Indian Classical Literature Unit 4 Classical Assamese Drama

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Indian Classical Literature Unit 4 Classical Assamese Drama

Indian Classical Literature Unit 4 Classical Assamese Drama Notes cover all the exercise questions in UGC Syllabus. The Indian Classical Literature Unit 4 Classical Assamese Drama provided here ensures a smooth and easy understanding of all the concepts. Understand the concepts behind every Unit and score well in the board exams.

(c) Dhulia Bhaona 

Dhulia bhaona is another important folk drama of Assam. It is the major traditional performance in the North Kamrup area from time immemorial. Like other forms of folk drama, dhul is bhaona is predominantly a dance mu-sical with endless improvisations. The performance of dhulia has two stages. In the first stage the dhulias beat the drums and dance and sing to the tune of beating drums and clapping cymbals. In the second stage they present a dramatic scene on the basis of some known mythological episode. The folk drama, dhulia bhaona may rightly be classi-fied into three classes from the functional points of view.These are –,- 

(i) Sabha gowa dhulia 

(ii) Biya gowa dhulia. 

(iii) Puja gowa dhulia 

The sabha gowa dhulia has been occupying an im-portant position in the entire North Kamrup area. The beating of drums of various sizes, the dancing movements, the costumes, and the dramatic performances of sabha gowa dhulia specially attract all classes of people. Usually this type of dhulia performance is seen in various reli-gious festivals. The dramatic performances of this type of dhulia are mainly based on mythological themes. Humour in dhulia performance is considered as a must. Use of mask is another important feature of this dhulia perfor-mance.

Biya an Assamese word, means marriage. As this dhulia troupe perform shows specially in marriage ceremonies they are known as Biya gowa dhulia. However, the popularity of this type of dhulia is not the same as it was in yesteryears. Earlier, inviting a biva gowa dhulia was a tradition specially among the elite classes of North Kamrup area on occasions like marriage. 

Biya gowa dhulia is not a common phenomenon now-a-days. The popularity of biya gowa dhulia is gradually declining, although a section of people of Lower Assam still continues the tradition of inviting this art form specially in marriage ceremonies. In the past, particularly the elite class people always invited this type of dhulia performance on special Occasions like marriage ceremonies.

Puja gowa dhulia usually performs their shows in the Puja Utsav celebrated on different occasions of a year. However the classification of these dhulia bhaona is not rigid but flexible. Because in reality they do not have any water tight differences, since the same form of dhulia bhaona may perform on different occasions. 

(d) Khulia Bhaona 

Similar to dhulia bhaona, khulia bhaona is another important folk drama ofAssam. Most of the members of this troupe used to play khol, a small drum for which they are known as khulia. The chief of the troupe is called the oja while the others are known as bayan, khulias and falis. The oja conducts the whole performance with a whisk in his hand. The gayan is a skilled musician. The khulias play the khol while the talis play cymbals. The performances of khulia bhaona are based on the stories of The Mahabharata and The Ramayana. 

Usually the performance starts with a preliminary show playing on ” kohls and cymbals. After that the ouija sings a ditty in praise of Lord Krishna and then the play advances through recitations of refrains and verses by the oja and the dialogue of the actors. Occasionally the bayan holds conversations with the actors and explains the difficult parts of the verses in a timely manner. In addition to the main actors there isin khulia bhaona, a bahua or a buffoon who keeps the audience enraptured by his comical remarks and gestures.’ 

(e) Nagra Nam or Nagara Nam 

Nagara nam is another major performing art form of Assam. It is a kind of choral singing. The troupe of nagara nam is constituted with a group of people in which there is no definite number. Usually the troupe consists of twenty five persons. The nagara and the bhor tal are two essential instruments for a nagara nam performance. Benu (a kind of scraper instrument) and kartal (a kind of idiophone) are also used in some areas. In a nagara nam troupe, the number of nagaras may vary from two to twelve pairs. Usually it depends upon the member of the performers. Same thing is applicable to the bhar tals also. Normally the nagara nam are performed in religious functions. The chief of the nagara nam troupe is called pathaka. In a nagara nam, the participants take their seats in a circle keeping the pathak in the middle. Nagara nam is a kind of multi coloured art form combined with geeta, pada, nritya, katha and vadya which make it a distinctive folk institution”. 

