Dr. Pitambar Dev Goswami
(Translated from the Asomiya original by Stuti Goswami)
Ankiya Bhaona comprise one of the strongest foundations of the culture of the Assamese race. With Bhaona as its base, the people of Assam build their moral, spiritual and cultural edifices. Especially in the rural areas, Bhaona is the principal means of imparting knowledge and education. At the same time, it instills in people organizational capacities; for the Bhaona requires participation of a considerable number of persons to take care of its different aspects. Right from the grassroot level to respectable personages of society, Bhaona offers honour and dignity to evryone. It engenders creativity and contributes towards economic upliftment in society.However, the main contribution of the Bhaona is the awakening of Bhagavat Bhakti in the masses. Burnt firewood is of no value; likewise a life without devotion to Lord Krishna too is of no value. The shloka sung by the Gayan –Bayan at the beginning of the Bhaona stresses on this facet of the Bhaona. The same has been supported by the doctrines of Mahapurush Srimanta Shankardev as also by “Udvat Saagor”. The “Mridanga” too reproaches a man with no devotion to Lord Krishna. The shloka is --Jeshang Srimad Jashoda Suta Pada KamaleNasti Bhakti NaraanaangJeshang Aabhiro Kanya Priyo Guno KothoneNaanu Raktaa RasagyaaJeshang Srikrishna Leela LalitaaniSaadoro Naibo KaarnonDhikotwang Dhikotwang DhikotwangKathoyoti Niyotong Kirtonostu Mridanga”At the end of each boson the Sutradhaar (interlocutor) cautions men against drifting away from the path of Krishna Bhakti thus--“Desoho Sunoho Nirantore Hari Boolo Hari”The customs of the Ankiya Bhaona are interesting and highly significant. In all, there are five main elements of the performance of an Ankiya Bhaona. These customs carry forward the objectives of the Bhaona; at the same time they also provide or rasa to the audience, an audience that comprise people from different sections of society; and foster unity amongst the people. The seven elements or rasas are described as thus—“Saptarase Naatoko Rananaa KoroyoSuniyuko Sapta Rasar AnwayoGayana-Bayana Sabe Sabha Jaya KoreSutro Natya Gane Rasikara Mana HoreGeeto Artha Bujibeko Dwijo LabhyaganoBrajabhaasi Bhashako Bujibe Graami LokeSo Mukha Dekhibeko Agya Murho LokoSuddha ba Asuddha Tothapitu Krishna NamoEi Saptarasa naatoko Anupaamo.”The first element of the Ankiya Bhaona is Gayan-Bayan. The principal task of the gayan-bayan is to perform(and demonstrate) the khela or the leela of the Lord. These khela are also known as the dhemali. These dhemali are divided into two categories. They are—Boha Sahini and Utha Sahini. In all there are twelve dhemalis. In Boha Sahini we have hand movement of the Gayan-bayan in accompaniment to the instruments(vadya) and in Utha Sahini we have extensive movement of the feet. Tewai Juti, Saaj are the principal ornaments(alankar) of the Pada Chalana or feet movement. However these ‘ornaments’ are meant not merely to enhance the beauty of the Sahini .They serve to keep pace with the rhythm(tala) as well as maintain ones fitness. Through the ‘bol’ of their instruments(vadya) and their body movement (anga saalon) the Gayan-Bayan express their devotion to the Lord. Mor importantly however these dhemalis serve to create a congenial intellectual environment for the presentation of the Bhaona.Sutra and Natya Charitra: This is the second element of the Ankiya Bhaona. This element concerns body movement (anga sonsaalon) and utterance (bol)of the characters. Through this, it is endeavoured to provide rasa to the audience. Through their body movement (anga sonsaalon),the Sutradhaar(interlocutor) and the characters(Natya Charitra) express their devotion to Lord Krishna ,the reigning deity; and this is a form of worship through bodily movements (angik aradhana).Shloka: In the Ankiya Bhaona, there is profound use of the Sanskrit Shlokas. These shlokas hold for the consideration of the scholars in Sanskrit philosophy. The incorporation of poetic metaphors (kabyik byanjana) in the application of the shlokas is another striking feature of the Ankiya Bhaona.Fourthly, the principal medium of giving expression to the subject matter and description of the environment or context of the Bhaona are the Naandigeet: Bhotima, Poyar, Jhuna, Muktaawoli chanda, Totoi, Sopoi. These geet (songs) generate a musical environment and aestheticism in society. There are different chanda(rhyme) and tala (rhythm) integral to these geet ; thus there are ample evidences of classical elements in these geet.Fifthly, Brajawali is the principal language of the Ankiya Bhaona. A language created out of mixture of Sanskrit, Maithili and ancient Asomiya language, Brajawali is easily comprehensible for the common people; and serves to generate religious feeling and devotion in the masses.The masks are the sixth and a significant part of the performance of an Ankiya Bhaona. The mukha or masks are important for a proper understanding of the theme or substance of the Bhaona especially by the unlettered masses.The seventh and final element of the Ankiya Bhaona is Krishna naam or the name of Lord Krishna. Krishna consciousness and an exposition of the Krishna philosophy is a significant aspect and a prime objective of the Ankiya Bhaona. Krishna naam is one of the main attractions for both the devotees and the aficionados of this art form.In addition to these seven elements, the performance of Ankiya Bhaona entails four other elements. They are—a)Aangik b) Kabyik c)Aharjyo d)SaatwikAangik (i.e. body movement) and kabyik (i.e. songs and poetry) of the Bhaona have been discussed already. Aharjyo is another significant aspect of the Ankiya Bhaona. By Aharjyo, we understand the costume, the paints (i.e. cosmetics), ornaments et al donned by the characters and the various properties or props used by them during the Bhaona. On the other hand, by Satwik we understand the following eight unnatural ‘states’1.Starto i.e. the state of remaining motionless2.Shedojol i.e. perspiration3.Romance or Horipilation4.Bepothu i.e. trembling5.Ashru i.e. tears6.Swarabhed i.e. change of voice7.Boivorno i.e. change of colour8.Proloy i.e. faintingThese eight states provide a specific direction to the acting performances; and serve to provide a distinct form to the understanding or comprehension of the theme or subject matter of the Ankiya Bhaona.Although the Ankiya Bhaona is performed through the aid of the above elements, there are a few associated customs or reeti which too are to be taken under consideration. In the performance of the Ankiya Bhaona, these reeti have their impact on the Ankiya Bhaona and enhance its glory.These are as follows—1.Agnigarh 2. aariya 3. Jor 4. Mohota 5. Bhota saaki 6.Aalok Sajja 7. Dohaar Tholi 8. So Ghar etc.Just as Naandigeet and Naandi shlokas are sung at the beginning of the Bhaona to pay obeisance to the presiding deity and seek blessings in the interests of the Ankiya Bhaona. At the end of the Bhaona too, Mukti Mangal Bhotima is sung to seek forgiveness for any wrong unintentionally done.Thus, the Ankiya Bhaona is performed in a vibrant , respectable and attractive way. With Guru, deu, naam , bhakat incorporated, the Ankiya Bhaona is hardly visible at the national level.