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THROUGH Setubandha

Sankaradeva and his movement.
Srimanta Sankaradeva, who lived during the 15 th and 16 th century (1449 – 1568 AD), was a saint, preacher, poet, composer, playwright, artist, philosopher and reformer, who ushered in the Bhakti movement of India, in this northeast part of our country, thereby spearheading a cultural renaissance which went beyond a religious movement to accord it the significance and dimension of a socio-cultural revitalization.   
After the passing away of Srimanta Sankardeva in 1568, his chief disciple Madhabdeva along with Damadordeva, Harideva, Gopaladeva, Chaturbhuj and Purushuttam Thakur, Padma Atta, et al took his eka sarana naam dharma across the region. The Sattra institution, as envisioned by Srimanta Sankaradeva, has been the principal organization through which bulk of the socio-cultural regeneration and creativity in all walks of life had been carried forward  without a break since more than last five centuries. Thus the Sattra became the nerve centres of wide-ranging activities like sattriya dance and music, borgeet (devotional songs), Bhaona (dramas), literature, paintings, crafts, sculpture, mask-making, etc. It effectively combined vocational training with the academic part, while making the social groups around it, self-reliant and productive. It also made them contributory members of the society. Keeping in tune with the glorious Sankardeva tradition of taking the pantheon beyond caste, community and creed, the Sattras had been also playing a role of social unifier by progressively taking into their fold the depressed classes of the societies and members of various ethnic groups into their fold.
Bhaona or Ankiya Nat 



The history of Assamese drama begins with the plays Srimanta Sankaradeva wrote in the sixteenth century. These plays are ankiya nat and are popularly known as Bhaona. ‘Ankiya’ means ‘one act’ and ‘nat’ means ‘drama’; it is also described as Ek Anka, or a ‘continuous act in one sitting’. The inspiration for the dramatic narrative is the Bhagawata. Working with the ageless elements of the ancient scriptures and the epics, Sankaradeva gave them an idiomatic agency that places them dramatically and firmly amongst the people. He blended the existing local elements with classical Sanskrit ideals in creating his  Bhaonas. The main objective of these Bhaonas was to evoke a sense of devotional fervour in the audience which ultimately led to a harmonious society. This trend of writing nats continued amongst the later Gurus and also amongst the Sattradhikars. Centering on these Bhaonas, a host of cultural activities like music, dance, songs, dialogues, acting, costumes, direction, crafts, etc followed which bind the society together. It was this spiritual education through entertainment amongst the masses which elevated the minds of the people to an area which spoke of love, peace and harmony only. This is culture which is not true for the Assamese community only, but for the various communities in this Bharatvarsha.  

