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Interview de Bhabananda Barbayan
Propos recueillis par Philippe Pratx
pour La Nouvelle Revue de l'Inde et Indes réunionnaises

      Les Moines danseurs de l'île assamaise de Majuli sont déjà connus en France pour s'y être produits depuis plusieurs années. Ils entreprennent, en cette année 2012, une nouvelle tournée, au cours de laquelle la danse Sattriya sera bien sûr une nouvelle fois à l'honneur. Bhabananda Barbayan, lui-même moine, danseur et chorégraphe, dirige la troupe et nous en parle ici plus en détail...

  • IR/LNRI: Bhabananda Barbayan, please could you first introduce yourself to our readers?

BB: I am a worker of  Sattriya Dance, Drama and Music. I was fortunate to be born within the culturally and spiritually rich family and environs of the Sattra, in Majuli, Assam. I  grew up soaking in the rich 550-year-old Satriya traditions combined with the colourful tribal culture as well as the surrounding natural beauty of this unique riverine island. I  was inducted into the folds of the Uttar Kamalabari Sattra at the tender age of four and started receiving training in the art forms of Nrittya, Gayan, Bayan etc. from the renowned Gurus at the Sattra, i.c Ahdyapak Paramananda Barbayan, Cheniram Barbayan, Boloram Bargayan, Tuniram Barbayan, Gupiram Bargayan and Kamal Bargayan.
  
In 1993 I have  received honour ‘Barbayan’ and ‘ Adhyapak’ in 1997  from the Satra authority. I have  always been a stellar performer and has been a recipient of  ‘SANCHARI AWARD-2009’  and various scholarships from the CCRT, and  Ministry of Culture , Govt. of India etc. I  also have  two post-graduate degrees in Geography and Assamese Literature from Dibrugarh University. I am  doing Ph.D at the Rabindra Bharati University, Kolkata on ‘Tala Patterns of Sattriya Dance: An attempt to systematize the diverse forms as practiced in different Sattras’. I have been composing quite a few Dance compositions like ‘Dhemali Samahar’, ‘Anga Vihar’, ‘Badya Vihar’, ‘Nrishimhalila’ ‘ Dasavtar’, ‘Phagukhele’ ‘ Ishopasana’, Tala Vihar’ ‘Ranga Prastavana’ ‘ Vrindavana Yatra’ etc and Script writings of Dramas like ‘Sita Haran’, ‘Bali Badh’, ‘Setu Bandhan’, etc. all written in Brajawali language. I have  also produced and choreographed various Sattriya dance items, dramas and Bhaonas; some of them being quite innovative concepts. As a performer I have  been performing and dazzling the audience since the age of eight till date at various prestigious zonal, national and international level events and platforms all over India and abroad.
  
 I am  the first generation of Satra based artist who led his group and conducted the Sattriya workshops in abroad .Some of my  remarkable performances are at ‘Festival Les Orientales, Saint Florent Le Vieil’, ‘Festival De Musique Sacree, Abbaye De Sylvanes’, ‘Festival Autres Rivages’, Uzes’ ‘Festival International De Folklore’, Issoire’ ‘Festival Interfolk, Le Puy-en-Velay’ in France and ‘Festival Les Orientais, Evora, in Portugal (2008) at Musée du Quai Branly, Paris (2010), Mandapa, Paris, ‘Rencontres de la Danse Indienne, Montpellier’ (2011).  I gave  workshops, master classes and lectures: in Rodez, Toulouse, Montpellier, Uzès and Paris (2009 and 2011). ARTA ‘Performing Arts Tradition Research Institute of Théâtre du Soleil, Paris’ (2010), Paris VIII University at Artistic science department(2011). In collaboration with Aurélie Samuel, curator of the textile department, I  studied the Vindaravani Vastra at National Museum of Asian Arts Guimet, Paris (2011).

 

  • IR/LNRI: And please could you tell us more about Assam and especially about Majuli, where you come from?

BB: Majuli  is a river island in the Brahmaputra river, in the Indian state of Assam. Majuli is often erroneously cited as the largest river island in the world by the Indian media, but in fact it is merely the largest freshwater island in South Asia. Majuli occupies an area of about 577 km², having lost significant area due to erosion.
  
Majuli has been the cultural capital and the cradle of Assamese civilization for the past five hundred years. The Satras (monastery) set up preserve antiques like weapons, utensils, jewellery and other items of cultural significance. Pottery is made in Majuli from beaten clay and burnt in driftwood fired kilns in the same mode carried out by the peoples of the ancient Harrappan Civilisation. Sociologists have stressed on the preservation of these unique peoples, whose culture and dance forms are untouched by modernism. The handloom work of these tribes is also internationally famous.

  • IR/LNRI: How did it all begin for you to become a Sattriya dancer?

BB: My parents sent me to the Sattra when I was four years old. There I was brought up by my uncle, Adhyapak Baloram Bargayan, doyen of Sattriya music. He was the seventh generation from our family to be sent to the Sattra. And since then I have been learning Sattriya Dance, Bayan, Gayan, Ojapali, Namlagowa, Pathak, Dramas (Ankia Bhaona) under the able guidance of respected Adhyapaks of Uttar Kamalabari Sattra. I had begun playing with khol at early age when my father Mr. Rampad Hazarika let me play with khol and introduced me how to produce such divine sounds as his duty as a Borbayan of the village. Now what I am because of my great Gurus' ashirbad (blessings).

