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When you are in a land blessed with vibrant culture, a rich tradition of folk and conventional theatre is but a natural extension. Since the ancient days, theatre evolved in Odisha in various forms. Right from the KandheiNacha(puppetry) to PrahladNataka, DhanuJatraand also conventional theatre, Odisha’s rich canvas of performing arts encompasses all.
A long musical narrative punctuated with explanations typically rendered by a singer accompanied by a motley group of four to five people, and instruments like the drum (mridanga), as well as others playing musical instruments like cymbals. The content is usually the chapters from epics or sacred texts. And, the narrative is interspersed with music and chorus, followed by light rhythmic dance.
This folk theatre is the enactment of a play comprising of an ensemble of actors, musicians and dancers. During the medieval period, Jatra was extensively used by kings and novelty to communicate religious values and sermons. With time, Jatra also evolved, and as of today, it is essentially a medium to communicate social messages, albeit in modern settings.
Jatra is typified by the loud make-up and attire, plenty of theatrics and high pitched long dialogues to catch the attention of the onlookers.
Widely considered as a mode of expression and entertainment for the rural belt, puppetry usually comprises of short satirical skits against the oppression of the ruling class that are skillfully punctuated between narration of an episode from the epics or the Puranas.The Puppetry is usually performed in open spaces and are interactive in nature.
Incidentally, Odisha is the only state in India where all four forms of Puppetry exists - Shadow Puppetry; Rod Puppetry (where the metal rod attached to the puppets are used to hoist them), Glove Puppetry (where the puppets are formed by a ‘glove’, with the index finger becoming the head and the middle finger and thumb the arms of the puppet), and String Puppetry (where strings attached to the limbs of the puppets are pulled to make them move on stage).
Unlike its folk counterparts, theatre in Odisha (the conventional theatre) took wings in the early twentieth century. To its credit, it had managed to survive the onslaught of television and the internet revolution while retaining its popularity particularly in the southern and western Odisha. People still pay for professional run theatre shows and plays like Manikajodi, that ran for 380 days in 1999.
One can catch a glimpse of the entire canvas of folk theatre in Berhampur and Puri, where every year in December, a weeklong theatre festival is held.