In search of Gopal Bhar

Monwarul Islam
Gautam Bhadra lectures on Gopal Bhar at the programme on Monday. — New Age photo

Gautam Bhadra lectures on Gopal Bhar at the programme on Monday. — New Age photo

Among the court jesters of the eighteenth century India, Gopal Bhar’s name and fame surpasses all other. Gopal Bhar was a court jester of Raja Krishnachandra (1719-1783) of Nadia, and the time saw the emergence of court jester as a profession.
But there is however an abiding contention as to the existence of an original, physically living Gopal Bhar who could amuse with his jokes, jocular songs, movements and ready-wit. Many historians deny any real man named Gopal Bhar in the court of Krishnachandra existed, while many think the opposite.
In a recent two-day lecture titled Bangalir Gopal Bhar: Ekti Lok-charitrer Nirmaner Sandhane, noted Indian historian professor Gautam Bhadra focused on the emergence of Gopal Bhar as a popular jester and historical folk-figure.
The lecture was organised by, and arranged at, Bangla Academy on Monday and Tuesday.
Professor Gautam Bhadra, at the onset of his lecture, said that his intention is not to see whether a blood-and-flesh Gopal Bhar lived in the court of Krishnachandra, but to see how Gopal Bhar became, or rather was constructed, as a seminal folk figure.
Referring to written sources of the time of Raja Krishnachandra, professor Bhadra says that nowhere we get a name of Gopal Bhar, but there are references, though little, that court jesters were there and used to entertain the court with their ready-wit.
First major references to a jester called Gopal Bhar, or publication of his jokes, came around the 1850s. This was precisely a time, says professor Bhadra, when joke books became popular; which prompted publishers to go for repeated publications of joke books.
The Bengali readership, by now, also got to know about a Gopal Bhar, who, it was said, lived in the court of Raja Krishnachandra. The emergence of Gopal Bhar, as a distinct jester, is therefore caused not only because of the brilliance of his jokes, but also due to the market demand.
It is also impossible to verify that how many jokes that go in Gopal’s names are actually from one man, says Bhadra. It is highly likely that many of the jokes we attribute to Gopal Bhar are penned or created by a bunch of later jesters or writers.
Professor Bhadra also mentioned that the emergence of Gopal Bhar as a court jester also called for a popular court that could accommodate such jesters. The point Bhadra goes for is that the emergence of Gopal Bhar as a court jester and/or as a folk-figure is also the emergence of Raja Krishnachandra as a mentor, as a ‘cultured’ king.
To sum up, Bhadra, in his lively lecture, focused on the construction of the identity and image of Gopal Bhar, and such constructions are, he said, always fraught with socio-cultural markers.




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