During my teenage years, Durga Puja was spent in our Six Mile home in Guwahati. There were two Durga Puja Mandaps near our house in those days, a Nepali Puja in Panjabari and an Assamese one in Khanapara. It was in Khanapara, that I was first exposed to the Ankiya Bhaona form of theatre, and grew to love it! Ankiya naats are one act plays and their staging of it is Bhaona. This was an integral part of xatra culture, and attributed to the medieval Saint Shankardeva, who was responsible for the Vaishnavite movement in Assam. As it was meant mainly for illiterate and common people, lot of explanations were done. Although mainly devoted to Krishna, plays are also performed on Goddess Durga, Kali etc. The sequence of the Ankiya Bhaona is like this….first there is prelude music by the Singer and Musician ( Gayan, Bayan) beating the big cymbals and drums. Then the narrator or sutradhar enters and the actual play begins. He recites slokas, sings, dances and explains the meanings at every stage of the play. There are also actors or bhaoriyas performing different roles as par the script’s demand. During Durga Puja it would be the story of Durga and her battle with Mahisasur, the form changing demon.
It was a delight to watch the Bhaona as both the narration and dances would be enthralling! Here too, men were performers and their graceful dances are to be seen to be believed. Everyday from Shasti onwards till Dashami, the Bhaona narrates the story upto that moment in Durga Puja and I would eagerly wait for Navami when Mahisasur was finally defeated.
Sad to say that this beautiful form of art is losing out to loud music and other form of entertainment in this age of electronics. Durga Puja is more of a commercial show rather than a religious function nowadays. Guess I am an old timer now.