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Khanikar Tradition


Khanikar Tradition :


            The genesis of a great deal of Assamese treasure of  literature, drama and theatre tradition, music, dance and other art forms can be traced to the days of the great saint Srimanta Sankardeva.Cinha Yatra, (a dramatic performance with illustrations) conceived, prepared and performed in 1468 AD by the great master had proved to be a defining episode of history which sowed the seeds of the Assamese renaissance. For this  grand musical, Sankardeva innovated and created musical instruments like the Khol, Taal in addition to the other creative accessories like masks, costumes and props including paintings etc. The heritage, thus created, took firm roots later and bloomed in the Vaishnavite monasteries called the sattras in the subsequent period of history. The new way of life triggered by these creative pursuits also gave a new dynamics in the sattra and rural economy of those days.  Srimanta Sankardeva’s act of painting of an elephant on hand made paper with Hengul and Haital (vermillion and yellow arsenic) which was pasted on a  small casket for keeping the manuscript of Gunamala, a lyrical gist of the Bhagawata prepared on the royal command of king Naranarayana, had paved way of a distinct tradition –production of colour with the use of the above mentioned materials and also the use of Mohi (Ink),an ingeniously created concoction for writing. Mention is to be also made of the Vrindabani Vastra, the 180 feet long painting illustration of Krishna which the great master had commissioned. Taking the cue from the   hoary tradition, the sattras had used manuscript paintings as the major narrative form of visual art of Vaishnavite tradition that grew under the sattra patronage. The royal courts of the Ahom and Koch kings also provided the patronage.




The art and artefacts of the sattras are indeed a vast ocean for scholarly exploration. Apparently, the craftsmen and the succession of the pontiffs of the sattras preferred wood, bamboo and cane to stone or brick for all kinds of accessories essential for regular sattra usage. These accessories were modeled or curved as beautiful pieces of art. The wood carvings which the sattras patronized the most are the Simhasanas (the Lion Throne, representing the abode of the God),arches, door frames, Garuda and peacocks, images of Krishna in various forms of playfulness and floral designs curved on posts. In addition, the beams of the Namghars, Sarai-safuras (Assamese trays), Thoga (lecterns) etc are common objects. The vast majority of the sattras also adorn the images of various deities like the gate keepers Jaya Vijaya, solemn figures of Vishnu, and the kneeling figure with folded hands of Garuda etc. The flourishing of this specialized craft in the sattra institution indicates a very special position given to a band of Khanikars or artisans. Over the years, these talented lots were also commissioned for services on the temporal arena which is evident in the carvings with the topics of hunting, buffalo fights, floral decorations on boats etc.

            The usage of masks is an integral component of the Bhaona, the Vaishnavite theatre tradition. Like the other art forms, this has also been a living tradition in many of the sattras. Masks are usually made for Gods and demons of various forms narrated in the dramas. The Sattriya masks are unique in their versatility and dynamism, as their manoeuvrability is ensured by the Khanikars  for use in the dramas. There are also assorted full body masks.

          Time has perhaps arrived to explore if these great art work representing a vibrant and glorious tradition can be promoted in the modern world and popularised to promote both the art and the heritage in one hand, and to bolster the rural and ethnic economy on the other.



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