(f) Kushan Gan 

Kushan gan is one of the most popular forms of folk drama prevailing in the Goalpara region. It is an open air theatre with music, dance and other ingredients of folk drama. The themes of kushan gan are drawn from the two great epics — The Ramayana and The Mahabharata. It is said that the term kushan derived from kusha one of the two sons of Rama. The troupe consists of fifteen to sixteen persons. The chief of the troupe is called mut or gital. The functions of the gital are similar to those of the oja in oja pali. In reciting verses he uses the bena, a locally produced one string musical instrument. Besides bena, the other instruments like, kohls (drums) and tals (cym-bals) are also used in a kushan gan performance. But the use of bena is so prominent in a kushan gan performance that in some places it is also known as bena gan. The other performers in the troupe include one dowari, a few musicians and some dancing boys locally known as chengra or chokra. 

(g) Bhari Can 

Bhari gan is another type of folk drama popular in the southern region of Goalpara. The subjects of this type of folk dramas are drawn from the great epic The Ramayana. The leader of the troupe is called mut. He recites verses and dances with a whisk in his hand and his associates, who were called palis provide accompaniment by playing upon drums (khol) and cymbals. The leader expresses the theme through dramatic gestures. He never explains anything through dialogue. Besides mut and pali there is an additional character, known as ketua in Bhari gan. He performs the functions of a clown.’ 


Ans: Sankardeva, who is regarded as the father of Assamese drama, drew much inspiration from these indigeneous art forms. Born in 1449 at Silpukhuri near Bordowa, Sankardeva initiated a bhakti movement, known as the Vaishnavite Movement and brought a literary and artistic Renaissance in Assam. The Vaishnavite Movement ofAssam initiated by Sankardeva did not differ in essen-tial points from the similar Vaishnava Movement of Medieval India. Belief in one god – Vishnu or Lord Krishna, em-phasis on devotion and faith, preach for equality and ig-norance towards caste distinctions are a few common characteristics of all Vaishnavite sects of India.

The movement may therefore be called a part of the all India Vaishnavite Movement. Sankardeva was a genius, prophet and seer in whom the whole of Assamese culture and tradition may be said to be epitomised. In his long twenty years of pilgrimage Sankardeva had visited almost all the sacred places of Northern India and acquired knowledge to develop the so long dormant Assamese culture and tradition. Sankardeva laid special emphasis on shravan and kirtana. that is listening to the name and praising the one and only one supreme Lord by chanting him again and again. His activities especially, his heart searching messages left a deep impression in the heart of the people of Assam. 

Besides, he was inspired by the Indian classical tradi-tion of drama associated with religion. It is quite possible that Sankardeva must have had a thorough understanding of Sanskrit dramaturgy as envisaged in Natyasastra and at least a first hand knowledge of some of the theatre forms prevailing in some of the regions he came across during his wide range of pilgrimage. 

To preach his neo-vaishnavite religion, Sankardeva in-novates a new kind of dramatic performance known as bhaona or ankia nat. Sankardeva’s bhaona is a dramatic composition in a single act depicting the vaishnavite faith. While Sankardeva was only nineteen, he performed his first bhaona — Chinnayatra, at his birth place Bordowa. In China Yatra Sankardeva, the composer and director of the play, played the role of Narayana (Lord Krishna) while Sandhara Doloi and I)hawjaram, the son ofChanderi Budi played the role of Brahma and Har respectively. 

Chida the son of Raghupati Rajak; Chand, the son of Bhekuri Hira; Rupali, the son of Nimai Kumar; Sunanda, the son of widowed Mahindri; Karnapur, the son of Narottam Mishra and Bangaya, the brother of Sankardeva played the role of six Lakshmi. 

Of all the dramas of Sankardev, Chinnayatra is sup-posed to be the first. Unfortunately, nothing but a brief. description of the performance is available. The biographers have recorded it thus– ‘Once at the request of the Bhuyans, Sankardeva arranged a show of seven heavens (sapta vaikuntha), the wish yielding tree (kalpa taru) etc. persons necessary for the performance, namely the musicians (bayans) the as-sistants (palis), the dancers (natuas) were made ready. The masks, the effigies, the pandal (rabha) and all other necessary stage accessories were also prepared. A deco-rated curtain (anr kapor) was hung. Sankardeva himself began singing in the Raja called bayu. mandali.

Two gayans named Lakshman and Balai started singing in the Emir Raga. Another named Bhima played the bar-dhemali and ghosa dhemali. A big light called mahatma ‘ or mata was lit. All the spectators were spellbound as it were. They could not know whether it was day or night.” Although this brief description of Chinnayatra is in the Charit Puthi, critics have different opinions about this play. Some critics believe that the play was not composed like his other plays but performed with the help of the painting of Sapta Baikuntha (seven heavens),”‘ songs, musical instruments and acting.

