The Use of Music in Ankiya Nat and Bhaona: A Study

Assistant Professor

 Majuli College, Kamalabari, Assam



The music is a notable element of Ankiya Nat and Bhaona. Ankiya Nat’s music, a combination of songs, instruments, and dance, meets several needs and creates a sweet atmosphere in the performance. They entertain the audience in several ways, from character descriptions to religious advice. Music overcomes the deficiencies in performance. The music of Ankiya Nat reflects the originality of the playwright Sankardeva and his knowledge of Indian classical music. This paper highlights the effectiveness and theatrical requirements of the music used in Ankiya Nat. The paper has been prepared primarily in an analytical manner. The main sources are the plays of Sankardeva and various books and magazines are used as secondary sources.

Keywords: Ankiya Nat, Bhaona, Music, Sankardeva, Character, Song

How to cite this paper:

Hazarika, Dulal. 2024. “The Use of Music in Ankiya Nat and Bhaona: A Study.” Sangeet Galaxy 13(1): 187-194.


In the fifteenth century AD, the state of Assam was not as well organized as it is today. Different parts of this vast region of the Northeast, divided into various small kingdoms, were ruled by different kings. This region had no specific religion, and various adulteries were practiced in the name of religion. The common people were sacrificed and exploited for the sake of religion, and society was divided into many parts. Sankardeva tried to build a civilized society by uniting all the ethnic groups of Assam at that time. His social organization and cultural creativity were unparalleled in Assam at the time. The literary and cultural elements created by Sankardeva helped to unite a divided and chaotic society. The purpose of Sankardeva’s life was to educate the people about the ideals of equality and friendship and to form a new society. Therefore, despite having the opportunity to live as a feudal lord, he chose a simple and unsettled life. His other creations, as well as his literary works, reflect that purpose. He wrote various songs, poems, plays, etc., laid the foundation of Assamese culture and literature, and educated the common people of the region in the socio-cultural field. In doing so, he faced a major royal challenge. But in his talent, skill, and ideals lies the indomitable strength to overcome that challenge.

Sankardeva wrote various works of literature to spread the religion. The most notable work of Sankaradeva’s literature is the drama. He wrote six plays, namely Patniprasad, Kaliyadaman, Keligopal, Rukmini Haran, Parijat Haran, and Ramavijaya. In this way, Sankardeva gave the people of Assam, who had never seen a play before, the privilege of seeing theatre. These plays became very popular and later became known as Ankiya Nat. The performance of Ankiya Nats is called Ankiya Bhaona. Although the plays described divine action and had a gospel purpose, they reflected different aspects of literature and culture, and yet their poetic touch made these plays shine. The audience finds novelty in terms of character creation, dialogue, and the different rules reflected in the play. The songs accompanying the play are the most valuable and important works of the playwright.

The atmospheres of the plays are lyrical. In Ankiya Nat, the same subject is described in three different forms: 1. Katha-sutra and dialogue 2. Songs 3. Sanskrit verses. Each description is self-contained and a successful carrier of specific expression. (Mahanta, 2013, p. 267). It can be assumed that this three-tier description method is used to suit all categories of audiences, and this was the theatrical talent of Sankardeva. The playwright uses dance and song in all areas of character entry, dialogue, fighting, behavior, exit, etc. to present the theme innovatively. In short, Ankia Nat can be compared to modern dance drama. Songs are used from the beginning to the end of the play. There are three main characteristics of the songs of Ankiya Nat. (a) Use of Dhruba songs; (b) Music with ragas and rhythms (c) Plenty of verse and Bhatima.

