The Bhaona Dance is a theatrical performance of Vaishnava Ankiya Nat, a one-act play, commenced by Sankardeva. It is mostly aimed at spreading ‘Vaishnava’ and performed in village Namghars and Satra grounds. The Sutradhar of an Ankiya Nat is an essential part of it. Sutradhar recites slokas, sings, dances and explains in prose what Bhaona is.
History of Bhaona Dance
Bhaona Dance was initiated by Srimanta Sankardeva who was born in a village named ‘Bordoa’ in ‘Nagaon’ district. Sankardeva was reared by his maternal uncle as his parents had passed away when Sankardeva was still a child. Sankardeva grew up to be a scholarly and learned man. While travelling to many places, he met many philosophers from whom he gained knowledge in ‘Vaishnava’ religion. He had also achieved the knowledge about ‘Ahimsa’ and taught them to the people. Sankardeva also composed many songs relating to the episodes of Lord Krishna in Assamese and Brajawali language. These compositions of Sankardeva are now sung and enacted by the people of Assam.
Types of Bhaona Dance
There are two types of Bhaona Dance and these are as follows:
Mukha Bhaona: ‘Mukha’ or masks are used chiefly in Assam’s Mukha Bhaona. Mukha Bhaona or Mask Drama is a form of drama performed in Majuli island of Assam which is the world’s largest river island; in which masks are worn by characters to give a dramatic feel to the act. The tradition is around 500 years old.
Boka Bhaona: It is another type of Bhaona Dance. The Boka Bhaona artists perform the play and turn over themselves in the dirt to convey their delight in the birth of Lord Krishna.
Different characters of Bhaona Dance
Following are the different characters of Bhaona Dance:
Sutradhar or Sutradhari: He is an integral part of bhaona dance; he recites slokas, sings, dances and explains in prose what is what at every stage of Bhaona.
Bhaoriya: The actors presenting the characters as per script.
Gayan: The singers of bhaona dance.
Bayan: They play the khole, Taal etc. from the starting to the end of bhaona.
Dress and Makeup of Bhaona Dance
The dress and makeup during the Bhaona dance is usually very appealing. The dress of a Sutradhar who is the choreographer and the director of the dance are very symbolic. It consists of a 'Ghuri' meaning a ‘Ghagra’ and a 'Chaddar' meaning a piece of cloth crossed at his chest and hung up from both shoulders and tied at the waist. The Sutradhar also wears a full-sleeved tight ‘singlet’ (bundi) which is tied at the sides by strings. He also puts on a silk turban which is surrounded by a garland of ‘Tulsi’ leaves. The colour of his dress is usually white. The Sutradhar along with all the performers wears a form of anklet termed as 'Nupurs.' They are made up of thin iron or brass wires and are round in shape. Inside these wires there are round metal pieces. The ‘Dhyamali’ in the drama play the role of warning bells. Next Krishna, the most symbolic character appears on stage. The person portraying the role of Lord Krishna is coloured blue and wears a yellow coloured dhoti.
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 ‘Khanikars’ who are proficient in this art make the masks with burnt mud. They paint and shape the masks according to the characters. The ‘Khanikars’ also excel in crafting images of Krishna and Radha. The mask dance in Bhaona is termed as 'Satryia' dance. For making the drama humorous and entertaining few clowns are also brought in. The dramas conclude either with a touch of comedy or tragedy.
Performance of Bhaona Dance
The Bhaona Dance was developed as a medium by Srimanta Sankardeva as a part of the Neo-Vaishnavite movement to describe the religious stories and the contents of Srimad Bhagwat Gita and the Ramayana to the devotees. Bhaona Dance is performed on the surroundings of open air platform made of mud. Now a day the dramas are performed under closed pandals. The platform is erected in the middle and the audience place themselves close to the platform. Lights also play a significant role in the dramas. Even torches are used for this purpose. Bhaona Dance is performed usually at night along with the orchestra which includes a number of 'Kholes.' The performance of Bhaona dance differs according to Satras. These Satras are religious institutions headed by a Bhakta, who are the direct descendant of a disciple of Srimanta Sankardeva.