Jamugurihat (Assam), April 1 (IANS) For two straight nights beginning Monday, this roadside village in Assam will come alive to a unique cultural fair. More than 2,500 artistes will enact mythological plays on 20 different platforms spread over four hectares.
The popular 213-year-old Barechahariya Bhaona Mahotsav is held every five years in Jamugurihat, about 230 km north of Guwahati. Around 40 dance dramas are performed during the event.
'We are eagerly waiting for the festival to start. Preparations are on and over 40 villages are involved in organising this exotic cultural extravaganza,' Padma Hazarika, MLA, told IANS.
The 'bhaonas' or dance dramas are based on stories from the two great epics - the Ramayana and the Mahabharata.
'The show begins around 7.30 pm and continues overnight till early morning. Twenty bhaonas are staged simultaneously, with 60-65 actors - all male - performing in each of them,' said Bedabrata Bora, a local journalist and a member of the organising committee.
The unique feature of the Barechahariya Bhaona (community dance drama) is that plays are held on 20 different stages at the same time with the platforms erected under a single roof that resembles a blooming lotus.
'At any point of time you would find 70,000 to 90,000 people watching the bhaonas. This has become a ritual. The festival fosters communal harmony and brotherhood with people from all faiths being actively involved,' said Barun Das, a community elder.
The bhaonas are an integral part of Assamese folklore and the festival is organised by the locals with voluntary contributions.
'At least 50,000 people have meals during the two-day festival with the budget pegged at an estimated Rs.2 million,' Hazarika said.
Since the festival involves huge amount of money and is organised on a mega scale, it is traditionally held after five years. 'It needs a lot of preparation to stage 20 plays a day involving about 2,500 actors who are all locals,' said Braja Mahanta, an actor.
The bhaona starts with a musical orchestra called 'gayan bayan' (singers and drummers) with traditional drums and cymbals used for the show.
'People wait for the event with bated breath. Bhaona is not just entertainment, it has become a ritual for us,' said Idrees Ali, a local schoolteacher.
Bhaona is a theatrical performance - a one-act play - initiated by the 16th century saint Sankardeva. The anchor forms an integral part of the play - he recites hymns, sings, dances and explains every stage of the show.
'Normally the bhaonas are held in 'namghars' or Hindu temples, but in this festival the plays are held in the open and people from all faiths participate with equal zest. That's what makes the Barechahariya Bhaona so unique,' said a very happy Bora.
(Syed Zarir Hussain can be contacted at [email protected])<