Swadeshi jatra performances in Bengal (1905–1911): locating the ground for engendering a nuanced national identity in South Asia
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Historiography of swadeshi performances of Bengal, since the publication of Sumit Sarkar’s seminal and voluminous work on swadeshi movement in Bengal, has followed the standard path of aesthetic definition. It has been variously described as a ‘technique of mass contact’ and as the harbinger of national feeling, using the standard trope of ‘awakening the people to a nation’. But swadeshi jatra performances, as recorded in governmental records and collective memory, appear as a space of entertainment, a space of interaction between performers and audience, and most importantly as a space for interaction between ideas of the intellectuals, performative presentation of the idea, and its reception by the audience. The performance and reception in the space excited the audience into a frenzy of reaction, expression, hence audibility. As the folk space of performance made the hitherto unheard voices audible, a pattern of bonding based on felt sensation began to emerge in the space. The community of sensation that emerged, bonded as a nation, however, modulated the notion of nationhood in the moment of reception, adding new contours to it. This led to the development of various shades in the notion of nationhood. In this article, through an analysis of the performance of swadeshi jatra and its reception, I have tried to discover the vision of nation engendered by performances like jatra, and how precedence was set by it for the development of a nuanced national identity in the spaces of performance of South Asia.
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