A dollop of Bengal – Jatra & Jagat Seth’s House

From the iconic Jadubabur Bazar in Bhowanipore, Kolkata to one of the most important Bengali poets of this generation – Joy Goswami , the all-rounder National level cricketer Jhulan Goswami, the paradise of bird lovers situated in Alipurduar ditrict – Jaldapara National Park and the neighbourhood in North Kolkata fanous for being the home of the country’s pride Gurudev Rabindranath Tgore – Jorasanko, J had a magnitude of options. I decided to pick up two categories, one that is at the core of rural Bengal – Jatra and the other as continuation of Murshidabad series – Jagat Seth’s House.

Jatra –

Jatra- Hemendra Kumar Hota.jpg
Jatra from rural Bengal – Source:Surendra Kumar Hota

Jatra or jatra pala is a folk theatre form still popular in rural Bengal. The word jatra means journey or going. The origin of jatra – intrinsically a musical theatre form is influenced from the ritual of songs and dance which formed part of the religious festivals in villages. It is traditionally credited to the rise of Sri Chaitanya’s Bhakti movement, wherein Chaitanya himself played Rukmini in the performance of Rukmini Haran. Dramatic elements in the compositions of these songs and dances like conversations among the various characters of the mythological stories on which they were based were given histrionic interpretations by the performers. Jatras were performed in a square or round area of flat ground with the audience sitting all rounds. There were reserved entry or exit points and the actors moved into the square from the midst of the audience. In the first half of the twentieth century, Swadeshi Jatra became very much important. Jatras were performed to make the people conscious of the British dominance over Indians. Quite a few times the role of a female character gets essayed by a male actor.

Jatra_Posters Wikimedia.jpg
Different Jatra Posters on a busy street- Souce:Wikimedia

The season of Jatra starts from September with Durga Puja being the starting point and ends when the monsoons are just about to come. The whole troupe travel to rural places to perform their play. These troupes are booked in advance by the organising committee and then announcements are done on a cycle rickshaw through microphone in different styles. The Jatra Pala in Bengal lasts for four long hours with full action packed dialogues. Six to seven songs are also performed in the play. These kinds of songs are known as Jatra Gaan. Jatra has also given birth to a popular actors who have gained fame in the medium of theatre and cinema eventually.

Jagat Seth’s house –

House of Jagath Seth - inside premises
The beginning of the premises – after entry

The Jagat Seths were a rich business and money lending family in Murshidabad during the time of Nawab Siraj-ud-Daula.  The founder of the house of Jagat Seth was Manick Chand who came to Dhaka from Patna in the early eighteenth century and established a trading firm. Jagat Seth meaning the “Banker of the World”, was a title conferred on his nephew Fateh Chand, a very rich banker in Bengal in the first half of the 18thcentury. Fateh Chand’s grandson Jagat Seth Mehtab Rai along with Omichund and Mir Jafar joined the successful conspiracy against Nawab Siraj-ud-Daula, engineered by Robert Clive, due to which the Nawab lost the battle of Plassey.

House of Jagath Seth - the secret pathway
The secret chamber

Continuing with the Murshidabad Diaries, the next place of interest is the house of Jagat Seths. Though most of the possession has been lost or looted, the antic furniture, silver and gold coins, silver and gold sarees, clothes made of muslin and cutlery are displayed in the secret chamber of the house. There’s also a secret  pathway through a tunnel that connects the house to that of a garden. This route through water is the one which the Seth’s were believed to have used to safely transport their precious stones and coins to a different place. There’s also a Jain temple near the main exit gate.

House of Jagath Seth - the grandeur
The grandeur of the bygone era

Travel guide –

At a nominal entry fee, tourists can have a trip of the secret tunnel(exterior view), secret chamber and its components, treasury and the external premises. However, only the outside premises can be captured through camera. No clicking or recording is allowed within the house and chambers and the area is under CCTV surveillance.

House of Jagath Seth -items on display
Furniture on display

For details related to travel, stay and food in Murshidabad, please visit my post related to Hazarduari Palace here.

The personal angle –

I grew up listening to my fathers colourful stories about Jatra in his village. My husbands paternal grandparents were so fond of jatra that they were known to have never missed a single play that happened in Berhampore. While I have always been amused by the make-up that looks overdone and acting that feels loud, there’s no denying the fact that this medium of entertainment has been formative in the culture of Bengal.

House of Jagath Seth - entrance gate
The entry gate to the house

Though Murshidabad was the first place that I had ever visited as a toddler in the eighties, it wasn’t until this January that I decided to do a full-fledged series on the city. I spent three weekends collecting information, clicking pictures and doing research. BlogchatterA2Z challenge gave me the perfect forum to begin Murshidabad Diaries and this post on Jagat Seth’s house is the third one in this series.

House of Jagath Seth plus temple
The temple near the exit gate of the house

Enjoy reading until we meet tomorrow with more interesting features.

Source of information – 

Jatra:

Jagat Seth’s House:

  • Wikipedia
  • Tourist Guide

Author: Sonia Chatterjee

Who am I? Ex-Banker turned Blogger/Writer/Solopreneur. Any qualifications? A Post graduate degree in Chemistry followed by Post Graduate Diploma in Management. I am still trying to figure out how and when I can connect all these dots to what I do presently. Have I done any real work? If two years in Market Research and six years in Banking (three different Banks though) as Branch Head can be considered as real work. Where do I live? After a nomadic sixteen years in Delhi, Bangalore & Mysore, I am back to where it all started from - Kolkata. My favorite things - Food, travel, books and my two and half year old toddler son What is this blog about ? Sonia's musings is an attempt to channelize emotions through words and pictures hoping they touch a chord with my visitors.

25 thoughts on “A dollop of Bengal – Jatra & Jagat Seth’s House”

  1. A very informative and interesting post which lets us glimpse into the history and culture of Bengal at once. The section about Jatra-pala was very descriptive and brought back my memories of having seen a few jatras in my maternal uncle’s village home. Next what comes to mind from rural Bengal’s entertainment perspective are its fairs and the ‘gaajon’ – song and dance by characters depicting the gods!
    The part on Jagat Seth’s House was well written with much detail and historical references. Entertaining post Sonia !

    Liked by 1 person

  2. We originally hail from Karnataka and i grew up listening to my mom tell us about Krishnas plays. her uncles actually acted in these plays. only the men did. I remember her telling me how one of her favourite uncles essayed the role of rukmini so well. This was entertainment in those times. and a true art form. I dont think it survives in the way it did these days.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. The Jatra seems to be a very enchanting art form. Colourful and boisterous. I am reminded of a the puppet shows my mother used to take me to when I was a kid. In Kerala too there are several art forms which resemble the description of Jatra which you give. The Jagath Seth house sounds like a place which could be worth visiting. The tunnel sounds exciting. Thanks for giving such a vivid description of everything Sonia.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I really admire that you spent dedicated time to cover Murshidabad for AtoZ posts. It was a great post and I can understand the charm of jatra still there. My village in UP also has a similar art form and people still give their hearts for it.

    Liked by 1 person

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