The Natyashastra mentions five types of songs used in plays. There are five types of entrance: regret, exit, palace, and inter-polar song. The application of these songs is determined as follows: (a) Pravesiki, a song sung when the characters enter the theater. (b) Naiskramiki: songs written during the departure of actors and actresses. (c) Prasadiki: songs that convey joy in the theater. (d) Aksepiki, is a song that indicates the change of order of the plot of the play. (e) Antara: a song is sung when the actor or actress feels sadness, fatigue, sadness, anger, etc. The use of these classical songs described in the Natyashastra is a notable feature of Ankiya Naat. There are many different types of Dhruva songs, including Praveshiki, Naiskramiki, Antara, Prasadiki, and Akshepiki. (Goswami, 1984, p. 555; Mahant, 2013, p. 270) From the introduction of the characters to the conclusion of the play, the entire event is described in the song. The use of all these types of songs described in the Natyashastra testifies to Sankardeva’s proficiency in classical music. The use of songs in contemporary drama has decreased. The use of Dhruva songs is not a characteristic of contemporary Bhaona, but such songs are added by singers or Dohars (the singers and musicians of Bhaona) during the performance of Bhaona in Satra institutions. Therefore, even if they are not part of the play, they are used in the performance of contemporary Bhaona too.


The songs of Ankia Nat are based on the ragas and rhythms of classical music. The use of ragas and rhythms according to the mood is a notable feature of these songs. There are different ragas and rhythms to describe the entry and exit of the characters: joy and sorrow, love and separation, anger and rage, fear and courage, pride and pride, war and conflict. Even its Nandi song is based on specific ragas. (Mahanta, 2013, p. 274) In this context, Maheshwar Neog wrote, Today, the Mahapurusha has tied the melody and rhythm of every song for fear of making an exception when we sing songs in Ankiya Bhaona.” (Neog, 2003, p. 178) It is a different matter to sing songs breaking the ragas and rhythms, but it has been mentioned above that Sankardeva was very proficient in classical music. The songs of the plays were tied to specific ragas and rhythms to create the appropriate sweetness in the songs of the Nat.

The main instruments of the Ankia Bhaona are the Khol (Drum) and the Tal (cymbal). The audience is prepared to watch the serious play by performing a dance and song with the combination of Khol and cymbals at the beginning of the Bhaona. Later, the songs were accompanied by Khol, Tal, and Banhi (flute) to create the appropriate atmosphere for the play.

The language of the song of Ankiya Nat is Brajavali. The songs of Ankiya Nat are of the following types: Nandi Geet, Pravesh Geet, Bilapr Geet, Roop Varnanar Geet, Youdhr Geet, etc. The playwright presents the descriptions of the characters in the introductory songs pictorially. The songs of Ankia Nat or Bhaona reflect how the characters are dressed, how they make up their bodies, and how they are in their mental state. It is no exaggeration to say that Sankardeva continued to use theatrical direction through songs in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries.

Brajavali is an artificial language used in Ankiya Nat. The Brajavali language was created by adding several old Assamese words to Maithili and its Avahatta forms. It is not the language spoken in any region. This language is not the language of the Mathura region. This language is called Brajavali because it describes the deeds of Krishna in Brajdham (Mathura, Vrindavan). After a long pilgrimage, Sankardeva naturally found a few words in Brajbhasha, or Western Hindi, Bhojpuri, and Awadhi. It is also influenced by the language of the Charyapadas. The characteristic of this language is that it is pleasant to listen to and rhythmic. Therefore, the skilled playwright Sankardeva created this language and used it in his plays so that it could be understood by all the people of this greater region of the North East.

The characters are introduced by the Sutradhar at the beginning of the play. The Nandi verse is followed by a song in the Ankiya Nat. This song is called Nandi Geet. The song pays homage to Lord Krishna or Narayana. The song sung in the play when the characters enter is called the Praveshar geet (entrance song). Most of the main characters of the play are introduced by a song. The characters enter the stage, dancing to the beat of the song. The entrance songs usually describe the character’s dress, mood, etc. The audience sees the character with their eyes, hears about the character through the songs, and becomes involved in the play. In addition, the fifteenth-century playwright Sankardeva facilitated the acting process by directing the actors to play the character through songs in the same way as in modern plays. An example of a Praveshar Geet is this song from the play Parijat Haran Nat. The entrance of Lord Krishna is given in this song as follows:

“He enters, mounted on the mighty bird Garuda.