  • IR/LNRI: What is so special and great for you, personally, in Sattriya dance?

BB: I feel a deep devotional deed with blissful consciousness teaching by Sattriya tradition based on Krishnaisim.

  • IR/LNRI: You are also doing research about Sattriya: what can you tell us about it?

BB:  Yes I am doing research on Musical  aspects of Sattriya. Even we could notice that a lot of similarities with Indian other classical aspects to Sattriya elements ,many of them dissimilar . So we should introduce it is an unique art form still run as a living tradition (as a daily practice in the  Monasteries).

  • IR/LNRI: Being a Hindu monk, how important for you is spirituality in Sattriya?

BB: the world around us we perceive through pancha tanmatra-parsha touch, taste, sravan, sensation, darshan. We register these experiences in our childhood - what we see as an image, what we hear, what we feel - cold, hot, dryness, wetness. In latere life whenever we come across similar sensation our brain compare those with that we register in our brain. This is done through comparison. In comparison there is no ultimate. That is why we are never satisfied in the  material world. After eating a sweet we feel like to eat more, listening a sweet song we long to hear more and more, see beauties  more and more. Unsatiated desire drive us mad - make self centered, make us irritate, frustrate and what not. Then peace elude us.
   What is taught by vedic culture is that fullness of life comes from attaining peace. Desire for lasting peace is universal. That is why there is united nations. If men seek knowledge against the darkness of ignorance, seek good companies against the evils, then they will become amritasya putra. then individuals will be at peace (adhyatmik santi), when everybody are at peace then environment is peaceful (adhjibhoutic santi) seeing this the creator- God will be at peace (adhi daibik santi ) that is what asado maa sad gamaya, tamaso maa jyoti gamaya, mrityung maa amritang gamaya om anti santi santi. through pancha tanmatra we perceive world - derive happiness. Happiness can be acquired - bought. One can go to hotel - buy tasty food, travel around to admire beauty, listen to songs etc etc. A happy man is not necessarily at peace. Happiness comes when the mind is content, which seldom happens, therefore men are mostly unhappy. But peace comes when our soul is happy. In us soul is eternal rest all are transitory - ie having a beginning and end. Sankaradeva preached soul is the part of God.  Peace is metaphysical. A true devotee is even withdrawn to mukti – the salvation of life. He  surrenders everything of life at the feet of god, he never claim success for himself but dedicate all his deeds as a part of God's will. Detouch action niskjama karma what sankardeva preached and shravana kitrtana can bring peace. one need not visit a temple . This is the only religion in the world where one can see god in his own house. For that the easiest way is to shravana and kirttana with good company (bhakat) Baishanavism ( Krishnaisim)  is a way of life, not a mere religion. Easy to practice - it showers peace- Sankaradeva’s metaphysics is thus the baikuntha ( Haven )  in the naraka (hell)  of the physical world.

  • IR/LNRI: Sattriya dance is especially dedicated to Lord Krishna: could you please tell us what is your personal link with Him?

BB:  Yes, the principal  iconography of Sattriya dance is  Krishna’s life sketch. He is my supreme Lord at the same time his life sketch inspire me in my personal life too. His compassion and love for the entire lives have been impressed me since childhood.

  • IR/LNRI: And what about Lord Shiva, as Nataraja?

BB:  We see the Lord Shiva inside of every creatures’ soul whom created by Lord Krishna.

  • IR/LNRI: How can spiritual genuineness be in a show when you and your group are on a tour abroad?

BB:  Spirituality co-relate to behavior of human consciousness, its might not to be shown without deepest  feeling of spirit.  It nurtured differently in different environment. We can’t tell some one  genuine than other even every human nature is unique. As a practitioner of a specific school you may find a specific identity in behavior of any group of community. As we practitioner of Krishnaisim  you can notice  a specific behavior, that’s all.  

  • IR/LNRI: As a choreographer, how do you deal with tradition: do you fully respect it or do you try to bring anything new and personal?

BB:  We have deep concern about keeping the traditional beauty at the same time it should have to related to relevant to society.  So, some time we have to concern beyond the tradition.

  • IR/LNRI: What would you say about your show, people will be able to see in France soon?

BB:  Yes, ten members of our group ‘SATRARANGA’ will come to France and Switzerland for performance consisting six items from 14th June to 16th July. The entire items based on ‘Brindavani Vastra’ a historic textile piece  woven  under the guidance of Great Saint of Mahapurusha Srimanta Sankaradeva  in 16th Century AD, preserved in Musée Guimet, Paris , organised by Kaleidans'Scop company, France, directed by  Isabelle Anna, kathak dancer, President  Milena Salvini (also President of Mandapa , Paris). We are grateful to Mr. Mathias Coulange a cultural activist of France for his tireless coordination and guide us.

  • IR/LNRI: And what are your plans for future?

BB: As a choreographer I have proposed a new production of dance choreography based on two consecutive theme ‘Sampta Vaikuntha’, mentioned in  ‘Sihna Yatra’ a pantomime, painted under the supervision of  great saint of Assam Mahapurush Srimanta Sankardeva in 15th Century AD and ‘Seven Heaven’ in Greek mythology.

 

© La Revue de l'Inde et Indes réunionnaises 2012

 


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