Indian Classical Literature Unit 4 Classical Assamese Drama

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Indian Classical Literature Unit 4 Classical Assamese Drama

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Classical Assamese Drama


  • Classical Assamese Drama 
  • Sankaradeva
  • Parijata Harana

Shankaradeva’s Parijata Harana Nata 

Shankaradeva was a prolific author who wrote in sev-eral different languages. Most of his works are render-ings of Sanskrit texts: he translated much of the Bhagavata Purana and the Uttara-kanda of the Ramayana into Assamese and wrote narrative poems such as Rukmini Harana Kavya and the Harishchandra Upakhyana based on puranic themes. These are not translations in the mod-em sense of the word, since Sankaradeva condenses, adds colour and new detail, and combines elements from different texts, thus in many cases transforming his trans-lation into a new work. His language is colloquial rather than Sanskritized; his work is free-flowing and idiomatic, and he is not averse to humour. 

Shankaradeva also wrote devotional lyrics, the best known of which are the Bargit, or Great Songs, and the Kirtana-ghosha, a collection of lyrics based on the Bhagavata and intended for congregational chanting. It is said that no Hindu home is without a copy of the Kirtana-ghosha. A doctrinal work, the Bhaktiratnakara, another of his treatises, consists of Sanskrit verses dealing with Vaishnava ideas. 

Shankaradeva is also the author of six plays belonging to a genre of dramatic literature known as ankiya nat, a term first employed by the charita writers. Shankaradeva himself preferred the terms nata or nataka and yatra. The Sanskrit term anka denotes a one-act play, and though efforts have been made to establish the origins of ankiya nat in Sanskrit models, this has proven difficult, since Assamese dramas violate many of the rules of Sanskrit dramaturgy and differ in structure; subject, treatment, and language. Sankaradeva must have been influenced by Maithili drama, which was flourishing at the time ankiya nat first appeared, but his plays do not follow Maithili models either.

Sankaradeva was an innovator rather than an imitator. One of the most distinctive features of Shankaradeva’s plays is their language. Sanskrit plays were written in a mixture of Sanskrit and various Prakrits, and in contemporary Maithili dramas, while dialogue is in San-skrit and Prakrit, songs are in Maithili. In Shankaradeva’s dramas, aside from a sprinkling of Sanskrit couplets, the prose dialogue and the songs are written in a language scholars call Vrajavali, or Assamese Brajabuli. It is also the language in which the Bar git are written. It is usually described as a mixture of Maithili, Assamese, Braj Bhasha, and sometimes other languages. A Bengali counterpart, Brajabuli, was used for Vaishnava lyrics in Bengal. Recent research, however, suggests that both these Vaishnava literary idioms are little more than varieties of Early Maithili: In the sixteenth century, Maithili was the oldest and the most highly developed vernacular in eastern India and was used in highly regarded lyrical and dramatic literature.

As it was closely related to Assamese, it could be under-stood without much difficulty, so it is not difficult to understand why Shankaradeva decided to use it. An Assamese verse commenting on the mixture of languages in the ankiya nat says: ‘Sanskrit verses are composed as there will be scholars to grasp their meaning. The brahmins in the assembly will comprehend the meaning of the songs. The village folk will understand the Brajabuli words. The ignorant people will witness the masks and effigies.” 

Ankiya nat are usually performed at night, during the winter when agricultural labourers have less work to do, religious occasions such as Janmashtami, or on full-moon nights and the like. The performance is usually held in a village namghar, and the villagers serve as the actors. Female roles are played by young men. All actors are amateurs and are not looked down on. 

The audience sits on mats or on the bare floor. Cos-tumes, masks, and other props are used. Shankaradeva’s dramas begin and end with a benediction (bhatima). They are not divided into acts, and they have no vidushaka, or jester, unlike Sanskrit drama. On the other hand, they do have a sutradhara, or director; but in the Assamese plays, the sutradhara not only introduces the play and the char-acters as in classical drama but also continues in this role throughout its course, introducing each scene and explain-ing the action.

The sutradhara also sings, dances, and delivers brief discourses. Sanskrit verses (shlokas) fol-low each change of scene, reiterating what the sutradhara has already said in Maithili (Vrajavali). Most of these verses were composed by Shankar Deva. The prose dialogue alternates with songs (gitas) sung in appropriate melodies (ragas), along with interludes of dancing; this gives the ankiya nat a certain similarity with modern Western musicals. They have also been called “lytico-dramatic spectacles.”‘ 

The Parijata Harana was written toward the end of Shankaradeva’s life. The eminent Assamese scholar Maheshvar Neog describes it as “Shankaradeva’s mas-terpiece with its well-developed dialogue, bold and al-most realistic characterization, finely developed plot and humour.” The Parijata Harana retells two stories from the Bhagavata (10.59.1-45) and the Vishnu Puranas (5.29-31), especially the version in the latter. There we are told how Indra, ejected from heaven by the terrible demon Naraka or Narakasura, appealed to Krishna for aid. In response, Krishna, accompanied by his wife Satyabhama, flew on Garuda’s back to Pragjyotishpur and slew the demon and his generals after a fierce battle. On the way back to Dvaraka, Krishna stole the divine parijata tree from Indra, whose enemy he had defeated in battle, and planted the tree by Satyabhama’s door. 