A mere shard of his beauty eclipses that of the Love God.

His dark body glistens, his yellow robe shines,

He wears a gem-studded crown above his jewel-like face.

Bracelets dangle on his arms

And anklets jingle on his feet.

His splendid figure puts a hundred million Cupids to shame.

The radiance of his body fills all the directions.

With him are Rukmini and Satyabhama, the best of women.

So, says Shankara, the slave of the slave of Hari.” (Trans: William L. Smith, 2007.)

In the story of Ankiya Nat, when the characters separate, the characters embrace compassion, and the characters express their sorrow in songs. This song is called Bilap or Bilapr Geet (A Song of Lamentations). These songs express the mental state of the characters and also arouse compassion in the minds of the audience. Lamentations have contributed greatly to the audience’s interest in the play. In the play Parijat Haran, when Satyabhama heard from Narada’s lips about the great fortune of her co-wife when she learned that Krishna had given Rukmini the flower of Parijat given by Narada, she became angry and overwhelmed with humiliation like this-

“Tears poured from the lotus-like eyes of the lovely lady

as her body grew exhausted from sobbing.

All seemed to be darkness to her.

Her heart burned because of the success of her rival

and the pain welled up in her heart. ‘‘Hari, my dear Hari,

you have become like an enemy Since you slighted me so.’’

She rolled round on the floor groaning.” (Trans: William L. Smith, 2007.)

In Ankiya Nat, songs describe the character’s journey, departure or any scene that cannot be shown in the drama. Such characteristics enhance the attractiveness of the play and prove the success of Sankardeva as a playwright. In the Parijat Haran Nat, the song describes Krishna riding on Garuda to fight Narakasura like this-

“Govinda flew on the back of Garuda,

eager to slay Naraka.

The King of Birds went with the speed of the wind

and reached Kamrup in the blink of an eye.

Hari sounded his conch time and again,

and the demons’ hearts shook to hear it.

They knew that Madhava was on his way

and went off roaring to fight.

Kettledrums announced the battle

and cries of ‘‘kill, kill!’’ and ‘‘Hold, hold!’’ filled the air.” (Trans: W. L. Smith, 2007.)

            The characters of Ankiya Nat are also described in songs while they are fighting. The addition of songs to the acting of war makes the atmosphere of war even more frightening in the eyes of the audience. There are in the Parijat Haran

“Hari twanged the string of his bow

and plagued the demons with a flurry of missiles,

slaughtering the demon warriors,

slicing off arms, shoulders, and heads.

Seeing this, the other demons fled

as arrows struck and felled them.

The angry Jagannath hurled his discus

and cut off the evil Naraka’s head.

The delighted gods

beat the victory drums and tossed down flowers,

shouting’’Jaya, jaya Yadava.’’

Let everyone repeat the name of Hari!” (Trans: William L. Smith, 2007.)

There is an abundance of verses and poems in Ankiya Nat. The Shloka or śloka alone gives an idea of the theme of the entire play. The use of Sanskrit Shloka makes the play serious. The Nandi Shloka is used at the beginning of the play. The Nandi Shloka has two parts. The verse is divided into eight lines, four lines in one section. The first four lines bow to God so that the play can be completed smoothly and an atmosphere of devotion is created. The audience is informed about the theme of the play to be performed in the second four rows. For an audience unfamiliar with the play of the time, an overview of the theme of the play makes it easier for them to understand the next act. In Ankiya Nat, the theme is occasionally given in Sanskrit verses. The use of such verses enhances the seriousness of the play and also fills the mental nourishment of the people who know Sanskrit.

