has immensely been contributing to the wide-ranging spectrum of vast Assamese
culture with its glorious institution of Barechaharia Bhowna. Barechaharia
Bhowna Mahotsava is an institution of Shankari culture which has a chequered
history of more than two centuries. Barechaharia Bhowna has already gone beyond
the extent of the state and has been reckoned with national importance. It is
the largest socio-cultural extravaganza of the north east India.
Barechaharia Bhowna, in brief, can be said to be the simultaneous performance of
Bhownas by different village-troupes at a particular place. Bhownas are
generally performed on or 3 nights. The style of presentation of quite a number
of Bhownas under the same mandap (top-cover) is really unique. The exuberance of
the people to participate in it and purity of form are two other striking
features of this Mahotsava.
The fifteenth century saw the emergence of neo-Vaishnavism, inculcated by
Shankardeva. The artist, poet, social reformer of transcendental genius had a
wide social outlook based on principle of human equality. He had initiated a
socio-cultural and religious movement bringing about drastic changes in all
walks of life of the contemporary society, the influence of which is still being
felt. His establishment of Namghars (hall for congregational prayer) and Satras
as social-cultural and religious centres is a rare instance in the world.
He wrote Ankia Nats to be staged in Satras and Namghars and accordingly
performances of the same flourished in the Satras and Namghars. In is a period
of efflorescence in drama, dance, music, literature. His approach was all
encompassing and his contribution in building a unified social order is
stupendous. Srimanta Shankardeva aimed to spread the message of neo-Vaisnavism
to the masses and he used the occasions such as Bhownas with a view to gathering
people together. What we call today Assamese culture actually stands on the
foundation of Vaishnavite culture of which Akia Bhowna is a colossus.
Shankardeva was inspired by the India classical tradition of drama associated
with religion. He had a thorough understanding of Sanskrit dramaturgy as
envisaged in the Natyasastra. A poet, an artist, actor, director, singer and a
producer Shankardev had proficiency in Sankskrit rehetoric and prosody. He gave
Assamese culture a new aesthetic taste along with moral and spiritual values.
During his extensive pilgrimage he is expected to study some of the theatre
forms prevailing in some of the regions he had come across. Shankardeva took up
Bhowna as a medium of attaining great virtue and an institution of popular
entertainment. The elements of folk culture are so fused with it making their
synthesis a difficult task.
In an apparent view Barechaharia Bhowna is said to be a production of Vaisnavite
culture. But, a minute observation enables us to identify many elements of
agrarian culture dissolved in it. This post-harvest festival is actually a blend
of Shankari and agrarian culture. Let us trace it back and throw light on the
path of its evolution for clear understanding. However, we refrain from detailed
discussion in this write-up to paucity of space.
In 1769 AD Mowamoriya revolt broke out and in the early part of 19th century the
Burmese invasion took place. In such political and social upheavals myriads of
persons had to shift their place to north bank of the Brahmaputra from Nagaon
and upper Assam districts. In search of a safe and fertile land a portion of
them arrived and settled in present day Barbhogia, Chilabandha and Murhadol
Mouza of Jamugurihat. The area was being inhabitated by people belonging to
various communities, such as Koch, Rabha, Kachari, Mising and Kaibarta. The new
group of people settled down at different villages. Cultivation was the main
source of income of the populace.
It is worthwhile to mention here that density of population in the bank of
Jia-Bhoroli, a tributary of the Brahmaputra, ie western part of Jamugurihat was
comparatively more during that period. Fertility of land and importance of
waterways were in all probability the reasons. (The trend has been reversed due
to erosion of Jia-Bhoroli, growing importance of road transport etc). There was
peaceful coexistence among the people belonging various castes and communities
and thereby socio-cultural activities were initiated. The village life nestled
in such scenic spells of nature was an ideal one for any socio-cultural
initiative. The population was divided into many tribes and groups with diverse
ritualistic and cultural discipline difference from each other. But they rose to
the necessity of living together with certain common interest. The people
hailing from south bank were under influence of Satra and naturally had interest
in Sankari culture. As a result, a process of assimilation of culture between
new group of people coming from south and that of early dwellers began.
Barechaharia Bhowna owes its birth to the prolonged and collective thoughts and
efforts of devout farmers who were trying to make the quest to find new way of
Barechaharia Bhowna Mahotsava has come down a long way to reach the present
state. Its antiquity is not conclusively known. Available evidences suffice to
establish that it began to be celebrate since 1797 in systematic manner. In the
initial stages its celebration was naturally not of high magnitude.
