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Home / A Theatrical Performance Larger than life : Prof Purna Chandra Mallick

A Theatrical Performance Larger than life : Prof Purna Chandra Mallick

Baragarh’s Dhanujatra is a finest form of open-air-theatre mixing creative literature, unforgettable myth, century long tradition and incomparable cultural heritage of Odisha. It establishes finally the super power of lord Krishna, the eighth incarnation of Lord Vishnu and the embodiment of love and divine joy, but projects Kansa, the tyrant ruler of Mathura the unimpressive hero as the central character of the show. This is the beauty of this unprecedented live extravaganza which makes it a world class open theatre.
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Long 66 years back, in 1948, some creative performers along with musical maestros thought of such art form through which they could explore our mythical identity, not only they tried to experiment with different form of theater but also dared to bring out a spiritual revolution through their theatrical endeavor. Nobody could find out the exact initiation made by whom and why but few names are remembered with great respect and honour as the pioneer of this dramatic tradition. Some scholarly attempts are made to put our disliking towards the colonial rulers though the image of Kansa and to portrait our victory over them with the victorious Krishna.
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Dhanujatra is enacted in fourteen places at Mathura and in four places in Gopapura. It includes all most all the streets of Bargarh and Amabapali, river Jira, National Highway No 6, grassland adjacent to Ambapali along with four Hindu religious shrines like Sambaleswari tample, Mukteswara tample, Kali Temple and Adimata Temple spread over around twelve to fifteen square kilometer. Bargarh is taken as the wealthy and affluent Mathura, Ambapali as celestial and unthreatened Gopapura, river Jira as ever flowing mighty Jamuna and lush green mango grooves located on the northern bank of the Jira as Brindaban, the place of divine love of Radha and Krishna.
The main story line includes major characters like Kansa, Krishna, Balram, Radha, Devaki, Basudev, Ugrasena, Nandaraj, Joshoda, Rohini, Akrura, Satyaki, Sakrajit, Sudama, Sridama etc. in minor characters like Heti, Praheti, krutabarma, Putana, Bakasura, Chanura, Mustika, Kubuja, Sudama mali, Sunanda, Upananda, Lalita, Chitra, Bijuli kanya etc. with others. They use memorized dialogues and songs from Mathura Mangla composed by Bhakta Charan Das of eighteenth century. In addition to this they use extempore dialogues as and when required. Except for few age bound characters, most of the artists are nominated for years together for which they use to memorize both the dialogues and songs. In the annals of history we see Judhistira Satpathy played the role of Kansa for fifteen years, Gopal sahoo for twenty three years and present Hrushikesh Bhoi for last seven years, similarly Harekrushna Pujari played the role of Akrura for thirteen years, Dwaru Birtia for eight years and Lalit Mohan Panda for twenty three years. Chandra Charan Birtia depicted the role of Krishna for five years, Nigamananda Pujari for seven years, Manish Mohapatra Five years and Niaranhjan Birtia protratied the role of Balram for five years , Minaketan Birtia for seven years, Rajnish Mohapatra for five years and Debabrata Mohapatra for four years. Some minor roles are played by artists for decades
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So far stage costume and stage properties are concerned; artists follow realistic form of theater and try their best to present the character live on the stage . In the case of disappearance of Bijuli kanya or Kaliya dalana they use some technological gimmicks and artificial images. Use of elephants, horses and camels in royal cascade of the emperor Kansa gives a regal touch to the procession. The realistic stages are erected lavishly to attract to the audience. The eleven day long Dhanujatra festival is considered as one of the greatest social and religious ceremony in whole of the western region of the state. Newly created Ranga Mahal adds another attraction for visitors to enjoy mostly the cultural activities. Besides the main stream artists and their enactment, selected cultural troops are invited regularly from almost all the state of the country to perform their folk songs, folk dance and so also classical ones. So Dhanujatra not only attracts the audience from the state of Odisha and nearby states but also it is considered as one of the major cultural event in the country now a days. To make it more inviting Mina bazar adds unlimited pleasure for the women and children folk. The official website of Dhanuyatra with ‘Bargarhdhanujatra.nic.in’ attracts thousands of visitors from country and abroad.
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To evaluate some theatrical performances critics always focus on how far it extends impact on common people and followed elsewhere. As we know, Dhanujatra festival is observed at different places like Ulunda, Talpali, Chichinda, Nuapali, Jogi munda, Naagaon and Bhaler at different times not to class with Bargarh Dhanujatra. A new trend also has taken place to adopt story line of Ramayana and to portrait Rama and Ravan in place of Krishan and Kansa respectively. Such festivals are practiced in the name of Ramaleela at Kantapali, Jamdola and Turunga at different part of the western region of the state, so now a days Dhanujatra is common festival and is observed with much pump and show and considered as a traditional one.
