“Parijat Haran”, which was presented by the second year students of the National School of Drama recently at Abhimanch, is a part of the repertoire of the rich and glorious theatrical tradition of Assam known as Ankia Naata or Bhaona. This form was evolved by Sankaradeva in the 15th Century and further developed by his disciple Madhavadeva. The Sattra, socio-religious and artistic creative centre, proved to be a powerful vehicle for the growth and popularity of this form which is a fusion of the Assamese indigenous artistic elements and classical Sanskrit drama.
It is commendable that the NSD had sent its second year students to Majuli in Assam, to get trained in this traditional art form as a part of training curriculum. They stayed there for a month and participated in the production theatre workshop under the creative direction of Dr. Bhabananda Barbayan, one of the most eminent practitioners of this form widely known in India and abroad for his expertise in the field of Ankia Naata.
The play begins with the display of the skill of drummers. Their beats of drums (khol), their bodily moments which follow a highly stylised pattern thrill the audience. It is a kind of Purvarang. Having set the lively tone, the production opens with Narada offering a flower called Parijat to Krishna who is in the company of his first wife Rukmani and gopis. Showering his love on Rukmani, he gives the flower to her who accepts it with great veneration and love. Then Narada visits to Satyabhama, Krishna’s second wife and tells her about the divine flower Parijat, its power to ensure happiness, love and prosperity to one who possesses it. She becomes furious. Swiftly goes Narada to inform Krishna about the anger of Satyabhama who rushes to pacify the jealous Satyabhama. Protesting, she demands not just one flower of Parijat but the Parijat tree itself, which is in Amravati ruled by Indra. The adventure of going to Amravati and bringing the divine tree is fraught with grave danger. But Satyabhama wants it at all cost. Forced to please his angry wife, Krishna, Satyabhama and gopis march towards Amravati.
As the narrative unfolds we meet more characters like Narakasura, a dreaded demon, who is inflicting torture on saints. In a fierce encounter Krishna kills him to enable saints to meditate in the tranquillity of forest without any fear. As soon as Krishna with his wife reaches Amravati, he uproots Parijat tree and hands it over to his enraged wife determined to establish her superiority over Rukmani. But soon enough he has to confront Indra for intruding Amravati and uprooting divine tree. Drunk with his celestial power, Indra underestimates Krishna, challenges him for a combat which results in his humiliating defeat.
The story is interesting but what is most significant is the highly stylized presentation. The elements of mime, dance and singing set to ragas and talas specific to the form, the aesthetically designed costumes, and the intricate hand movements create poetic images that mesmerize the audience. The production pulsates with tender human emotions. The action flows rhythmically with a slow pace.
The character of Narada acts as a catalyst to set off chain of events. His sense of wit sparkles the production. In the denouement both Rukmani and Satyabhama confront one another as rivals with Krishna and gopis witnessing with a sense of curiosity. A pleased Satyabhama with an air of superiority flaunts Parijat tree with roots, trying to score the point that Krishna loves her so dearly that he offered her Parijat tree rather than a tiny flower. A composed Rukmani with deep conviction says, "I have Krishna, the Lord of Dharma, Artha, Kama and Moksha. Parijat tree stands nowhere in comparison". The aim of the production is to convey spiritual message that worldly possessions are of little importance and what man needs is compassion, detachment and noble sentiments through a refined entertainment.
In its original form the play is presented in a space called Namaghar, a rectangular space. Director Dr. Bhabananda Barbayan has designed his production to capture the essential elements of the original. Upstage a platform is created for instrumentalists and vocalists to occupy. The left side of the centre stage is used for the entry of performers through a gate in arched shape which is aesthetically decorated with colourful flowers. The centre and down stage provide enough space for the stylized movements of the performers.
The students deserve commendation for executing intricate foot work, hands movement and expressive facial expression in an effortless style that show that they are in love with their characters. Undoubtedly, this kind of training will link young artists with their roots, acquainting them with the rich cultural heritage of the country, inspiring them to synthesize traditional elements with modern theatrical art.