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Northeast Today

Bhaona: Glamourization or Authenticity and Tradition?

Bhaona: Glamourization or Authenticity and Tradition?
July 23
15:56 2019

Syeda Reshma Haider


An early 16thcentury cultural heritage of entertainment with religious messages, prevalent in Assam, India.

What is Bhaona?

Bhaona, a creation of Mahapurusa Srimanta Sankardeva which are popularly known as Ankiya Naat and their staging is known as Bhaona. Basically, a musical form of drama showcasing the victory of truth at the climax where mythological characters are used, primarily centering on Krishna. The plays usually combine live instruments, singers, elaborate costumes and dramatic foot and hand steps of the characters. This is what differentiates it from other plays. These plays were written in an artificial Assamese-Maithili mixed language called Brajavali.




What Bhaona symbolizes :

Srimanta Sankaradeva preached the main principles of Eka Sarana Nama Dharma among the masses through his Ankiya Naat. So the passing of these plays was symbolic. The covering screen known as Pamori bastra used to keep covering the actors before their entry symbolises Maya (illusion). The character of Krishna enters the arena of acting after this screen ‘pamori bastra’ is removed. This symbolizes the fact that truth undertakes in one when the cover of ignorance is removed. Srimanta Sankaradeva laid two particular modes of devotion to God. These two were chanting and listening to God’s name. Two Ariyas (fire torches) used for illumination of the arena of acting signify these two modes of devotion.

Various aspects of it:

Srimanta Sankardeva did not want his devotees to live a dull and tasteless life even though they lived a very devotedly religious life.It was viewed among common folks in medieval Assam. The saint composed his plays in a way to offer quality entertainment including songs and dances. Srimanta Sankardeva was in fact the first playwright in the world to use the plays as a medium of proselytizing(seek/make converts). The purpose of such play during the 16th century was for social reform and reconstruction, a tool to spread his religious message.




The performance of an Ankia Naat starts with a benediction in Sanskrit followed by eulogy to God in Brajavali . After the prelude, the narrator or Sutradhar enters the stage and begins the actual performance. The plot of Ankiya Naat was basically taken from Bhagavad Gita and Ramayan. He incorporated elements like battle, killing, and wedding depicting ancient weapons like bow, arrow, and swords. To name some –Rukmini Haran,Sri Ram Vijaya,Keli Gopala.


Picture Credit: Pradeepta Das


The play is proceeded by a performance of the Gayan-Bayanwhere Gayan (singers) sing Borgeet, they are the lyrical strain that expresses the religious sentiments of the poets reacting to different situations. Borgeet was also first composed by Srimanta Sankardeva.Bayan(instrumentalist)   tune-up with traditional instruments (Khol,Taal, Doba, and Nagara; all the instruments were also created by Sankardeva); with different hard and fast movements, and formulas. Bhaona Dance has evolved from the compositions of a ‘Vaishnavite’ saint Srimanta Sankardeva. The ankiya naat gave birth to a new school of classical dance viz. Sattriya or Sankari dance.

The dress and makeup during the Bhaona is usually very appealing and loud. The dress of a Sutradharconsists of a ‘Ghuri’ and a ‘Chaddar‘ and a silk turban. The kings and queen are  dressed up with traditional elaborate glittering costumes and accessorized with jewellery head to toe. Fanciful effigies for demons and animal characters in the play. The colours applied on the performers are extracted from the barks, leaves and flowers of a particular type of tree. This paste is known as ‘Hengul Hightali.’ Masks are used in Bhaona dance to depict characters of ‘Rakshasas’,Danavas’, ‘Asuras’, ‘birds’, ‘serpents’, ‘Bakasura’, ‘Garuda, etc.The costume used in these Bhaona also have undergone a lot of changes, reducing the simplicity and graciousness of the yesteryears.

Bhaona in recent times:

Glamourization to it has laid down to the upholding of its authenticity and tradition. Several playwrights have been influenced by the Ankiya naat,there have been attempts to compose plays in modern language and context using the style of Ankiya Naat. The traditional plays of Sankaradeva legacy have started using new prose in their dialogues, biding bye to Brajawali. It is in middle Assam, especially in Nagaon-Kaliabor area that the original Ankiya plays authored by Srimanta Sankaradeva in Brajawali language are being enacted. There is also unwarranted introduction of characters like clowns in some cases. Although effort has been made to popularize the traditional Ankiya Bhaona by Sangeet Natak Akkademi Sattriya Kendra Centre, Asom Satra Mahasabha and the Srimanta Sankar Foundation.It is time the authenticity of the prestigious cultural heritage is regained and preserved among the growing generation,as a means of propagating the moral values which are depicted in the ancient scriptures.Ankiya Bhaona needs to go every corner of Assam,enacting the stories in all its grandeur.





Reshma(Author is a masters student of Communication and Journalism, Gauhati University. Building a better taste bud empire around Culture, Fashion and Art.)



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