Traditional Theatre of Rabhas Introduction
Rabha is one of the Schedule tribes living mainly in Assam and West Bengal.Linguistically the Rabha belongs to the Indo Mongoloid group of people.According to F. Buchanan and Hamilton, the aspects of socio-religious and material life of the Rabhas have similarities with those of the pani koch ‘. E. Dalton .on the other hand, argues that the Rabhas and the Hajongs are the branches of Kachari race and connected with the Garo.2 According to B.H. Hodgson the Rabhas belong to the Great Bodo or Mech.3 The Rabhas of West Bengal and Assam generally speak the local Bengali and Assamese dialects. The Rabhas who live in the forest villages have retained their original Rabha dialect to a great extent.
There are II sub-groups In Rabha tribe namely Maitoria.Hana.Dahori. PatiRabha, Sunga, Rangdani, Bitola, Kosa,Totala,Mohadi and Dumesha.Presently among II sub classes Rabha language is spoken by very few tribes belonging to Kosa,Maitoria and Rangdania groups. There are 112424 people who speak Rabha,comprising of 1115,554 rural people and 870 urban people.The economy of the village is chiefly agragrian and both men and women of Rabha tribe are engaged in cultivation.
A Brief Description about Traditional Theatre of Rabhas:
The tradition of Rabha dramatic performances and their artists have been practising since earliest times. Generally the traditional theatre of Rabha consist of storytelling, ritual singing, dancing etc. These traditional theaters are mostly related with the rituals, festival and occassional. It has seen close relation as well as affinities with music and dance. In the traditional theatre of Rabhas there are ample use of conventional symbolic objects, masks, costumes special area for playing and conventional stylized action. These are primarily recognized as a play activity and therefore is closely related to game, dance and ritual.Though the performers of these theaters are the members of the same community and known to most of the audiences they are not general people during the performance.
The most important traditional theatre of the Rabhas are associated with the mare puja. In this regard,Birendranath Datta says-Mare performance have much in common with the important folk drama form:there is a leading singer(mul or gital) who carries a whisk.There are number of assistants(pail or paila) who provides both the chronic support and the musical accompaniment.And there is also the provision of breaks(bhangi) for dramatic dialouges between the leader and assistant.” Indeed,tradition of worshipping Mare p~ja,i.e.,the worship of the snake goddess Manasa amomg the Rabha society is said to have close realtion with rnagico-religious beliefs and practice. Several stories connected with Beula and Lakhindhar is depicted beutifully.This is perfomed religious rites with dancing and singing of the oja pali and Deoudhoni or doudini. In Mere puja, the deities are propitiated with the ritual dance and drama. The deoudhoni is the key dancer. As soon as the priest or oja chants the mantra, she starts dancing rhythmic dances. The deoudhoni moves in a circular way round the altar where deities are positioned. The oja and the deouri and the elderly members of the village follow her dancing and making hand gestures.
There are varieties of dances performed by the deoudhoni during the worship. It is interesting to note here that in the midst of performing mare worship, the male performers make comic gestures and actions while the players of musical instruments play traditional musical instruments like Karra, flute and singra.
The Bhari gan is another folk theatre of Rabha community. The Bhari-gan plays derive their themes from the epics. There is a tradition of using heavy wooden mask by many characters in the Bhari plays. Some characters like Rama, Laksahmana, and Sita are customarily not supposed to wear masks whereas in case of such characters as Ravana, Hanuman and Jambuyan masks are essential.
The Rabhas celebrate the Hachang festival in the month of Jeth. Hachang is an innovation of the goddess Baikho. In reality it is a combination of various deities. The worship is associated with animal sacrifices. During the performance of this worship, the performer chants and acts various kinds of art forms which can be the part of theatre.
The Frantkanti is the death rite of the Rabhas. This rite continues for seven days and equal number of nights. Eating and drinking usually continues during this period. Similarly dance, song and storytelling are also essential in all days of the festival.
Another traditional drama is called basiya or bahi biya.It is performed just after the mamage ceremony. It starts through the story telling and marry making with the musical instruments.
There is a tradition of performing girkay in the Rabha community on the full moon night of Bahag (mid April).Rabha youths perform this .Hamjar is a festival celebrated them before beginning farming on their lands. Singing and dancing are an integral part of Rabha culture. As the information furnished,there are also some folk drama associated with these festival and
Besides these,there is a tradition of Rabha community that men and women dance and sing accompanied by the musical instruments like the Karra,fluete and singra.Frankanti fusakay,hamjar fusakay etc. during the different festivals and occassions.
Aim and Objective of the Proposed Study
Rabhas are very rich in the arts form of traditional theatre. There are many traditional drama that are performed in the Rabha community during the different occasion and religious festival. Though there are lots of traditional theatrical arts forms in the Rabha community which are still lying in the village. No collaborative work has been taken and done on this topic. No written source is available. What, why, how, when and where these drama are performed will be the main aim of the study. The socio-religious significance of these theatres will be tried to analyze in this proposed work. The task of documentation and exploration on theatrical elements of Rabha community is highly appreciable.
Due to impact of modernization and westernization most of the elements are now on the verge of extinction. On the other hand the performers of the community are dying day by day.
Therefore, the main objectives of study are – (i) to acquire first hand idea about the Rabha traditional theatre, (ii) to observe the performance of different occasion, (iii) to identify the special functions and (iv) cultural significances of the traditional drama. Thereafter, preservation and documentation will be done.
