Majuli gets ready for the biggest annual festival
It’s the month of November. With the winter approaching and the trauma of devastating monsoon now over, Majuli is again rising like a phoenix with lots of hustle and bustle for its biggest festival –Raas Leela on Raas Purnima. Raas can be defined simply as aesthetics and Leela is play or dance. It’s a traditional way of celebrating the life of Lord Krishna with the medium of play and dance in the Brajavali dialect. Brajavali is one of the most important literary languages used by Sri Sankardeva to create his beautiful composition of Borgeets and Ankiya Naat.
Majuli’s numerous Sattras which are the neo-vaishnavite socio-cultural institution founded by Sri Sankardeva are credited for keeping up the tradition of organizing this Raas-Leela. It will be unfair to expect the same play and performance of Raas-Leela in all the Sattras because each one has a unique style of its own. For example, Kamalabari Sattra is known for its amazing rhythmic Gayan-Bayan (Gayan means singer and Bayan means instrument player) whereas Garmur Sattra is known for its beautiful make-up artistry. It’s important to note here that even now in most of the Sattras, women are not allowed to take part or perform on the stage. So for the women characters, make-up artists are called for to transform a man’s face into a woman’s face by applying different layers of make-up. Perhaps make-up artistry is the most important job in Raas-Leela apart from the dialogues and rehearsals. Samuguri Sattra at the far east of Majuli has its own majestic aura. Known for its famous mask-making artistry, Raas-Leela over here will enchant you for a long time. Perhaps, Samuguri Sattra is one of the few places where the original ‘Keligopal’ (Raas-Leela) as spelled in Assamese is played in Brajavali dialect. Performers wear different types of masks assigned for that character on top of their make-up. Once on the stage, riot break up among audience to witness and cheer for their favourite part.
Octogenarian and present Sattradhikar of Samuguri Sattra, Koshakanta Deva Goswami is a renowned artist of mask-making. He has been awarded the Sangeet Natak Akademi in 2003 and Pranab Baruah award of the year 2013 for his pioneering work on mask-making and popularizing the art. According to Pradip Goswami, son of Koshakanta Deva Goswami, this art is passed down from generation to generation in their family and it runs in their blood. ‘It’s our responsibility to keep this art alive and known throughout the world, says Pradip Goswami, who travels round the country attending festivals and giving art classes in mask-making.
Mask-making is a complete eco-friendly process. The colors, fibers and mud everything has been taken from the earth. Koshakanta Deva Goswami is known for giving a slight twist to this anyway fixed mask. He has designed the jaw part in a way that the performer can move it as if it’s talking giving a more realistic looks to the character.
Photographs andText : Prabir Kumar Talukdar. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org