The story perhaps was especially attractive because of its connection. with Assamese history. The demon Naraka, the son of the demon Hiranyaksha and the earth goddess, was the first ruler of Pragjyotishpur, ancient Assam. His son Bhagadatta, whom the Mahabharata refers to as a king of the Mlecchas, was killed by Arjuna. In Assam and Bengal there is a tradition that Duryodhana married Bhagadatta’s daughter, Bhanumati. In the following translation, the prose dialogue has been included in its entirety, as are the remarks of the sutradhara (abbrevi-ated as SUTRA). Most of the songs have been condensed to save space. The translation is based on the editions of Birinchi Kumar Barua and Kaliram Medhi.

Important questions and answers

Q.1. Write short notes oja pall, Putala Nach, Dhulia Bhaona,Khulia Bhaona,Nagra Nam or Nagara Nam,Kushan Gan,Bhari Gan as ancient folk arts of Assam. 

Ans: (a) Oja-pali 

Oja pali is the-most ancient and the most distinctive form of folk drama. Here oja means the master and pali means the assistants. When and where the oja pali was first started, not known. But the reference of oja pali is seen in the classical Assamese literature. The party of oja pali is usually consists of five to six persons. The master of the party who is known as the gja recites verses from the scriptures to the accompaniment of gestures and body movements, while his assistants who are called palis repeat the verses and provide accompaniment with cym-bals and regular musical time with their feet. 

The leader of the party is a very skillful person, an expert in singing, dancing and acting. The chief of the palace is known as dainapali. He is in the right hand of the oja. Dinapoli is also adept with singing, dancing and acting. Ile repeats the words of oja and in a humorous way ex-pressing the meaning of the words of the oja. Occasionally the oja moves about the stage or the arena in rhyth-mic style explaining the dialogue of the dainapali. The occasional conversations between the oja and the dainapali and the dramatic gestures and movements of the oja throughout the performance make ojapali a semi dramatic art form. 

oja pali art form can be classified broadly into two classes from the thematic as well as the structural points of view : (a) Epic based oja pali and 

(b) Non Epic based oja pali Again Epic base oja pali can be sub divided into eight forms. These are —

i. Wasa Sangita or Bihar- oja pali or Biyah gowa or Sabha gowa oja pal, 

ii. Ramayan Sangita or Ramayan gowa oja pali 

iii. Bhaura or Bhauriya or Bhaira oja pali 

iv. Durgavari oja pali  

v. Satriya oja pali 

vi. Panchali oja pali 

vii. Duladi ojapali 

Based on Indian Kathakata tradition, Bihar oja pali is considered as the oldest among all. Biyahar oja pali recites verses from the two great Indians. epics the Mahabharata and the Purana and illustrates it for the en-tertainment of the audience. This ojapali art form is highly artistic and it appears to be natyadharmi. Usually this form of oja pali is performed annually in different satras and the namghar on some special occasions. 

Ramayan gowa oja pali usually recites verses from the great epic the Ramayana composed by Balmiki. In a few districts ofAssam, like Darrang there is no difference between Biyahar oja pali and Ramayan gowa oja pali Bahuriya or Bhaira oja pali is mainly based on dramatic performances. They always perform something humorous in a dramatic way putting dialogue on the lips of the oja. 

Bhauriya or Bhai oja pali is mainly based on dramatic performances. They always perform something hu-morous in a dramatic way putting dialogue on the lips of the oja. Durgavari oja pali recites verses from the Ceeti Ramayana composed by Durgavar, a contemporary poet of Sankardeva. At present except a few places of Kamrup district, like Hajo Durgavari oja pali is rarely performed elsewhere. 

Satriya oja pali is performed usually inside the four walls of the satras.This type of oja-pali recites verses from the Ramayana, the Bhagavata and the Purana. Unlike the other oja pali, in Satria oja pali the oja never plays any cymbals. 

Panchali oja pali performed their dances maintaining their footsteps in five different ways. They recite verses from the Bhagavata Purana. 

Dulari oja pali, also known as dulari gan, recites verses from Bhagavata Purana playing khuti taal or manjira (a small sized symbols). 

