Shankarian Theater and Krishna Culture

Shankarian theater can be defined as a Assamese theater of 15 th century innovated by Shankardeva, the great Vaishnavite monk of India and later nurtured by his disciples, to enlighten the people of North East India, irrespective of cast or creed in the line of socio-cultural-educational and ethical field, along with, never ending, incomparable, debonair Krishna culture. Shankarian theater is a popular theater of Assam which has been practicing in the state till today.

Deepak Bhuyan.

Shankarian theater can be defined as a Assamese theater of 15 th century innovated by Shankardeva, the great Vaishnavite monk of India and later nurtured by his disciples, to enlighten the people of North East India, irrespective of cast or creed in the line of socio-cultural-educational and ethical field, along with, never ending, incomparable, debonair Krishna culture. Shankarian theater is a popular theater of Assam which has been practicing in the state till today in Vrajawali and Assamese languages. Many writers have been discussing abundantly regarding various talent and teachings of Shankardeva, but in case of his theatrical aspects, less importance is noticed.

The causes can be outlined as follow :-
1. The lack of required effort of understanding Shankardevas theater is seen among the modern theater practitioners of Assam.
2. Many scholars were in opinion that Shankardeva used his theater as a tool of propaganda of his newly devised Bhagawat based religion. So they were not interested to discuss his theater on general platform of theater.
3. Major portions of his plays covered with songs and dances, so a group of critics categorized his plays as dance drama and kept the plays aside from the main stream.
4. In the tradition of Shankarian theater a new branch has springing up , which is known as Matrivasa Bhawna. It also remains out of focus for the modern theater practitioners because of its mythological contents.

Observing the above summation it can be said that the theological aspects of Shankarian theater is the main cause of giving less interest by the modern theater practitioners. The necessities of Shankarian theater analysis in modern trend and tendencies were not felt by them because they had already been stamped the plays of Shankardeva as mystical plays. It is also true that in the changing scenario of industrial development and peoples materialistic achievements the aged old subjects of God and supreme soul has been denied by the persons who carried so called excessive progressive outlook in them. But Shankarian theater has a new dimension of peoples culture, with bold progressive inner look, which is not yet been revealed broadly in proper sense.
Krishna the most charismatic character of Indian peoples culture was introduce by Shankardeva, which tends towards sound living. In the doctoral thesis Jyotiprasad Agarwala : The Dramatist Artist of Katubuddin Ahmed it was mentioned that Krishna was the product of the very concept of Indian altruism. Out of many semi Gods Krishna has been zealously singled out by the Vaishnavite saint Shankardeva. Shankardeva put much effort to carry high culture to the midst of the people. For his success in this sphere Assamese are now said to be highly cultured.

Shankardeva used the word Krishna for the first time with a broad based dimension. Krishna is the cultural manifestation of humanity who is destined to fight anti-culture (Duskriti). Krishna culture struggles constantly against the corrupt and degenerated pseudo-cultural trend that raises their ugly heads cajoling and flirting with the underdeveloped minds. Jyotiprasad has critically analyzed the significance of the Krishna character. When he refers to the artists constant struggle against the evil trends he means that culture is the intimate guiding factor in his battle against evil forces. This persistent fight against evil will be on for building up peace and beauty on earth. Silpir Prithivi – the artists world wrote by Jyotiprasad precisely brings an analogy of Lord Krishna and Arjuna. Krishna the charioteer in the battle of Kurukhetra symbolizes culture and Arjuna the commander of the battle against evil force.

Shankardeva fought untouchability more than 500 years ago in the then conservative society of Assam with great success. He realized the Catholic culture of Assam comprising various ethnic groups of North East India. Analyzing the statement of Dr. Katubuddin Ahmed and the teaching of Jyotiprasad on rediscovering of Shankardevas Krishna culture can be described as follow,

Krishna culture is a well equipped peoples culture through which the dominants get courage and vitality to fight evil power, where the Krishna the righteousness lead them to desired fulfillment. Shankardeva stressed on reformation instead of so called revolution. Because he believed that development of socio-cultural, political and economical aspects can be expected through the reformation of every human being. Reform yourselves world will reform itself – was the base of his thought. It was an interesting as well as a subject to be heartened that in the amidst of feudalistic atmosphere Shankardeva started a struggle against feudalism without being perceived by the feudalist. Through the invisible struggle against feudalism he aimed for peaceful homogenous society of equality, unity, peace and prosperity. It can be presumed that the thought of Shankardeva was later followed by Mahatma Gandhi in case of establishing Ram Rajya. – the state of equality , unity , peace and prosperity which can be compared with modern socialism. Shankardevas struggle against feudalism was invisible because it was not outwardly developed among the public with so called slogans and public processions. It was developed quite inwardly in the heart of common people in the name of Krishna culture where the path of embarrassing equality, unity peace and prosperity can be made permanently for the benefit of humanity. Shankardeva did not initiated Konch King Naranarayana despite of his several request. From the said scenario it can be said without having any hesitation that Shankardeva was against the system and its makers. So he tried to educate people and to reform them through the Krishna culture for proper and greater achievements of life aiming at the very base of his thought – Reform yourselves world will reform itself.

In the broad base sense it is clear to all that Shankardevas struggle was basically for the total change, which establish peoples culture eliminating all sorts of anti-culture prevailed in the socio–cultural political and economical sphere of his time. Dr. K. Ahmeds elaboration on Jyotiprasads expression can be summarized here which may be well briefed of the subject. – Jyoti Prasad Agarwalla critically analysed the significance of Krishna character which well affirms that the influence he imbibed was borrowed from Shankardeva. Jyoti Prasad appealed all to try to understand Shankardeva who tried to give a total shape of our traditional culture. Shankardeva thoroughly used his genius for translating his ideas into action. Shankardeva is our cultural mentor. Could we not travel to a new world by emulating that cultural ideal which was bestowed to us by him 500 years ago ? Jyotiprasad affirms.

