Puppetry in Assam

by Gitali Saikia | 2018 | 39,831 words

This represents a methodological study of Puppetry in Assam, which forms a major part of their ancient traditions and folk dramas. The art of puppetry has close relation with Assamese culture and society. Even though the availability of local literature is limited, there are many books on Indian puppetry....

Folk Theatre (e): Bharigan

Bharigan is the folk drama prevelant in Goalpara district of Assam, particularly in southern part of Goalpara. Bharigan is also known as Bhaogan. Mainly Pati Rabhas are relateing to Bharigan. However, now a days Bharigan is pactised by artists of Bongaigaon, Dhuburi and adjoining areas of Maghalaya of South West Goalpara. According to some scholar, the wooden mask used in this kind of folk drama is very heavy, due to which this performing art is called Bhari gan.

Themes of Bharigan

Previously Bharigan was in oral form. However presently they got written form. Bharigan has similarity with Khulia bhaona in case of its theme.Themes of Bhari gan are adopted from the Ramayana and the Mahabharata. Raban badh, Meghnad Badh, Sitar Patal Prabesh are drama used in Bharigan.

Mode of presentation

Bharigan is a ritualistic form of drama.Bharigan is performes during the “Champa puja”of Rabha community.Champa puja is organized to worship Ma Bhagawati. Bharigan troupe is consisted with twenty to twenty five members.The main singer of Bharigan is called “Mul gaoriyan”.Mul means main and gauriya means singer. The singers of the Bharigan groups are called Paila, Pali or Dohariya. Bharigan starts with vandana recitation.After vandana, Mul gaoriya explains the theme of the play.Mul gaoriya starts the song and Dohariiya accompanies him in chorus. As well as the song starts, actors enter into stage.In the mid of performance some comic characters enter into stage with satire, which has no relevance with the main play.They are called Ketuas. The main feature of Bharigan is the use of various colouful masks. The masks are very heavy.Some characters like Ram, Lakhsman, Sita do not wear mask.But it is mandatory of using mask for characters like Hanuman, Ravan and Jambavanta.

The masks are regarded as very sacred.

“Another interesting features of the Bhari plays is the awe and reverence with which those engaged in them regard the whole process.For example,the masks used in the plays are believed to be possessed by spirits and new masks are used only after formally worshipping goddess Kali.When not in use,the masks are kept in a house with care; and earhen lamps are regularly lighted in the house, failing which,it is believed,the spirits residing in the masks fight amongst themselves during the night.”[1]


Stage of Bharigan is very simple. There is no special settings for Bharigan performance. Bharigan is performed in open stage or Khola. Formerly, traditional source of light i.e Ariya and Mahata were use in Bharigan. Presently electric lights have replaced the traditional lighting system.

Dress and make up

As bharigan is a folk drama, performer prefers locally available goods for their dress and makeup. The main performer of Bharigan wears dhoti and long or short sleeve shirt as his lower and upper garment and wraps a sadar around his neck.main performer uses head gear. Dress of assistant Pali is same with the main performer except in use of headgear. Assistants do not wear headgear. The female characters wear Rabha traditional woman dress. The main performer wears anklet called Nupur.Like other folk dramas, performers of Bharigan also use turmeric, rice powder and vermilion for their make up.

Musical instrument of Bharigan

Music plays an important role in every form of folk performance. The musical instruments used in Bharigan are—Khol and Cymbals.Cymbals are called Jhali.


Due to lack of interest of common people and government, Bharigan has lost its former glory.Many of the performers have lost confidence that they can live by performing Bharigan.New generation people are also not willing to engage in performance of puppetry as they attracted by new form of entertainment.To revive this art form mutual effort of common people and government is needed.

Footnotes and references:


Datta Birendranath: “Study of the Folk Culture of the Goalpara Region of Assam, University Publication Department, Gauhati University,1995,P:235

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