It is stated that Sankardeva himself painted the scenes using colours prepared from indigenous materials, played the khol (the local drum), acted out the role of sutradhar who is the interlocutor in the prelude to the drama and to each scene of the drama. The prece-dence given to songs, music and dance made the first dramatic presentation of Sankardeva closer in many respects to folk dramatic institutions than to a classical San-skrit drama. The immediate success of Chinnayatra must have encouraged the playwright to perform more such plays as a means for propagating the message of bhakti. After Chinnayatra, Sankardeva composed six other plays. These are —

1. Kalidaman or Kaliya Daman 

2. Patni Prasad 

3. Keli Gopal 

4. Rukmini Haran 

5. Parijat Haran 

6. Sri Ram Vijoy 

Sankardeva’s Parijat Haran, Rukmini Haran and Ram Vijoy are full-fledged plays having definable plots, char-acters and dialogues like modem plays. On the other hand Keligopal and Kaliya Daman may be considered as small plays. While choosing the themes for his plays from the numerous stories of the two epics, The Ramayana and The Mahabharata and The Bhagavad Purana, Sankardeva took into consideration the inherent dramatic-qualities to amuse as well as to teach the people of Assam. He first entertained the audience with a thrilling drama and then brought home the message of complete submission to lord Krishna. Sankardeva’s akhiyan nats have both a sensuous and an intellectual appeal.

These plays exercised a tremendous influence on the national and cultural life of Assam; they led to the growth of the popular stage, and development of music and dancing.”As printing was unknown during Sankardeva’s time, the performance of ankiya nat easily won the hearts of all classes of spectators. Sankardeva was successful in spreading his neo vaishnavite faith among the masses through the performance of ankiya nats. Besides, the popularity of ankiya nats inspired him for the creation of a new type of narrative poem called bhatia. 

It should also be noted that the growth of ankiya nat was influenced by the earlier practice of reciting kavyas and sastras in social and religious congregations. Before the composition of ankiya rats Sankardeva had composed kavyas and these were used in such recitals. Sankardeva realised the effectiveness of dramatic performance to motivate the minds of the people.

Like Sankardeva, his favourite disciple Madhavdeva was also a prolific writer. In addition to a large number of poetical works, Madhavdeva composed a number of plays to spread the message of neo-vaishnavite faith among the masses. Critics universally accepted that Madhavdeva composed five plays, namely —

1. Arjun Bhanjan 

2. Cordhara 

3. Bhumiletowa 

4 Pimpara Gusowa 

5. Bhojan Bihar 

But regarding the composition of other few plays, critics have different opinions. According to the Charit Puthi, Madhavdeva composed two plays namely Ram Yatra and Gobardhan Yatra and he himself acted these two plays. In Charit Puthi it is also stated that Ram Yatra was destroyed owing to its length. But there is no indication about the disappearance of Gobardhan Yatra. However the in-troduction of Kaliram Medhi’s Ankawali, it is stated that the four plays namely Kefora Khela, Brahma Mohan, Bhusan Sharan.and Rash Jhumura were composed by some other writers in the name of Madhavdeva.

The subject matter of Madhavdeva’s plays is based on the sportive activities and pranks of the child Krishna. While Sankardeva mainly concentrates on activities of Krishna as a youth or at least as a grown up boy, Madhavdeva focuses only on Krishna, the child. His. plays Arjunbhanj an, Pimparagusowa and Bhumiletowa dramatise certain pranks and sportive plays of the child Krishna. The major characters in his plays are Krishna and his mother,Jasoda. The dominant sentiment visible in Madhavdeva’s plays is motherly and filial love, without missing the sentiment of bhakti. Madhavdeva skillfully presents the universal child and the universal mother in his plays. 


Ans: Certain peculiarities are commonly found in the plays of Mahapurusha Srimanta Sankardeva which are as follows: 

(a) Most of his plays are based on Tenth Part of the Bhagawat. Only ‘Ram Vijoy’ has been based on the `Ramayana’. 

(b) In most cases he has started his plays with a couple of slokas (hymns); one of them is based on a metre called `Sardul Vikririta’ (a kind of classical metre). 

(c) We find two Bhotimas (songs praising the God), in most of his dramas except in the ‘Ram Bijoy’ and the Rukmini Haran’ each of which contains four such Bhotiyas. 

