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Where religion rests backstage - Muslim troupe comes forward to perform Vaishnavite drama form

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DAULAT RAHMAN   |   Guwahati   |   Published 01.10.09, 12:00 AM

Guwahati, Oct. 1: Communal harmony will take centrestage when a group Muslim artistes don Ankiya Nat colours and play characters from Hindu epics at various satras across Assam.

This enterprising group, led by a literary critic, is out to give Srimanta Sankardev’s dictums on peaceful co-existence of all religions a whole new meaning.

Ankiya Nat are short one-act plays devised by the saint in the 15th century as a tool of social reform.

Five hundred years later, a group of Muslim artistes have decided to use the same form to paint secular colours.

Ismail Hossain, a literary critic and professor of Assam Engineering Institute, who is leading the group, said the prime objective of Muslim artistes performing Ankiya Nat was to highlight Sankardev’s teachings.

Ankiya Nat was originally performed during religious functions of the Vaishnavites. The script generally comprises episodes from the Mahabharat and Ramayan. Each play has an interlocutor, or a sutradhar, though there may be a maximum of 15 actors on stage.

“So far no Muslim group has performed Ankiya Nat. We want to pay tribute to a great saint like Sankardev as well as spread the message of love and brotherhood through our performance. The teachings of Sankardev have great relevance at a time when our society is passing through a phase of communal hatred, intolerance and violence,” said Hossain, who had delivered a lecture on Sankardev in London last year.

The Muslim artistes have already performed at various satras.

Hossain said the group has got invitations from several organisations to perform in Ankiya Nat in different parts of India and abroad.

“Sankardev was a saint-scholar, playwright and socio-religious reformer who could provide a thread of unity to Assam and created a religion that gave shape to a set of new values and social synthesis. It is a great and entertaining experience for me to perform Ankiya Nat. There was a huge public response to our performance at Natun Kamalabari,” Firoz Ahmed, an artiste of the group, said.

The Asam Satra Mahasabha, the apex organisation of satras, has welcomed the initiative and hoped it would go a long way to universalise the ideals and teachings of Sankardev.

“Sankardev’s religion has many similarities with the Bhakti movement that was popular in India centuries ago. He could inspire bhakti in Assam just as Ramananda, Kabir, Basava and Chaitanya Mahaprabhu inspired it in other parts of India. But I must say that the original form of Ankiya Nat must be maintained,” Kushal Goswami, a member of central executive committee of Satra Mahasabha, said.


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