Traditionally, Barechaharia Bhowna Mahotsava is held at an interval of 5-7
years. From 20 to 30 village-troupes or ‘khels’ organize this gala festival. A
‘khel’ may be said to be an aggregate of people confined to one village. On
‘khala’ (stage) is assigned to one ‘khel’. Every ‘khel’ has a Namghar and all
the Namghars are joined one by one to make a circle. There is holy throne at the
centre and the Bhagavat is placed on it. The ‘mandap’ is constructed in the
shape of a lotus and the number of petals of the lotus is equal to that ‘Khalar’.
One ‘nat’ is staged in one ‘khala’. The lotus shape of the pandal may be
constructed as to symbolize the devotion to lotus feet of lord Krishna. Though
its rituals pertain to religious faith the festival has equal significance as a
socio– cultural institution. This louts– shaped pandal has fascinating beauty and
exhibits the splendor of our folk architecture. The pandal is constructed with
thatch. Village youths go out in groups and collect thatch and bamboos required
for construction of respective ‘Khala’ (stage).
The music along with rhythmic feats on ‘Khols’ (drums) and tals’ (cymbals) is
echoed in the air giving sancity to the area during celebration of the festival.
The lyricism of its music and narration in Brajawali is worth–listening. The
audience is enchanted by the poetic flow of the stories extracted from the
epics. There is strong ground to believe that Barechaharia once used to be
observed annually. In course of time, celebration of this Mahotsava was made
quadrennial. Huge expenses involved and some other socio– economic reasons may
be held responsible for the same.
Ankia Bhowna written and devised by Shankardeva and Madhavedeva is a dramatic
representation. Ankia Bhowna also referred to as a ‘rtitual play’ is a
combination of dance, music and drama. Shankardev made beautiful use of ‘Khol’
and ‘tal’ in Bhowna performances. The play begins with removal of curtain and the
drummers and cymbalists start concert. The dances also called ‘dhemalis’ follow.
After brilliant display of ‘purvaranga’ or ‘dhemalis’ the ‘Sutradhar’ enters the
stage and here begins the actual performance. Introduction of ‘Sutradhar in
Ankia Nat by Shankardeva is unique. A large variety of dance numbers sprinkle
over the dramatic performance. Ankia– Bhowna there by contributes to healthy
growth of the exquisite dance from know as Satriya dance. However, apart from
the dances related with the performance of Ankia Bhowna, Madhavadeva and later
apostles added a few numbers to the repertoire of the Satriya dances.
Dances performed in the Ankia Nats and other dramatic representations are :
the dance movements during the preliminaries called dhemalis,
the dance of Sutradhar,
the dance of Krishna popularly called Gosain Nach,
the dance of the cowherdesses (Gopis) known as Gopi Nach,
the dance of Krishna and Gopis during Ras–lila,
dancing rhythms for all other characters of the Nat to enter and exit,
Jhumura, Behar Nach and Nadu Bhangi (in Kamalabari Satra)
Satriya dance as practiced in Satras includes the dances cited over and Chali
nach and Ojapali. Satriya dance has, in the recent times, drawn attention of the
people of the country and abroad.
Necessary arrangements including construction of pandal, volunteering, costumes,
cosmetics, masks, effigies and other accessories are made by villagers. Village
youths are entrusted with different works. The mask craft of Assam is of ancient
practice. The Mangoloid people originated and developed this form of craft. This
craft, today has developed with performances of Bhowna. Masks of different
characters for Bhowna are made in different sizes depending upon their needs.
Fabrication of bamboo strips for making mask are used and hengul and haital
(herbal colour) are used in decorating the mask. Simhasana (pedasral) where the
holly book is kept and enshrined is traditionally made of wood. The sculpture,
ural, gosa etc are some of the wooden works found in Bhowna. In making of craft
kuhila, bamboo and cane are commonly used. Making of mukut (headgear) for Bhowna
is also an example of Mangoloid culture. So Barechaharia Bhowna has been
promoting indigenous craft, sculpture and architecture.
Needless to say that Jamugurihat is a fertile ground for both folk and Shankari
culture. One Namghar in each village is a special feature of Jamugurihat. Ankia
Nats are performed in the Namghars. The boundless enthusiasm of the respective
villagers in observance of Bhowna adds to the gaiety of the occasion. People
from adjacent villages too pour in to enjoy the show. The spectators feel a
sense of solace. Very specialty of Jamugurihat is that majority of the society
have the skill in playing khol, tal in acting the role of Bhowna characters.
Some are exponent in dance of Sutradhar. Young boys undergo training of various
forms of Vaishnavite culture. Shankari culture is practiced in the Namghars of
Jamugurihat and thus Jamugurians are making sincere and relentless efforts so as
to promote the culture.
Many ethnic groups and tribes have made the mosaic of Aassamese culture.
