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

CULTURE - FESTIVALS CELEBRATED IN THE RIVER ISLAND OF MAJULI

BARSIK BHAONA-SABAH

A snapshot of Bhaona

Bhaona-sabah meaning performance of a religious drama and holding of a grand congregation prayer is the most universal festival of the villages in Majuli. Every non-tribal Assamese Hindu village in Majuli performs an annual congregation called bar-sabah followed by performance of a religious drama (bhaona) where not only the organizing village but also many of the neighbouring villages participate. It is the most important festival in a village in Majuli possible next to the Bihu festivals. The time for organizing a barsik sabah-bhaona is not the same for all the villages; but the normal time is during the months of May and June, although it may sometimes be held even in the last part of April or first part of July. June-July being the harvesting time of summer crops, ahu rice and the season of rain and flood; the chosen and the most convenient time for organizing a bhaonasabah is immediately after the bohag bihu which falls in mid-April. Among the agenda of the barsik sabah-bhaona are a congregation prayer that includes uthanam and hiyanam, reading of the bhagavata, distribution of mah-prasad, reception of the invited guests in both village and family level, and above all, performance of the bhaona in the night.

Villagers start preparing for the bhaona-sabah at least a month before the actual function and they consider bhaona to be the heart and soul of the people. The drama for a bhaona is composed by learned people of the village, or they collect one such drama from outside the village. Normally, dramas are composed by the Sattradhikaras and then performed in the Sattra. When the villagers visiting the Sattra attend the bhaona, or come to know about the drama, they borrow it and make a copy of it for their own use. From early in the morning of that day every member of the village engages in his/her duty fixed by custom or by the society, or by the family. By late in the morning guests from the other villages begin to arrive. At noon formal function of the reading, recitation, and congregation prayer starts. The whole sabah closes in the afternoon with distribution of the mah-prasad. Now there is the time for recreation for about three hours. In the evening, the bhaona starts when the namghar is full of audience with female members on one side and the males on the other.

The Bhaona-sabah has great social value. It enhances relationship between different villages and between different social groups. An interesting aspect of this function is that in the past bhaona was a secluded cultural function confined to the Sattras alone; and therefore, its participants were also mainly the inmates of the Sattra and their family members. But today a village namghar is full of audience coming from all castes and tribes and from various walks of life. In the congregation also, members from different communities participate; and Bhakats from various castes and communities are invited to participate in the bhaona-sabah under a single canopy called chandratap.It is not clear when the bhaona culture entered the villages; but it is surely presumable that sabah or congregation prayers and the common prayer hall (namghar) became part of the village culture along with the spread of Vaishnavism. Popularising bhaona has been the work of the smaller Sattras, mainly of Kamalabari.