Again, the Non Epic based oja pali can also be subdivided into four different forms — These are : 

i Suknanni oja pali or Rang gowa oja pali 

ii. Bisahari gan gowa oja pali 

iii. Mare gan gowa oja pali : 

iv. Padma purana gan gowa oja pali Sukhnani oja pali recites verses composed by Sukabi Narayan Deva. These verses are based on goddess Manasa. Sukhmani oja pali is so called because it worships the goddess known as Suknanni. The singing of vandana is the main function of Suknanni variety of oja pali.This oja pali starts vandana while the priest is offering puja to the deity. The vandana is started with a particular musical exposition in the sitting position and recites verses of Siva-Manasa and the Beula-Lakhindar lores. Like the Biyah gowa oja pali, the oja attempts to explain the contents of the verse in homely prose with the help of the dainapali. There is a belief that the pujas relating to goddess Manasa can not be completed until and unless the prayer is of-fered by oja pali. 

Bisahari gan or bisahari oja pali is a popular oja pali form. Its performance is seen specially in the Temple Kamakhya and a few places in Kamrup district. This type of oja pali performs their shows sitting in front of the idol of Bisahari. Bisahari oja pali usually recites verses of the Beula Lakhindar lore composed by the Panchali poets namely-Mankar and Durgabar. 

Mare Gan is a popular oja pali form specially seen in the districts of Goalpara and South Kamrup. Mare Gan has a close connection with Deodhani dance and usually they recite verses from native folk epics. Like the Satriya oja pali, in Mare Gan, oja never plays any cymbal. The mare gan gowaoja pali is popular mainly among the Bodo Kachari and the Pati Rabha of the greater Chaygaon and Bako areas.” The oja pali troupe is consisting of an oja. six to ten palis and two deodhani. Dinapoli. The an integral part of the other oja pali troupe, is totally absent in this form of oja pali. The Mare. gan gowa oja pali is per-formed in the occasions like meri puja. celebrated during the month of May and June and it continues usually for three days. 

Padma purana gan, a popular art form, in — in the districts of Goalpara and South Kamrup. This oja pali recites verses mainly to worship padma, the goddess of Snake.

Although the songs, verses and music play an important role in oja-pali performance, the success of a good oja pali depends not only upon that but also on the movements of the head, hands, eyes and feet. The oja pali music is a triple symphony of gita and vadya and nritya.’ 

(b) Putala Nach 

Putala nach or Puppet show is also one of the most ancient folk arts of Assam. In the two great epics the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, there are metaphorical references of puppets. The puppet performances are closely associated with the religious and ceremonial events and temple: festivals. In Assam puppet shows are mainly performed in religious festivals like Durga Puja, Lakshmi Puja, Basanti Puja, Rash Mahotsav, Sabha Mahotshava and Soul Yatra. In spite of its decline in recent years, puppet shows form an important segment of contempo-rary theatrical activity.

There are different types of puppet performances in our country, viz. Glove puppets, Rods puppets, Shadow puppets and String puppets. In Glove puppets, the show is presented by two pup-peteers, each wearing a puppet- one representing Krishna and the other Radha. Krishna-Radha theme is widely performed and treated in pictorial arts. Here one of the two puppeteers sings and also plays on the dhol. While manipulating the puppet figure he occasionally beats the other face of the drum with the hand wearing puppet. However, glove puppet is popular mainly in three states of India namely, Orissa, Kerala and Uttar Pradesh. 

Rod puppets are popular only in four states of India — Orissa. West Bengal, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka: Here rods are attached to the hands of the puppets. Usually the puppet figures are about 3.5 to 4 feet in height and were performed with a loud orchestral music. 

In a shadow puppet show,shadows of puppets are reflected on a curtain with the help of light. In India there are six recognizable traditions of shadow puppet popular in six states namely, Orissa, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Kerala. 

The tradition of String puppet is widespread and has great range and variety in form and technique of manipulation. In Assam the popularity of string puppets is quite impressive. It is not known exactly at what time the art of puppetry first made its appearance in Assam but there are sufficient grounds to believe that the tradition of pup-pet shows here goes back to several centuries.’ 

Usually in a puppet show or putala nach team there are four to five personS. The most important man of the team is known as the sutradhar. In some places he is also known as oja or bayan. He is the producer, director and coordinator of the show. Staying behind the curtain the sutradhar and his other helpers manipulate the puppets with the help of some small black strings. Usually the pup-pets are made by joining together different parts forming the head. trunk and limbs with the help of cloth and other suitable materials. In the majority of cases the body and limbs of the puppets are made of `kuhila* a type of cork wood which is available in the paddy fields of Assam.

The sutradhara with a whisk in his hand. recites verses to the accompaniment of dances and gestures and his associates called pal is follow him: A traditional puppet show starts with some preliminaries like the playing of special rhythmic patterns on the khol (drum) and tal (cymbal) singing some special songs. From time to time the troupe leader, in the pretext of talking to the puppets explains those parts which demand elucidation. The story of the putala nach is usually based on the classical epics The Ramayana and The Mahabharata but in present day vari-ous contemporary issues are also performed in puppet shows.

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