Jatra is believed to have originated from ceremonial functions that are called before starting on a journey. There are also the other legends saying, that it developed from processions brought out in respect of different gods and goddesses. These processions often included songs and dances as its primary part. Jatra is a form of Indian Folk Dance-Drama combining acting, songs and music and dance altogether by the troop that is travelling from one place to another. In the earlier years, the religious values were well communicated with the help of Jatra to the masses. Jatra performances in West Bengal resemble the Tamasha of Maharashtra, the Nautanki of Uttar Pradesh and Bhavai Dance of Gujarat. Even if the birthplace of Jatra lies in religious landscapes, filled with different Bhakti cults of Hinduism, but it is replaced by morally educative contents by the end of 19th century. As a result, during Bengal Renaissance, it gained entry into the urban theatres. Various parts of Hindu epics like Mahabharata and Ramayana was also preformed. Later on, the Jatras were held beside palas, and sometimes even replacing it.
Kalsutri Bahulya is a Marathi folk form, immensely popular till the early twentieth century. References to these puppets abound in ancient texts and saint poetry. Vishnudas Bhave, the pioneer of modern Marathi theatre, is known to have begun his career with puppet shows that he called Yamapuri. This means 'City of Yama' and this is named after the god of death. Today they have become almost obsolete, found only among some tribes like the Thakar, in pockets of Maharashtra. The puppets are made of clay or carved from the light wood of the pangara i.e. coral tree. According to the character represented their height varies from 20 to 45 cm. Each figure is divided into two sections. The upper contains the head and torso, and the lower is draped in colourful cloth. Three strings are attached, one to the head and two to the hands. Dancers have two more strings tied to their legs, and demons, the tallest, have a string attached to their lower jaw, manipulated to open the mouth wide and shut it with a bang.
Suanga is a musical folk theatre whose literal meaning is masque or farce. This is most popular in coastal Orissa till the early part of the twentieth century. Although it has become extinct there, it is still prevalent in Kalahandi district and Balangir District of western Orissa. The technique of Suanga also informs the spectacular Prahlada Nataka. Suanga playwrights who dominated Oriya theatre with their performing troupes were Jagannath Pani, Gopal Das, Bandhu Nayak, Dayanidhi Swain, Baishnab Pani, and Balakrishna Mohanty. All later converted to Yatra because of popular demand.
The themes of Suanga plays are always mythological. The actors are required to sing their own dialogue. The refrain repeated by a chorus of singers. All the characters introduce themselves through songs. For example, when Lord Shiva enters he sings, 'I am Siva, God of three worlds, Ganga is in my matted locks, I live in Kailash.' While the choruses are sung the actors dance gently. Gini i.e. cymbals and mardala or mridanga i.e. double-ended drums are the only accompanying instruments. Enough humour is provided by minor characters such as the Dwari or sentry and Vaidya or village doctor. They sing and gesticulate according to the mood and meaning of the songs. Their portions of sung dialogue are written in common colloquial language.
Rahasa is a variety of Raslila in musical dance-drama form mostly confined to the coastal districts of Puri and Cuttack in Orissa. Many Rahasa scripts were written by Vaishnava poets as Basanta or spring rahasa and Sarat or autumn rahasa. Rahasa is very popular for over a century. It is performed both by amateurs and professionals, by young boys and girls. The duration depends on the number of episodes. In some villages it is held for more than a week by amateur artists of the village. The performance includes elaborate singing with gestures and mild dancing. The most popular and important contributors to Rahasa were Mohansundar Deva Goswami, Govinda Chandra Surdeo, Bhakta Charan Das, and Kali Charan Patnaik. They toured all over Orissa with their professional troupes till the early 1940s. The famous Odissi dance guru Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra initially belonged to Goswami's excellent group.
Radhaprem Lila is another form of Raslila that is prevalent in the southern district of Ganjam. Radhaprem Lila is literally known as 'Radha's Love Play. Written and started by Pitambar Rajendra in the late nineteenth century, it is performed in front of a kunja or bower built with wood and beautifully painted with floral designs. Radha and her companions, the Sakhis, sit there while Lord Krishna comes in different disguises to meet her. Though fully operatic it has various acrobatic dance sequences. Both styles of Rahasa use classical Odissi dance and music.
