Posts Tagged ‘Assait Thakker’

Indian society offers a prominent place to the living traditions and cultures. There can be no doubt about the fact that traditional art forms reflect the ideals of the society, its determination to survive, its ethos, emotions, fellow-feelings, and so on. Even the people’s routine language seems to have a creativity of its own, though may or may not be based on the roots. This type of creativity is spontaneous and emerges from the circumstances as an expression of the feelings. It is from this natural rhythm that the theatre art was born. Theatre in itself is a complete form of art as it involves dialogues, songs, dance, acting, music and emotions in its framework.

One such theatre form that Gujarat is proudly a home to, since the 14th century is Bhavai. The name of this folk theatre is derived from the Sanskrit word ‘Bhaav’ meaning expression of an emotion or a feeling. While according to some scholars Bhavai means Bhava + Aai where Bhava means Universe and Aai means mother, together it means mother of the Universe, Goddess Amba.


Until the 14th century, Gujarat had a rich tradition of writing and performing Sanskrit plays. This was when Asait Thakker, a folk singer of religious narrative stories, launched folk participatory theatre called Bhavai, using mythological and historical themes and characters, creating awareness in the audiences on the social issues. It is believed that Asait has written around 360 performances out of which around 60 survive today.


The story belongs to Unjha village in North Gujarat. Asait Thakker was an Audichhya Brahmin and a Kathakar (Narrator of Puranic Stories) in Unjha. His host Hemala Patel’s daughter, Ganga was abducted by a Muslim Subedar named Sardar Jahan Roz. Worried, Hemala Patel urged their family priest Asait to free his daughter by using his artistic skills. Asait rushed to the Sardar and pleased him with his songs and performances. He then claimed Ganga to be his daughter and asked Sardar to liberate her.

But the Sardar was not convinced and asked Asait to dine with the girl in the same plate to prove his claim. Ganga belonged to a lower class and during those days it was considered unholy for the upper class to eat with the lower ones. However, Asait obeyed and ate from the same dish with Ganga.

The Brahmins of the village excommunicated Asait Thakker for his ‘unholy dinner’. Asait accepted this decision too and chose to stay out with his three sons and live by his art. He picked upon this living tradition of Bhavai to survive and started improving it.

Since then the caste of performers of Bhavai has been called Tragalas and it is said that they are the descendents of Asait Thakker.


Bhavai is a rare symphony of religious as well as romantic feelings. Each performance is called a ‘Vesha’, meaning ‘Dress’ in literal sense. These are usually episodes from the day to day life of the community. Subtle social criticism laced with sharp humor is the specialty of Bhavai. Also, the incompatible behavior of the high class people is scoffed at in Bhavai, may be due to the anger of the injustice suffered by its originator, Asait Thakker.

Women are strictly prohibited to take part in Bhavai; hence the males perform their roles too, which makes the drama even more interesting. People belonging to various castes and classes are a part of Bhavai, right from the King to the Knave.


Bhavai is staged at any open-air place, generally near the temples. The players enter the village by the afternoon time and announce their presence by playing of the Bhungal. The Bhungal is a four feet long copper pipe that provides a strong note and is unique to Bhavai. The villagers gather as the darkness descends. Different playlets are performed during the night and sometimes even for a longer duration.

Before the performance begins, the Bhavai players place a picture of Goddess Amba and an earthen lamp in the centre of a circle. The lamp is kept burning throughout the performance to keep the blessings of the Goddess alive. The place or the circle is called Chachar. The Bhavaiyas (Bhavai players) sing religious songs to invoke the Goddess’s blessings as well as to settle the audience.

The chief of the group is called a Nayak. He is the one to enter first and mark the Chachar inside which the performance takes place. Next, the actors enter from a distance with lamps in their hands and weaving dance patterns in the air. The members of the orchestra are placed at the edge of the Chachar that includes Bhungal, Tabla, Cymbals and Harmonium.

The start of the Bhavai is marked by the ‘Avanu’ i.e. an entrance song and the Bhungal is played loudly to inform the actor as his cue. This Avanu gives a clue as to what the entire plot of the Bhavai will be. First enters Ganpati, an actor with a bronze plate that covers his face. Lord Ganesh is the remover of obstacles and the God of benevolence. After Him, comes Goddess Kali with two torches in Her hands to bless the villagers and their cattle wealth.
After these appearances, the Vesha actually starts with the entry of Ranglo (also called Jhuthana) who is the main comic character of Bhavai. He is the one who acts as a conscience of the people who satirizes, criticizes and lampoons the doings of the higher authorities. He makes the audience laugh and enjoy, at the same time leaves a social message for them to ponder on.

The Nayak and the Jester always remain on the stage to direct the course of action with their commentary and intervention. The dancing, singing and acting in the colorful clothes goes on till the wee hours of the morning.


Let there be no conclusions! It is observed that Bhavai is dying due to the anglicization of Gujarati theatre and the urban touch to the dramas. Television has become too famous in the rural areas and has taken the place of this traditional art. Also, our times are not aware about the history and the strength of such media. It is time we realize that arts like Bhavai are not just the ‘Ta Thaiya, Thaiya Ta Thai’ that we witness in the movies. Efforts on an extensive scale will be needed to reenergize these arts.

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