Although general belief is that famous biennial Thakurani Jatra festival of Berhampur is several centuries old yet historical evidence hints that it may have begun in last part of nineteenth century.
Till now no major historical documents related to origin of this festival have been found or documented. So, the presumptions regarding history of this festival are tried to be ascertained through the history of Debanga and Dera community who are intrinsic part of this festival and the deity attached to it. Members of Debanga or Dera community were not original residents of Berhampur. This Telugu speaking weaving community had migrated to the city from Andhra Pradesh. They had settled near the Mahuri palace in the city several centuries back.
As per an article written by historian Dandapani Mohanty in a book on history and cultural heritage of Berhampur, published in 1994, the Mahuri palace was built in the city between 1662 and 1672. This data coincides with the data in a letter written by Ganjam Resident’s letter written to then British government on October 12, 1791. This letter is part of Ganjam Records (Volume 738).
According to Pradeep Mahapatra, who continues research on history and culture of Berhampur as well as Thakurani Jatra, opines that Mohuri kingdom and Mohuri palace take their name from a musical wind instrument named Mohuri. As per some historians Sana Raja, who was made king of a the region between Rushikulya and Bahuda rivers by Gajapati king of Puri Purishottam Dev, was fond of playing Mohuri. So, he declared his new kingdom as Mohuri.
For some time Mohuri kingdom was under the Nizam of Hyderabad. It went under the French in 1753 and in 1766 it was taken over by the British. The royal family of Mohuri had decided to shift their capital fort at Kerandimal hill about 12 km from Berhampur to a new palace in the upcoming urban centre in Berhampur during this time.
King of Mahuri Harihar Narayan Deb, a scion of Mohuri royal family had got interested in the silk weavers during his visit to areas of south India. He had requested some of these silk weaver families of Debanga community members especially from Rajmundhry to migrate to his kingdom. Harihar Narayan Deb was murdered in 1782 at an young age. He had ruled for just ten years. “So, it can be hinted that the Debanga community had reached the city between 1772 and 1782”, said Mr Mahapatra. This Debanga community started the worship of goddess Budhi Thakurani and worship of the goddess through earthen pots or Ghata puja in the city.
As per Mr Mahapatra, the socio-political situation in Berhampur could not have permitted start of Thakurani Jatra festival till last part of nineteenth century. Nahuri kingdom was politically too unstable from 1772 to 1850. In 1850 Mahuri State together with Berhampur was declared as a revenue taluk and British administration. But there remains no mention of Thakurani Jatra festival in British records of that time. So, it Thakurani Yatra might not have started till 1850. There was the great famine in Odisha in 1865.
It was again not a time for start or continuation of any festival. So, many historians believe that Thakurani Jatra must have started after agrarian prosperity returned back after the devastating famine. So, it may have started in last part of nineteenth century.
Yet Mr Mahapatra feels more historical study was needed to ascertain the historical heritage of this festival which ahs become identity of the city within such a short period.