| Idols of goddess Durga and her children at the pandal of Friends Association at Golghar roundabout in Patna. Picture by Deepak Kumar |
Pritish Roy is disheartened that his childhood friend Dipak Dakshy, based in the country’s IT capital, would not visit Bhagalpur this year to celebrate Durga Puja.
Workload is not keeping Dakshy, a software engineer, away in Bangalore — rather puja celebrations in the silk city hardly have any charm for him. Roy said: “Dipu (Dakshy’s nickname) does not want to come as the puja here has lost its charm and cultural events like jatra (open-air theatre) have stopped.”
The silk city, which is adorned by the Ganga as a silver necklace, has always held idyllic charm for prospective visitors and residents. Durga Puja has been a special occasion for the city, which has a Bengali majority. Cultural activities with religious grandeur thrown in good measures were a common affair earlier.
The missing jatras, however, have mellowed down the high of Durga Puja festivities for old-timers.
Fifty-eight-year-old Bilash Kumar Bagchi, the general secretary of Kali Bari Durga Puja Samiti at Bengali Tola, lamented that changing times and rapid migration of Bengalis have eroded cultural activities in the town.
In Bhagalpur, old-timers said, the earliest experiments with jatra were attempted. Binoy Kumar Mahata, former head of department, Bengali, Tilka Manjhi Bhagalpur University, said: “Bhagalpur introduced a renaissance in jatra as it first experimented with modern techniques in the latter half of the 20th century — a time when Bengal still followed the traditional ways. At that time, juri gaan (duet on mostly folk songs) was common in the jatras of Bengal but Bhagalpur improvised the performances.”
In juri gaan, two artistes would be present on the stage throughout the jatra. The silk city improvised — the artistes on stage were brought on stage only during their duets. Mahata, in his 70s, said the late Sanu Banerjee — cousin of Ashok Kumar and Kishore Kumar — was a pioneer of the modern jatra in Bhagalpur. Tapas Ghosh, a cultural activist, said boys performed as women in jatras till the mid-1960s.
Staging jatras, however, dried up since early 2000s. The last jatra staged in the silk city was in 2002. Nirupam Kanti Pal, the secretary of the local unit of Bihar Bengalee Association, said: “Then superintendent of police R.K. Mishra helped us in organising the jatra. But lack of patronage made it impossible to continue organising the jatras.”