Majuli An island, some monks, and dance...
Ankiya Bhaona - the theatre
The dramatic art plays of Sattriya called Ankiya Bhona were first written in the 15th century, primarily from episodes of the Mahabaratha and the Ramayana: 6 by Sankaradeva and 6 others by his disciple Madhavadeva.
For the past five centuries this high level theatrical art form unites, without shame, constant devotion to the pleasures of popular leisure. The register is epical and there is succession of scenes: comical, warlike, matrimonial, sung, danced, etc., each one favouring a clear understanding for all. Wisely codified, the actor’s delivery remains transparent. The dramatic rigour never constrains the familiarity of the actors’ interpretation with respect to the characters they portray and their sacred dimension. This is a rare theatrical phenomenon where their natural presence creates a good equilibrium while resisting to the rigours of the actor’s art.
The Ankiya Bhaona are composed of short dialogues interspersed with varied dances, and sung/recited narration (Sutra Katha). These interrupted plays do not have acts or scenes. The characters enter on the bare oblong stage, which represents the temple (namghar). Occasionally, the backdrop opens up on the outside, allowing the lighted vegetation to appear. The notions of time and space are indicated in the songs or the dances.
Nach - the dance
The Sattriya is a didactic and devotional dance dominated by the sentiment of universal love. It symbolises the actions of Vishnu and particularly his avatar Krishna, a god incarnate with irresistible charm who combats evil while demonstrating that life on earth is not without its attractiveness. The positions of the body, hands, feet, and the facial expressions follow a complex symbolism. The dancer animated by a kind of communicative grace becomes the instrument of the gods whose mission is to transcribe cosmic and human life to help each person to live in harmony according to the « Law of the Right Order ». This also enables, in a very short time, the dancer and the audience, to integrate the cosmos et to find their « infinite internal self ». To do this, the dancer identifies himself totally to the divinity he is portraying. He derives his inspiration in the constant descriptions coming from the ancient texts and popular imagery.
This metamorphosis are manifested not only in the costumes and sophisticated makeup, but also in the expressions of the face, of the body and even the intonations of the voice.
The bhakats of Majuli master their art-form with fervour and simplicity. The purest, most universal form of sacred manifests itself in an almost ordinary manner, and the uninitiated spectator is surprised to find an easy access to that which was hitherto considered secret.