In continuation with Dr. Ahmeds elaboration some lines of Silpir Prithivi of Jyotiprasad can be placed here for more perfection of Krishna culture. Jyoti Prasad wrote that -- We have to follow Krishna but not the mere Krishna of Vrindavana and the name alone. The Krishna of Vrindavana and the name Krishna is in the outward shape of Hinduism. But we have Hindu, Muslim, Sikh ,Christian and others in our country. Everyone has their own cultural faith and symbol like Krishna. Now we have to dig out the meaning of Krishna to our present epoch. The truth in it is universal and it is similar to the cultural symbol of other religions. We cannot make the cultural symbols similar to one another. But the similarities of meaning are there which we have to follow. That is the meaning of cultural assimilation. It is the undefeatable path of cultural unity. That is the meaning of Krishna and the similarities among all religions are called Sanskriti [ culture.] Today the culture is the only savior of our needs and deeds. If we study the rule of cultural evolution as showed by Shankardeva then we get the name Culture in place of Krishna. What is culture , what is the definition of culture, is known to every Hindu, Muslim, Sikh, Christian, and everybody is aspirant of culture, because anti-culture [duskriti] destructs every peaceful means due to lack of culture: [Sanskriti.] It makes hindrances in the path of prosperity. So it may be a thing or way of life or a system of society, whatever it may be, it must be freed from anti-culture [duskriti] to establish beauty on earth. That is to be done without fail. That is called cultural effort and the result of such efforts are named as culture. Culture is light, culture is beautiful. This is the culture which was established by the Aryans and made it an ideology for humanity. So Krishna has been worshiping as a God. Through the analysis of Krishna's life story it will be clear to all that peoples culture can be named as Krishna.

It is Krishna culture through which people get inspiration for better and greater life. Krishna culture is a feeling of righteousness which leads for total change establishing the peace and harmony among the people of various strata. Shankardeva wanted to reform society through the Krishna culture of love and persuasion instead of lunching a violent struggle as seen in our modern days. Only because this factor the modern progressive thinkers are keeping themselves aside from the discussion of Shankarian thought in modern light. However some Marxist writers are discussing Shankarian thought giving pin spot but sufficient flood light is not yet been properly focused. Dr. Hiren Gohain, Dr.Shiva Nath Barman, Dr. Amalendu Guha are the pioneer of this line , who has been trying to analyze the socio-political economical and cultural aspects of Shankarian thought in new light.
Marx and Engels taught that the struggle between the proletariat and the capitalists would ultimately lead to a socialist revolution in which the working class would overthrow the power of the capitalists and in the interests of the working people set up a dictatorship of the proletariat , their own government. It was a lesion of 1850 AD. But in 1500 AD Shankardeva taught that all sorts of repression can be overthrown through the devotion of Krishna culture and in the interest of the common people set up a peaceful society . It was not a subject of fatalism or surrender to the absolute idea not even the delirious mental state of fetishism. Because Krishna himself elaborated that whenever righteousness declines and unrighteousness becomes powerful, then I come to birth, for the protection of the good, for the destruction of the evil-doers. For the sake of firmly establishing righteousness I am born from age to age.
Roopkonwar Jyotiprasad Agarwalla nicely explained this idea in the following words :
The world history of every epoch is nothing but Mahabharata. The same beginning, same contradictions and same ending , only the actors are changed. It is seen all over the world and India that the story of Mahabharata is repeating itself. Who is blind Dhitarastra, on what new shape Krishna is going to be brought up in which guwals village, all this thing will be understood through keen observations. Up to the present the Krishna's life is the eternal truth of this universe. This symbol of culture gets birth through the suppression of anti-culture. Anti-culture is afraid of culture so it tries to kill the culture arresting its parents and locking them in jail. Culture gets birth illuminating the jail – and being nourished in the lap of common public [Guwal- Cowherd.] defeats the anti-culture. So it is said that Krishna culture is peoples culture.
Shankardeva focused this truth through his life and writings in his life long dedication and devotion. Therefore his theatrical aspects are to be judge on the platform as viewed in the said elaboration of Krishna culture. It must be stated her that the Krishna culture is not an outdated religion oriented culture, it has the vitality of bringing people to the path of peace and prosperity. So the modern critics should have a look on Shankarian theater through the revolutionary aspects of Krishna character and its allegorical expressions, omitting the supernatural Vrindavani characteristics. Shankardeva inspired his successors to write plays on Krishna culture. His main disciple Madhavdeva and other notable devotees followed the path as instructed by him. Plot, characterization, dialogue and song are all subordinated to the main purpose of instilling in to the hearts of the audience the strength and necessity of Krishna culture. In course of time the practice of writing drama in Vajrawali language died out and a new practice of writing plays in Assamese language in the same Shankarian style has been developed. This plays were known as Matrivasa Bhawna. The plays of both languages are still in practice but the trend of Shankarian theater is still barricaded in the religious arena. The technique of Shankarian theater has not got the required status in the modern theatrical field. However a lean effort has been observed in case of using Shankarian theater technique in some modern Assamese dramas. Such efforts should be bold and the continuation of such effort should be encouraged to establish the Shankarian theater technique all over the world.


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