Bhaona performance in Mumbai

The Assamese fraternity from Navi Mumbai and Mumbai gathered in large numbers to witness the Bhaona, the literary meaning of which is a dramatic performance. An intergral part of Assamese tradition, generally, every year after the harvesting season ends, people from one or more villages come together to organize Bhaona in the Namghar (village temple).

The Bhaona performance is the contribution of Shri Sankardeva, a poet, dramatist and religious preacher who lived in the 15th century. The erudite scholar used dance, drama and music to bring all sections of the society together. The first Bhaona performance was staged in 1468 AD. Many Bhaona are selected from epic like Ramanaya and the Mahabharata.

In the Bhaona, a group of musicians called Gayan-Bayan plan the khols (drums) and tals (cymbals) expressing different ragas and mudras. This is followed by the entry of the compare who dances in tune with the group of musicians. The story unfolds when the protagonist comes center stage and emphasizes on the nine emotions. Four types of dances are introduced in the drama. They are the entrance dance, a dance with songs, a fighting dance and dances of movements. “The Revenge of Sakuni” written for this form by the late Ganesh Gogoi, is an important episode from the Mahabharata. The story revolves around the hatred Sakuni had towards the Kauravas, which he kept secret. The story ends with the death of Sakuni.

Bhaona plays paved the way for cultural development of other arts and crafts in Assam. This led to further development in customs, makeup and other accessories. The social atmosphere at the time of Sankardeva was not conducive fever among the illiterate. This was why he wanted to get people on the righteous path through the medium of music, songs, drama and literature.

The program was inaugurated by the Shankaracharaya of Atharva Veda. He was presented with the traditional Assamese japi and phulam gamusa, as tokens of reverence. On the occasion, the association brought out a souvenir, which provided deeper insights into Bhaona.

- By Deepankar G. Borgohain