revealed from:
‘THE INDIAN STAGE’ By ‘HEMENDRA NATH DAS GUPTA’,
Officially Forwarded By: JOHAN VAN MANEN
General Secretary, Asiatic Society ofBengal.
CALCUTTA, 4,Park Street, 4th April, 1934.
Metropolitan Printing & Publishing House, Ltd.
[Language, Punctuation, Spelling etc. unaltered to sustain the original essence & to identify the subject easily, Underlined marks, Bold spots etc. were put up by – myself Jayanta Baksi. 03rd January, 2012]
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