Header Ads Widget

Barechaharia Bhaona: an age old distinctive cultural festivity

 Anjan Baskota

         Jamugurihat of Sonitpur district of Assam is known for the historic Barechaharia Bhaona festival. Mahapurush Srimanta Sankardeva played a distinguished role in uniting the Assamese people of the greater Assam who were segregated and separated into small groups. The word ‘Bare’ means many and ‘chahar’ means dwelling of village people. Thus, a conglomeration of villages means ‘barechahar’ and the evolution of word ‘Barechahari’ and ‘Bhaona’ refers to the religious drama introduced by Srimanta Sankardeva. Mahapurush Srimanat Sankardeva who acquainted himself with the then nationwide Bhakti Movement had introduced the new concept in Assam at a later stage. He scripted bhakti songs (borgeet), dramas (bhaonas) etc. as a means to preach and teach people about brotherhood and social living. He established namghars, satras to preach people about neo-vaishnavism. He introduced neo-vaishnavism in Assam and became a brand ambassador of Vaishnavite movement. Bhaona which comes under performing art is the gift of none other than Mahapurush Srimanta Sankardeva. With the help of the teachings from the Veda, Upanishadas, Bhagawat Puranas and other religious scriptures, Sankardeva advocates Neo-Vaishnavism which teaches absolute devotion to God. He encourages people to devote their souls to God, absolute dedication to the service of God and his creation, chanting and listening to the names of God. Sankardeva founded a democratic society based on the principles of equality, fraternity, and brotherhood. His literary creations such as bhaonas, devotional songs played a distinguishing role in eradicating the misunderstanding, caste system, superstitious beliefs etc. as well.      

       The historic Barechaharia bhaona is also based on Vaishnavite culture started at Raghudalani (Pachigaon, on the south western part of Jamugurihat) in 1797 by the local people. It is worth mentioning that during the time of Ahom rule, the Burmese army attacked Assam several times. The frightened people scattered from their areas in search of a secured place for settlement and livelihood. Similarly, a large number of people from the southern part of the Brahmaputra especially from the present day Nagaon district of Assam crossed the mighty river and settled in Jamugurihat, a fertile land of culture. On the contrary, the tribal people form NEFA (Northeast Frontier Agency), present day Arunachal Pradesh came down to the downstream areas and caused inhumane torture to the people living in the downstream. To protect the common people residing in the eastern belt of Jiya Bharali river to Brahmajan (Gohpur), the Ahom majesty had appointed Solal Borgohain as a frontier security officer and handed over him the charge of maintaining peace and tranquillity. Solal Gohain had divided the entire belt into three small administrative divisions namely, Na-duar, Char-duar and Chhay-duar (the probable places from where the Daflas and Abars, the tribes from Arunachal Pradesh entered into the downstream) and deployed Ahom armies to check the illegal entries of the tribal attackers. After deployment of Ahom armies at the entrances, the flow of the Arunachali tribes stopped for ever thus the prevailing suffocative atmosphere ended. After the return of normalcy in the belt, the reunited society of the greater Jamugurihat area gave a new trend of Barechaharia bhaona in 1797. During the initial days, people from the 8 to 10 villages assembled together and performed bhaonas under the same roof at the same time at Raghudalani Pothar. The numbers of kholas have increased and there are 21 kholas at present where 42 bhaonas are performed in two days. The bhaona site was shifted from Raghudalani to Pokamura Pothar in 1921 due to the erosion caused by Jiya Bharali river. Generally, the Barechaharia bhaona festival is held on the full moon day of Chaitra month as per the Assamese calendar after an interval of every five years. 
        The Barechaharia bhaona festival is performed under a fully bloomed lotus shaped pandal. The unique pandal is prepared by the villagers from the adjoining villages without any professional architects or engineering. The raw materials used for construction of the unique pandal are easily available bamboo, cane, timbers and straw. There is an age-old tradition of establishment of singashana on an altar in the middle of the bhaona exhibition site which will be followed by Gandhotsav. Late Sonitkonwar Gajen Barua, an exponent of folk culture of Assam played a pivotal role towards development and bringing out the Barechaharia bhaona tradition from Jamugurihat to state and national panorama as well. Late Barua had created a glorious oil painting featuring every aspect of Barechaharia bhaona and the blossoming lotus shaped pandal. With an intention to give a wide prospect to the bhaona festival, Late Barua started inviting people from hills and plains, irrespective of communities to the bhaona platform. He invited government officials from the district administration in 1949 and started writing essays in Assamese periodicals in 1961. An article with some photographs of Barechaharia bhaona appeared in ‘Assam Bani’ in 1966. Gradually, the bhaona festival started to become a site of a rainbow gathering people from plains and hills making it a sea of unity, a classless platform of unification and assimilation. He made a humble appeal to the then chief minister of Assam Bimala Prasad Chaliha to allocate fund for preparing a documentary on Barechaharia bhaona in 1966. Similarly, on February 28, 1975, Dr. Bhupen Hazarika and Rudra Baura made a documentary on Barechaharia bhaona. All the representative tribes of the Northeastern region have been invited to the bhaona site since 1969. Eminent painter Dr. Ebrahim Alkazi, secretary of Sangeet Natak Akademy Dr. Suresh Awasthi, eminent Assamese scholar Dr. Maheshwar Neog visited Barechaharia bhaona site and featured about the historic bhaona tradition in the national and international forum as well. Late Barua initiated publication of a souvenir of the bhaona festival in 1975 for the first time. At present, the permanent bhaona committee has purchased fifty bighas of land in Pokamura Pothar with the financial aid from the state government and a permanent Barechaharia project site has been constructed wherein research work on bhaona culture and Sankari culture etc. will be carried out. 
         The 226th edition of the historic Barechaharia bhaona is underway with a four-day programme from March 6 to 9, 2023. I wish all the success of the age-old tradition of bhaona festival with all its charms and glories conveying a sense of harmony to all the people. 


1. Bhaona: a type of theatrical performing art. 
2. Singhasana: a section of a circle where bhaonas are performed (stage) 
3. Gandhostav: a ritual offering prayer to the almighty by the actors of bhaona earlier to bhaona exhibition. 
4. Singhshana: an ornamental, secular and elevated seat for a reigning deity.

Post a Comment