Assamese culture is composite one. The very infrastructure of the composite
Assamese culture is totally indebted to Shankardeva’s utopian synthesis of
socio-cultural philosophy. Barechaharia Bhowna always attempts to capture and
convey the essence of it. It is encouraging exchange of ideas of performing arts
between different ethnic groups of the north east region.
Culture is born of a society and also grows with it. Unity and integration
among different races., castes, communities directly help in formation and
development of culture. The population of Assam can broadly be divided into
three branches : the Austroloids and Mangoloids and Aryans. Majority of the
tribes of Assam are Mangoloid origin. But some have certain Australoid ethnic
traits. They came to Assam in different times. Australoid culture is basically
an agrarian one. Mangoloids in Assam were expert weavers. Some of them had got
admixtured with non-Mongoloid populations to varying degree. The tremendous
sense of belongingness and surge of group-spirit–two features that we experience
during Barechaharia Mahotsava are attributed to the Mangoloids. The Australoids
and Mongolids had laid the foundation of a culture, which in later period was
enriched by the Aryans. Assam is the homeland of several races, communities
and tribes. They migrated to Assam in long past from different places. They had
their own culture and language. Admixture of different racial elements works a
great deal in socio-cultural integration of the society. It contributes
enormously towards establishing a spirit of harmony, cooperation and cohesion
among the diverse ethnic groups of Assam. The process of assimilation and
admixture is still going on. Assamsese culture does not belong to some race or
tribe and is therefore, rightly called a composite culture and the very feature
is reflected in Barechaharia Mahotsava too.
Barechaharia Bhowna is a grand exposition of Shankari culture. This contribution
of Jamugurians of Assamese culture weighs its worth in gold. Barechaharia is
vivid portrait of Bhowna culture nurtured against the backdrop of serene village
life. In 1969 the Mahotsava assumed a new dimension and received nation-wide
publicity. The erstwhile Secretary of NSD and other distinguished personalities
with scholarly pursuit of national and international repute came over here and
watched Bhowna performances. The highly appreciated its cultural values in the
leading national dailies.
Social scientist Linton said, ‘Culture of a society is the way of life of its
members, the collection of ideas and habits which they earn, share and transmit
from generation to generation’. A culture however rich it may be fades in the
long run unless practiced an promoted by the members of the society. It is an
imperative necessity for a culture to grow with society. It should be passed on
to next generation with higher value. Vaisnavite culture is the pearl of
Assamese culture of which Bhowna culture is in the key position. Barechaharia is
an ideal platform for excellence of Vaisnavite culture. It has been promoting
the elements, such as music, dance, literature and art of Bhowna culture.
Barechaharia is an institution with abundant materials for study of Assamese
culture. It deserves a place in the global cultural map. Apart from being rich
in indigenous art, craft, culture etc this glorious tradition is giving momentum
to cultural movement of the state.
Barechaharia Bhowna over the years has been preserving and promoting the Bhowna
culture. At a time when cost of various commodities is increasing by leaps and
bounds celebration of this festival has become and expensive arrangement. It is
incumbent upon the government and all other sundry concerned to patronize this
festival and to chalk out scheme for presenting this rich cultural heritage to
the unacquainted eyes of the people of Indian subcontinent and abroad as well.
At the same time one cannot deny of the necessity of improvement of certain
areas of Bhowna performances. Moreover, performance of Bhownas by all villages
of greater Jamugurihat under the umbrella of Barechaharia needs to ensured.
Barechaharia Bhowna is a campaign for spreading cultural among the masses. It is
an attempt to exchange cultural ideas and their promotion. Barechaharia Bhowna
promotes social and cultural unity among the people of different races,
religions, communities and linguistics. This festival broadens our social and
cultural horizon and is therefore heartily accepted by all. To gain warm response
from the people of all walks of life is not an ordinary matter. This happens in
Barechaharia as because it is a people – based institution. The tea tribal and
Nepali–speaking Assamese are also performing Bhownas with equal skill. Thus the
work of expansion of assamese culture is accomplished. It offer us a precious
opportunity for social and cultural unity. Many of the problems arisen out of
present– day situation may be remedied culturally.
It cannot be denied that majority of new generation, specially in urban areas
have a tendency to shrug our own culture off in the recent years. Elements of
cheap western culture have made inroads to our society. New generation is seen
to be obsessed with popular and modern western cultural. If this culture
onslaught continues danger of our society and culture is imminent. In this
situation it is important to harness the potential of Barechaharia. Promotion of
Bhowna culture is must for our cultural identity and it has assumed more every
significance with every passing day. Modernity does not speak for discarding our
own culture. Ours is a rich culture and culture is the identity with which the
members of the society are known. New generation should imbibe the cultural and
social values of Barechaharia Bhowna.