(d) The language of his plays is very rich in literary beauty. Sankardeva has made it most interesting and enjoyable, by his judicious use of prosodies and occasionally with a local touch as and when he considered necessary. 

(e) In certain cases similar descriptions of characters and environments are noticed in his plays. Sita and Rukmini, for instance, have been described almost in identical fashions. 

(f) Again, similarity in the behaviours of the Kings towards their rivals at the sight of the beauty of the heroine is found in his plays. Such scenes are found in the Ram Bijoy and the `Rukinini Haran’ Naat. 

(g) Sankardeva applies generally short versified metres in the songs of adoration composed in Sanskrit. 

(h) He has portrayed Lord Krishna (Lord Rama in Ram Bijoy) as the hero of his plays where he has attempted to focus the human characteristics of the heroes who stun the human beings with their natural and supernatural acts. 

(i) Although we find elements like sexual sentiment, heroism, dreadfulness, tragedies etc in Sankardeva’s plays, he mainly devotes to propagate devotional sentiment only through his dramatic works. Even though sexual sentiment, has a significant place in his plays like `Keli Gopal’ Rukmini Haron’ and the ‘Ram Bijoy’, Sankardeva has succeeded in converting it to devotional sentiment finally. 

(j) He has mostly taken recourse to a character called `Bhaat’ (panegyrist) to describe amorous attraction between the hero and the heroine and their union. Such characters have been given a prominent role in the Ram Vijoy’ and the `Rukmini Haron’ Naat. 

(k) One must acknowledge the unique impact of the dramatic songs which is primarily the reason behind the attraction of Sankardeva’s plays. Such impact is more prominent in the ‘Keli Gopal’ play. 

Q.4. The use of Brajavali Language : 

Ans: Another specific characteristic is the use of Brajavali language in the Ankiya Naat. While this language in Assamese is called ‘Brajavali’, there is a similar language in Bengali known as ‘Brajabuli’ but they are not the same. It is a spoken language that prevailed in the Mithila region during 14″ & 15″ Century AD. The Vaishnavite poets of the mediaeval era adding their own colloquial words and changing the form of the words here and there in those used by poet Vidyapati in his books, the poets in subsequent times laid the foundation of this language.

As in the case of Pali used by the Buddhists, which is not a specific literary form or a language of any particular region, but was created to be understood easily by all sections of the people, so was the case of Brajavali too. Again, as in Pali, which was created based on the language spoken in Magadha region with some changes mutatis mutandis to include words spoken in other regions too, the Brajavali language was also created mixing Maithili and Awahatti words with those of the Assamese language in its modes and style of spoken and written expressions.

However, some slight influence of Bhojpuri, Awaihi and Braj Bhasha (Hindi as spoken in Western parts of U.P.) is also noticed in Brajavali language, used by Mahapurush in their writings. Similarly, verbs, adverbs and pronouns used in the Ankiya Naat are also found in Maithili, Bhojpuri, Awadhi and Braj Bhasha too with slight variation in forms. For in-stance, we can point to words like `kabahu’, `yaker’, `yaise’, `kaise’, `yasuO moi’, ‘he which are found in Maithili, Awadhi and Braj Bhasha too. This might be due to the impact of the year-long pilgrimages undertaken by the Mahapurush to such regions. The sentences quoted in verbatim bellow will give an idea of the type of amalgamation that Maithili has had with the Assamese Brajavali language:

“He’ parama Iswara, tohari pada prahare swamimari yaye. kaka dosha bareka marasaGosain. Tohari aagu khudra patanga.lhaka mari kona yasa sadhaba. Yata lagemane sasti pawala.” -Kaliya Daman 

[Oh God, our husband is going to die due to your kicks. Kindly pardon him for this time. He is a small fly in front of you, what glory will you achieve by killing Him? He has got enough punishment.] 


“Hamo kata tapa kariya devaka bare briddha bayase krishnaka putra pawalo. Sehi prana putra brikshya pariya kshyanike mari yaya; Gosaints Barse kerawalla. Toho Kinimitte manusa bheli; rakshyasito adhika bheli; apona putraka khaite sawala. Krishnaka nakhai hamako.khawa–` Arjun Bhanj an’ [After a lot of penance, and with the blessings from God, I have got Krishna as my son at this advanced age. That son, dearer than my life, was going to die in a moment due to falling off the tree. He escaped from death only because of divine blessing. Why have you become a woman ? You are worse than a titan; you want to eat your own son! Eat my flesh in place of Krishna.’] 

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