Methodology of the Study
Rabha is not my community. So it will be difficult to study on the performance of traditional drama. I will have to personally attend in many of the theatrical performances. In this regard, collect the preliminary idea about the drama is the first hand to run the project work . There is no much published work in respect of Rabha traditional theatre. ‘Before we proceed to make successful to collect the data on the proposed project, the following preliminary steps will be undertaken:
1. Pilot survey is the first approach of any research .So it should be taken to acquire preliminary
idea in the proposed project.
2. After the pilot survey, rapport establishment will be my 2nd necessary step to make success the
project. Therefore, it will be done with the help of the community artist.
Method of Data Collection
Generally there are only two types of data collection – Primary and Secondary. There are other methods of the field study-
(b) Observation and
(c) Participant observation
Interview and observation methods are mostly used by the field workers but my field works three methods will be applicable in the proposed study. The interview method will be utilized to unearth the authenticity of the tradition as well as to collect the traditional theatrical elements from the different people of the different areas with the expert community artist. Digital camera, Note Book etc. will be used during the field study.
Importance of Collaborative Undertaking
Collaboration is defined as “working jointly on an activity or project.” 5 From this we can learn that collaborative working is the act of people working together toward common goals. The community artist is not only the bearer of tradition but also the carrier of the artistic tradition of the society. Being a very important person, he has to take dynamic role in their respective society. It is hoped that the artist can guide in right direction to the non community scholar who have no idea or knowledge on the traditional theater of Rabhas. Collection and documentation on any folklore materials is not easy task whereas it is very difficult to do for the other community. In this connection collaborative work can be applied. Collaborative undertaking is one kind of ,team work and it is also the best means of studying and collecting the data. During the field work, the non community scholar faces lots of problem such as language, communication etc.where he fails to collect the authentic materials but it becomes easy through the expert artist of the community. Even the scholar can exchange their feeling, thought, idea and knowledge with him in the collection, preparation and finalization of the report of the project. Even collaborative undertaking will increase energy and save time . Therefore, to collect the authentic data on the proposed study will be helpful and fruitful only with the active guidance of the expert artist of community.
He is a well known artist of Rabha community. He is the co-ordinator of Badungduppa Kalakendra,a socio-cultural society situated at Srirampur village,Goalpara district,Assam.Basically he is modem dramatist. He was a recipient of Bismilla Khan Yuba Purushkar, 2009,(Sangit Natak Academy), Aditya Bikram Birla Kala Kiran Puruskar, 2010 (for outstanding performance in the field of theatre),Sangit Kala Kendra Mumbai, Pratima Pandey award, 2012, Assam.
Though Sukracharja is known as modem dramatist he borrowed lots of folk elements like tunes, costumes, verbal arts and performing folk arts and infused with the modernized elements to innovate his theatrical form.
Monthly work plan
1. In the month of April and May, field work will be done on Mare gan at Bamunigaon near
Chaigaon in natural contact.
2. In the month of June, transcription and editing of the materials collected from the mare gan
will be done so far.
3. Library work and drafting the report on mare and performers will be done in the month of July
4. Between the months of September, October and November, the’ Bharigan, and other
performance is held in Dhupdhara area of Karnrup district. So, the field work will be done with
the help, guidance of the community artist in natural contact.
5. In the month of Seminar or workshop involving the community performers will be arranged in
the month of January.
6. Interaction between the folk and modem drama will be discussed with the community artist
7. Preparation of the final report
8. Finalization and submission of the project report
Community participation from vanous tribes and non-tribes is one of remarkable achievements expected during the performance. Generally, the mere gan is performed by Rabha community. As the artist furnished, both Rabha and Bodo community participate in the mare gan in Bamunigaon near Chaigaon area of Kamrup district. In some places of Karnrup,mare gan or puja is celebrated as community festival. Some people observe it individually. Through the mare gan, cultural relation between the Bodo and Rabha can be explored in a meaningful way and collaborative nature of community performance can be explored in a more meaningful way.
As documentation is an attempt at preservation, conservation in any event which can be applied in teaching. Documentation ensures accountability, facilitates the co-ordination of care between providers and for service improvement. Through the documentation of the theatrical elements of Rabha community it can be studied and analysed in the near future. For example, if the theatrical performance of mare gan or puja, bharigan etc. and tales of Ramayan.Mahabharat is preserved as well as archived in the library, it will be great source for the next generation.
In mare gan, both male and female show dramatic performance on the basis of the story of Beula and Lakhindhar. Through the story of Beula and Lakhindhar people can learn the evil consequences of pride and prejudices in one’s life. People can learn to keep away themselves from his influence of the pride and prejudices and thus they can socialize themselves. It is a sort of great teaching to the people. It can be observed through the character of Beola Lakhindhar in mare gan that moral and spiritual teaching can be imparted to the younger generation. Further the theatrical element teaches illiterate people and little children how to act and how to live and how to behave. Through tradition of Frankanti, how the Rabha community tries to display and keep their culture are clearly reflected through their performance. The performer tries to describe the story in simple language so as to understand easily.
Generally tales, myths and legends, proverbs and riddles are told and songs and lullabies are sung for the ethical, moral and character development of individual. Similarly the traditional theatre of Rabha has strong educative role. Through the celebration of these festival people can learn about the moral code of the society and they can also develop their faith in religious beliefs of the society. So, it can be said that in these festivals and celebrations has been playing important role in imparting knowledge to the rural people.