Puja time for passion play

Cops uphold six-decade-old jatra tradition in Cachar

By Nilotpal Bhattacharjee
  • Published 7.10.16
Members of the jatra troupe prepare props for their shows. Picture by Nilotpal Bhattacharjee

Silchar, Oct. 6: Assam police constable Bikash Mal has a new role. The 40-year-old resident of Kumbhirgram in Cachar district will don the character of a king in a jatra (folk theatre) to be staged here on Ashtami night.

Besides Mal, around 40 police personnel, including officers, will take part in two plays to be staged on the Cachar Police Reserve Camp premises this Puja. All of them are active members of Cachar Police Natya Sangstha, a one-of-its-kind organisation that was established in 1952. Despite tight schedules and hurdles, the personnel have kept alive the tradition of staging jatras on Durga Puja for almost six-and-a-half decades.

"Every year, on Durga Puja, we take part in jatras despite our tight duty schedules. We do find it difficult to manage time but so far we have been successful in keeping this art form alive," he said.

Jatra is one of the oldest forms of folk drama, comprising acting, music, songs and dance, in eastern India. It is often performed on a simple stage and its three sides are open for spectators. This year, the Sangstha will stage two plays, Gandhari Janani and Sonaidighi, based on mythological stories, on Ashtami and Navami nights. The duration of each play is three-and-a-half hours.

Bablu Shuklavaidya, manager of Sangstha, who also works in Assam police, told The Telegraph that they take part in the jatras because it's their passion. "We are police personnel by profession but our passion is jatra. It's a kind of celebration for us. We get mental satisfaction from it."

He said rehearsals for the plays began two months back. "We called a meeting to decide on the plays to be staged. Rehearsals generally take place after dusk. As we all work in the police department, it becomes difficult to assemble everyone at one time," he added.

Santanu Paul, a theatre activist here, said the jatra has been sinking into oblivion over time. "Other than Cachar police, no organisation stages jatra in south Assam. They have been successful in keeping this tradition alive," he said.

Shuklavaidya, however, feels the future of jatra is safe. "A host of young people joined our team recently. We have no doubt that jatras will be staged here by Cachar police at least for the next 30 to 40 years," he said.