In this small write-up I try to evaluate different aspects of the theatrical performance only. The most attractive and unique character of the show is involvement of the people through the theatrical process. Kansa regularly visits around his capital. On stage he invites hundreds of people with political and administrative importance from across the state. When he moves either on the road or performs on the stage he interacts with the people and lets guests to interact with him, similarly movement of Krishna and his troops attracts thousands of audience who worship him as real incarnation of God and wait for hours together to have a glance of him. When Akrura takes away Krishna from Gopapura he faces the curse and vandalism of common mass. Hence no where such type of performances are witnessed throughout the world, either it may be the Minack theater of London or Carnival festival of Brazil which are staged on ope- air-theater and millions of people witness it with much curiosity but no where people involved in a theatrical process ever noticed. In present Dhanujatra the audiences forget the time and the space existed between the actor and themselves.
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When and how is a physical place transformed into a theatrical space? Peter Brook refers to ‘empty space’ as if it exists before a man crushes over it. But ‘empty space’ does not exists in this world. In an open-air- theatre and the proscenium-arch theatre many things have been in existence before the man crushes over the space
In India most theatrical performances took place in an open or semi open-air-theatres, surrounded by people or say nature. In some Greek theatre the audience could have a view of natural landscape beyond the stage. One of the oldest Noh stage in Japan stands in sea water and the audience sitting in another high place above the sea, can notice the sea level changes as the performance proceeds. This characteristic of the theatrical place ‘field’ in contrast to ‘empty space’
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The ‘space’ characteristics of the stages closely related to realism in theatre. Realism demand that the audience ignore the pre existing decorations and forms of the stage and see characters as if they were really living there. The most realistic the drama becomes the more the stage is required to be ‘space’ and vis-versa. But in Dhanujatra we see how the physical place transformed to theatrical space, and for which we the audience feel that vacuum, makes the entire show as an uniformal body and we become the character. We forget the time and space even long gap between the Dwapara and the present time, we behave as if we have gone back to that time and we interact physically with them with Kansa and Krishna. No where in any theatre we experience such feelings. Even standing on the National Highway or sitting on sandy bed of the river Jira, we feel that heavenly touch in our heart, mind and soul which transforms us to heavenly characters of thousand years old. This is an incredible performance even more spectacular than real life. Nobody can deny the great excitement he felt when he witnessed the enactment of Kansa on the road or stage, Krishna on the grassy field with his friends plying on flute or coming back to Mathura on chariot of Akrura. Such theatricals performances cover all the dramatic elements starting from Bharat’s Natya sashtra to Aristotle’s poetics, from Japanese Noh to Bertolt Brecht’s epic theater. We may compare this with the performance of Minack theater or the Carnival festival of Brazil. But nothing can be equivalent with the philosophy of performance of Dhanujatra as it gives the feeling of ‘ all the world is a theatre.’
If we understand this metaphor literally, it would mean that all the world rally is a theatre. Then there would be no difference the theatre and the world and the metaphor would no longer work metaphorically,it would have become a concept, a concept of life. This concept creates new meaning by connecting two different spheres. The theatrical performance is at the same time both real and fictitious, but for the performance to be seen as theatre, the spectator must identify the theatrical framing. Nicolas Evreinov claimed there is theatricallity present in every person, at least potentially, as a ‘theatrical instinct’. His understanding of theatricality makes it an extremely broad concept. This is simply a transformation. The theatricallity forms the basis of every aesthetic approach. Just close your eyes and with the help of the third eye, see what happens around you, you can find all colorful scenes in even deep darkness. Similarly you try to feel how you are interacting such fictitious characters with your theatrical instinct, you will mingle with unlimited characters of legend and myth, and practically there will no space between you and the Lord Krishna
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Many scholars have tried their best to interpret the Dhanujatra with their own vision and finally claim it as the world’s largest open-air-theatre. I also opine the same, but it is more than that, larger than live, greater than our imagination and finer than our spiritual efforts to define the absoluteness.
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Prof: Purnachandra Mallick
Plot No. 34/7
Lane 1, Road 2, Jagganath
Vihar, Bhubaneswar

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