The Need
Due to various historical reasons, perennial resource constraints, advent of modernity and other such issues, the egalitarian mission of taking the entire lot of tribal and ethnic groups to the caring fold of the core of the Assamese society has faced several historical roadblocks. We have come across numerous examples of great desire on the part of the ethnic groups and the tribes to be a part of the  Sankardeva tradition and be an equal stakeholder in the great socio-cultural ethos. The Sattras in general are also generally of the opinion that time is now to walk the extra mile to build inter community bridges in Assam as investment in social security and social capital.  
Setubandha since 2003
Srimanta Foundation in collaboration with the Asom Sattra Mahasabha, the apex organization of the Sattras in Assam, had for the first time organized this programme in 2003 at Guwahati. Bhaona which has been the chief medium in this programme is a time tested vehicle to get across to the people to build bridge.
After 2003, Asom Sattra Mahasabha, by itself has been conducting the Setubandha festival at regular intervals in different parts of Assam wherein total number of 25 Bhaonas have been performed by communities like the Tiwa, Mising, Sonowal Kachari, Bodo, Tea-tribe, Karbi, Rabha, Nepalee, Moran, Bengali, Chautal, Koch Rajbonshi, and Singpho during last 8 years. This time Srimanta Foundation is again collaborating with the Asom Sattra Mahasabha in organizing Setubandha 2012
The Bhaonas performed in the earlier Setubandha programmes have been in their original form, i.e, in the language of the original scriptures. 
The Programme
The programme this time is being planned on 2, 3 & 4 March 2012 at Srimanta Sankardev Kalakshetra, Panjabari, Guwahati. The chief attraction will be the following Bhaonas – 
(i)Hiranyakuxipu Bodh by Tamulpur Samannita Ankiya Natya Samaj from Tamulpur,
Baksa District
(ii)Sita Haron Bali Bodh by the Jengraimukh Mising Silpi Samaj from Jengraimukh, Majuli, Jorhat district.
       (iii) Parijat Haran by participants from various communities like the Moran, Sonowal Kachari, Ahom, Chutia, Tea-tribes from Kakopather and nearby areas of Tinsukia District. 
The first two Bhaonas will be in Bodo and Mising language respectively, while the one from Kakopather will be an original Ankiya Nat. Srimanta Foundation has been working with noted litterateurs and cultural workers of the respective communities last six months to prepare a Nat each in Boro and Mising scripts, organize the community in Tamulpur and Jengrai of Majuli and liase  with Sattriya and other Karmakartas for rehearsal and training on Sattriya style of performing art by the members of the ethinic communities, who will, for the first time in the history of Assam, perform bhaona in their respective languages. There will be a few trial shows and performances by these groups before and after the Setbandha 2012 in various Boro and Mising areas of the state. 
Besides these there will be a formal Inauguration and Concluding function and four Academic Sessions to involve the youths, scholars, practitioners and intellectuals to discuss the following topics –
The Mati akhara ( a form of rhythmic exercises) technique and community health.
The Khanikar (Craftsmen) tradition – Commercial potentialities.
Namghar as a Social Institution
Besides there will be a special session for the students of University, colleges and the corporates on the life, philosophy and the socio-cultural heritage on the Sankardeva Movement to be conducted in English language for the benefit of the non-locals.
There will also be an Exhibition to display and demonstrate the Sattriya culture, its utility and relevance. The Exhibition will be a medium to communicate the rich treasure of our Sattriya tradition. It is proposed to have the following aspects :   Manuscript, Puthi-chitra, Sanchi & Tula pat-- its display & preparation, Natural Dyes (hengul, haital, mohi, & other frequently used dyes), Barhoi (wood carving), Assamese Jewelery (of bamboo, cane, paper mesh, gold plated), Mask making (demo also), Textile, Artifacts( from reputed Sattras), and Aharjya
An important dimension which has been added to Setubandha 2012 is a Follow-up plan which has been detailed below. 
FOLLOW-UP PROGRAMME – continuity of the social mobilization process 
In each of these three locations viz., Jengraimukh, Tamulpur and Kakopather there will be a Follow-up Plan for a year. Besides these three places a few more places will be identified from these areas where earlier Setubandha was held or those communities who participated in the earlier programmes. The following will be the nature of work of this Plan. 
1.Sattriya education – learning of Sattriya Performing Art & Craft – mati akhara, khol, nrittya, geet, bhaona, mukha (mask) making, wood carving, manuscript painting and so on.
2. Sattriya Sanskars – periodic visits of Sattridhikars to interact, educate and guide villagers in general about spiritualism and value system.
3.Socio-economic –After conscious evolution of a group from amongst those who will be responsible to implement the above activities, programmes and projects for the welfare of the villages concerned will be designed and formulated. An NGO blended with a voluntary and professional approach to work will be associated. There is a plan to conduct the socio-economic survey of the concerned villages before identifying need and needful action thereof. In this the ASM and the SF will play the roles only of facilitators—the onus of taking the process to its logical end will rest with the villagers and the NGO concerned.
To implement activity in each of these locations Setubandha will identify a sattriya karmakarta (worker) who will be the Acharya for that location. His maintenance and a reasonable remuneration will be taken care of. He shall also have to do some amount of organizing work too.  
For activity 2 we will have to identify Sattra / Namghars / individual Sattradikars to whom the people of the village owns allegiance and plan out periodic visits and programmes by them. 
Activity 3 will evolve while implementing activity 1 & 2. Besides the Acharya, both these activities will have to be organized and supported by conscious citizens of the village, the respective District Administration and the NGO which will be engaged.  

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