The play is also enhanced by the Bhatimas which express the mental state of the characters. Like the theatrical direction in modern drama. Bhatima is a type of praise song. Three types of Bhatima are used in Ankiya Nat. At the beginning of the play, characters Bhatima and Muktimangal Bhatima at the end of the play. The opening Bhatima describes the various incarnations and actions of the main character of the play, Krishna or Rama. This Bhatima is added to make the audience aware of the divinity of Krishna or Rama and to make them feel curious about the events of the play. Bhatima or praise songs consisting of rhythm, words, rhythm, etc. give a special dimension to the play. The Bhatima of character praises the beauty of the characters. The playwright, Sankardeva presents the characters of the play in a very attractive manner to the audience as much as possible. They describe the beauty of Krishna or other divine characters from the hair of the head to the nails of the feet. For example, the play Rukmini Haran is mentioned-

“huna huna Rukmini Mai

Harigun kahana najai

Mukh Indu Koti prakash

 Dashan Motim Mand Has

Nayan Pankaj Nav Pata

 Karatala Utpala Rata.” (Sankardeva)

This Bhatima says that the praises of Hari (God) cannot be finished. The face is like billions of moons. The teeth are like pearls. The eyes are like new lotus leaves. The palms of his hands are red like lotuses.

The last Bhatima of the Ankiya Nat is called the Muktimangal Bhatima. This Bhatima is recited by the Sutradhar at the end of the play. Other characters in the play also participate in this Bhatima. The Muktimangal Bhatima can be compared to the Bharatavakya in Sanskrit drama. The performance ends with the Muktimangal Bhatima wishing liberation to everyone including the audience.

The main purpose of Sankardeva’s plays was to attract the people to Vaishnavism through plays. Therefore, it is important to understand the importance of the Brajavali language in the linguistic aspect of the play. The proverbs of this language were easily understood by people in Assam as well as other parts of India. In this way, Sankardeva culturally united a large number of people. He also enhanced the religious solemnity of the plays with the help of Brajavali instead of putting the spoken language of the people in the mouths of the divine characters. The melody of the Brajavali language enhanced the aesthetic beauty of the play and made the expression of the characters natural.

The songs help to enhance the attractiveness of the play. The play Parijat Haran is no exception. In Ankiya Nat, the characters are introduced with songs. The first song of Parijat Haran describes Krishna, Rukmini, and Satyabhama. In addition to giving a graphic description of the costumes of the characters like the theatrical direction of a modern play, the song describes how Krishna enters. The second song is the entrance song of Indra and Sachi. In the third song, Rukmini prays to Krishna to give her flowers. Some scenes or long events that cannot be shown in drama are skilfully described in Ankiya Bhaona with the help of songs. The fourth song of the Parijat Harana briefly describes a long period from the meeting of Krishna until Narada enjoys the beauty of Dwarka and reaches Satyabhama. The next four songs depict Satyabhama’s pride and the mental state of the characters during Krishna’s attempts to break his pride after Narada tells him about the events surrounding the Parijat flower (Indian shot). These songs are like instructions for acting by the theme. The addition of songs helps the audience to integrate into the play. This characteristic is also reflected in the songs of Parijat Harana. In Ankiya Nat, the scene of entry is described in song as well as the scene of departure. There is also a pictorial description of Krishna’s journey to Kamarupa to suppress Narakasura in the Parijat Harana. The song also includes some long scenes of the battle of Narakasura with Krishna and the killing of Narak. Other songs in the play describe Indra’s battle with Krishna, Krishna’s journey to Dwarka with Satyabhama, and the planting of parijata (Indian shot) at Satyabhama’s door. The addition of songs to accompany the dialogue until the end of the play adds to the sweetness of Parijat Harana.


The playwright Sankardeva had an innovative talent. There are many different types of drama and Bhaona in Assam nowadays. However, Ankiya Nat-Bhaona was written and performed 570 years ago. Sankardeva created Ankiya Nat for various purposes ranging from preaching to entertaining the people. Songs were used for various purposes such as play direction, character mental state, expression of activities, description of dramatic events, and sweetness of melody. There are many moral values and ideals underlying Ankia Nat. This cultural creation was actually for the common people and they have been carefully preserving this treasure. Only those who witnessed the musical environment of Bhaona can guess what a rich cultural wealth of Assam was created in the Middle Ages of Assamese history which has not been diminished by the present adverse circumstances.