The literal meaning of bidesiya is 'of the foreign'. This is the folk form in Bhojpuri , i.e. the language of western Bihar. Probably started by a certain Guddarrai, it acquired widespread popularity and recognition owing to the talent and charisma of the legendary writer-actor Bhikhari Thakur. He was born in 1887 in Qutubpur, Saran district. He had originally performed a play in 1917 about the pain, suffering, and endless wait of a newly-wed village bride, whose husband goes off to another land to earn money, leaving her behind yearning for him. It took audiences through the journey of passing time with the moods of the lonely wife in response to the various seasons. The theme found such an immediate echo in social reality that, coupled with Bhikhari Thakur's histrionic and musical art, the play became a huge success. The success was so much so that it acquired the status of an independent form. Several works around the same story, with minor variations, reached spectators as Bidesiya. This is primarily musical theatre, with most of the exchanges taking place through music based on existing Bhojpuri folk songs and tunes.
Bidesiya stands out for the evocativeness, humour, and wit of its regional dialect. Performed very simply with everyday costumes in any available space, it requires no more than three or four actors, who double up for several roles. Dance steps are introduced for variety and fun to go along with the songs. Bidesiya continues to be popular in Bihari villages, as its theme remains relevant, reflecting a reality of rural life where men have to migrate to the cities to earn their livelihood, leaving their families behind.
Kundhei Nata is the traditional glove or hand puppetry in Orissa. It uses only two figures representing Krishna and his love Radha, nowadays so humanized that at times they act like any rural boy and girl. In the twelfth century, when the poet Jayadeva wrote the Gita Govinda, the Krishna-Radha theme grew extremely popular in Orissa for dramatic presentation. Krishna worship became more and more extensive and reached its peak in the sixteenth century when it influenced not only theatre but also all branches of art and literature. During this period, it is likely that both glove and string puppet traditions of Orissa adopted Krishna legends as their exclusive thematic content. Many lyrics, short poems, and long narrative verse or kaiya written between the sixteenth and nineteenth centuries were inspired by Krishna. Others had human heroes and heroines. The glove puppeteers use these poems, mainly devotional but sometimes secular.
Bandi Nata centres on the sacrifice done by Bandi for the sake of the love Krishna and Radha. A simple drum called dhol provides the music. Although a stage is setup, the actors often mingle with the audience while performing the play. The literal meaning of this play is 'widow dance'. This is an adjunct of Danda Nata prevalent among lower caste Hindus and tribal in Dhenkanal District and some parts of Sambalpur, Sundargarh , and Balangir in north-western Orissa. It takes its name from Bandi, which locally means 'widow', since the central character is Kutila, the widowed sister of Chandrasena, husband of Radha. Kutila plays a villainous role in the immortal love story of Radha and Krishna, but her unflinching devotion to and sacrifice for Krishna are given importance. Although Bandi Nata is Vaishnava to the core, the invocation is dedicated to Siva and his consort Parvati, who also appear as figures at the beginning.
Bharat Lila is the most colourful presentation of Folk- Dance prevalent in Ganjam. The leading story depends upon Subhadra Parinaya, a beautiful part of the epic Mahabharata. Subhadra is the sister of Lord Krishna. Krishna himself, plays the role of mediator between the two sweet-hearts i.e. Arjun and Subhadra in the guise of a 'Duari' and makes the clandestine love in between the two fruitful. The story slowly progresses into positive end. The episode it depicts concerns the love and marriage of the hero Arjuna and Subhadra. In the play, Subhadra visits Arjuna and expresses her Jove. But Arjuna declines as she, being Krishna's sister, is like a sister to him. Then the Dwari i.e. sentry enters and counters all his arguments, quoting incidents from different epics and other religious texts. At last Arjuna is defeated and agrees to marry Subhadra.