Majuli Cultural Landscape Management Authority
...Promoting and preserving the rich heritage of Majuli


A snapshot of Bhaona

The Ankiya nat (form of drama) and bhaonas (expressions of Lord Krishna and Lord Rama) were developed as a medium by Sri Sankardeva as a part of the Neo-Vaishnavite movement to narrate the religions stories and the contents of Srimad Bhagwat Purana and the Ramayana to the devotees. This mode of expression was more engrossing, involving, entertaining and made the contents easily comprehendible. Hence, this traditional art is popular among all Sattras and as well as among the locals. Today Sattriya dance is synonymous to the existence of the Majuli Island. It has been recognized as one of the eight main dance forms of India along with Bharatnatyam, Kathak , Odissi, etc. The Sattriya drama form is locally referred to as Ankia nat. This drama form is symbolic of Sattra in Majuli and it is classical in nature. At the time of festivals, it is performed both by the bhakats and the villagers. Within the Sattras this drama form integrated with music and dance is taught to the young disciples by the elder ones. bhakats usually have their practice sessions every afternoon under the supervision of the elder bhakats.

In 1468 A.D., Sankardeva at the age of 19 years performed the drama Chihnayattra which is regarded as the first drama form in the Assam valley. The drama form is called as the Ankia nat of which 12 are known as Barachowa Ankia Nat. They are still performed in various festivals and occasions in Sattra and villages as well.

There are 12 popular drama like Patni Prasad, Kaliya Daman, Keli Gopal, Rukmini Haran, Parijat Haran, Ram Vijay, etc. Some dramas were started by Sri Madhavdeva for example Arjun Bhajan, Chordhara Pimpara Guchuwa, Bhumi Lotowa, Bhojan Bihar, Bhushan Heruwa, Kotora Khela etc. All the drama forms are classical by type. The sattriya drama form follows its own textual and canonical forms, somewhat similar and elaborate in nature though. These dramas are also referred to as Bhaonas. There are canonical directions for actors in bhaona such as the selection of the actor, color of the skin, and costumes which should suit the character the actor is going to depict in the drama.

Music and dance are an integral part of the drama. In the natya shashtra there are 36 types of Dristis such as rasa, drishti ved, eye movements etc. There are 67 hasta mudra. Sri hasta Muktavali which is the Vaishnava canonical text, describes 71 mudras for dances. All the dances aforesaid follow these canonical procedures. Additional dance forms are also found in these dramas such as such as Biharnach, Chali nach, Pravesh nach, Nadu bhangi nach, Jhumura nach, Krishna and Ramachandra nach, Balak Krishana nach, stri nach, Veera nach, Sage, Gaduda, Hanuman pravesh nach, war dance etc. Bhaonas or the dramas which are also called the Ankiya nats include Faujiya Bhaona, Dhura bhaona, Assamese language bhaona, Mela raag and Bandha Raag.

Ankiya Bhaonas were created by Shankaradeva with parts from the classical drama form, Natyashashtra of Bharata, sanskrit dramas,cultural assimilation from different parts from India, local folk, cultural ideas and his own inputs. The Bhaonas are done with few steps which are very essential to maintain: Gayan-Bayan, Sutra nitya (introduction of the drama by Sutradhara), Sloka, Geet (songs for the masses), Vrajavali language, masks and finally harinaam (the recital done for well being). An important part of Assamese drama is the sutradhara who introduces the actors to the masses and summarizes the dialogues which is a very unique part in Assamese Sattra drama (bhaona). Selection of the Sutradhara is also carefully done as he needs to be a proper Vaishnava with sharan and Bhajan.


An artist of traditional drama with makeup

In Sattriya dramas, four types of costumes and accessories are used: Pushta, Alankara, Anga, Sanjiva. The canonical texts for these are elaborated in different Charita puthis (biographies of saints). These masks are made of either animal skin or cloth over bamboo /cane structure, or mechanical devices. Apart from this the Mukut or the headgear also falls in the category of mask. Masks are also used for doll dramas (putala bhaona).
  1. Alankar: Many manuscripts describe the Alankar used in the Sattriya drama. Usually, all the ornaments used in the daily life of Assamese people are used as ornaments in the Bhaona. They are made of gold and silver. It is to be noted that in the Assamese bhaona, ornaments in manuscripts are of same period in origin as the drama.Colors used in an Actor's Costume Color to be used in face is mostly hengul, haital, neel, dhalmati (white clay) gum, mica etc. 21 types of colors are used in a Bhaona's actor to make his appearance bright. Mention of the proportions of color to get different hues is made in manuscripts. Hengul: Red in color, it is a stone. It is cleaned with by soaking in water for few days. The red color is used for the character's mouth, lips, etc. Mixed with haital (yellow) the color is applied for characters such as Brahma, Devas, Bhishma, Drona etc.
  2. Haital: Yellow stone. Gum is mixed with it but it is not required to be soaked in water. Mixed with Neel (blue), the violet color is applied for Ram's character along with mica grains. Neel: The stone is powdered in a brass plate. Used for characters such as Krishna, Arjuna, Kamdeva, Asuras. After drying, honey is applied over it to make it brighter. Instead of Neel, some actors apply the powder of burnt dry gourd skin along with gum. Mica is applied in this case to brighten up the face.
  3. Dhal Mati: It is a white clayey substance applied in the similar method for characters such as Balabhadra, Lakhshman, Udhav, Shiva, queens and kings.