Bhatra Naat: Part and Parcel of Life



Abstract: Chhattishgarh is known for its exceptional scenic beauty and rich cultural heritage. Its tribal culture is quite vast and varied with its unique ways and means. Its Bastar, the land of tribes and natural resources, is called the Kashmir of Chhattishgarh. Here the art and culture are the valuable ancient properties of the Bastariyas. Each tribe has its own history, social and religious customs and distinct culture of dance, drama, music, food and dress. Bhatra Naat is prevalent in the eastern region of Bastar where Bhatra tribal people reside. Bhatras perform a unique type of drama; therefore, this form of drama is popular as ‘Bhatra Naat’. It is men’s drama. In spite of many dangers, Bhatra Naat is surviving in its original state. This unique expressive art needs care and support of government. ***

Chhattishgarh is an undiscovered paradise, offering a tourist destination with a difference, known for its exceptional scenic beauty and rich cultural heritage. It has always been synonymous with tribes and tribe culture. Its tribal culture is quite vast and varied with its unique ways and means. Over one-third of the state population is of tribes, most of them inhabiting in the thickly forested areas of the famous Bastar region.Bastar, the land of tribes and natural resources, is enriched with natural beauty and pleasant atmosphere. It is called as ‘the Kashmir of Chhattishgarh’. Noise is unheard here. Only the sweet sound of chirping birds, gushing streams, the bountiful waterfalls and drumming sound sooths the ear in Bastar. It simply spells magic. While the lush green valleys and mountains, bountiful streams and waterfalls make it a traveller’s paradise; the mythological significance adds to the aura of Bastar. In the iconic Indian epic ‘The Ramayan’ Sage Valmiki had described this forest region as ‘Dandakaranya’, where Lord Rama is said to have spent about thirteen years in exile. The royal tribes, the age-old art forms, the Arcadian life style, the natural caves, waterfalls and mythological significance make it a must-have travel experience.

Bastar is the homeland of Gond, Abhuj-Maria, Bison Horn, Maria, Doria, Muria, Halba, Bhatra, Prajaa and Dhurvaa. About three quarters of the population are tribal and have retained their old customs. Here the art and culture are the valuable ancient properties of the Bastariyas. Each tribe has its own history, social and religious customs and distinct culture of dance, drama, music, food and dress. Each of them is following their own traditional living ways. These tribal groups are having different spoken languages and they differ from each other in many ways. Some of the tribal are still living in interior forests and they don’t like to come to the outer world and mingle with the modern civilization and are unaware of what is happening in the world.

The tribes of Bastar are known for their passion for dance, drama and music, which are the most important amusements and a part and parcel of their day-to-day life. There are numerous tribal dance forms in Chhattishgarh but the most important dance forms are Dandari, Gendi, Panthi, Bhagoria, Sela and Nacha. Apart from these dance forms, traditionally rich forms of stage arts are also present. Among them Bhatra Naat is the most prominent form. It is one of the important facets of cultural life of the tribes of Chhattishgarh, especially of Bastar. It is a powerful device to express the truth of life of this region. It would not be wrong to call it the natural expression of the folk culture.

Bhatra Naat is prevalent in the eastern region of Bastar where Bhatra tribal people reside. The Bhatras are one of the major tribal groups of Chhattishgarh, found mostly in Bastar and Raipur divisions. According to Russell and Hiralal the Bhatra tribes were migrated from Warangal. This tribal group is known for its unique customs and traditions but its origin is still a mystery. Women folks enjoy high status in the society. As far as their eating habits are concerned, like other tribal they too prefer liquor consumption, fruits and animal food. The Bhatras practice shifting cultivation type of agriculture and don’t have private lands. Other major activity of Bhatra is collecting minor forest products. They love intoxicating mahua drinks and mahua tree is so much revered by them that the marriage ceremonies can’t be completed without taking round this tree.

Bhatras perform a unique type of drama; therefore, this form of drama is popular as ‘Bhatra Naat’. It is men’s drama. In this drama women do not take part. The plyers of this drama wear attractive masks. The male players play the role of female characters. The director of this drama is known as ‘Natt Guru’ and players are called ‘Naat Kurya’. The Natt Kuryas show much respect for Naat Guru.
Bhatra Naat is performed after complection of harvesting. During spring and summer season, Bhatra Naat can be seen conducted in various villages. People come to see this drama from distant villages on foot or by cycles. There are a good number of audiences of this traditional drama in Bastar region. Bhara Naat is performed in open air with barest of theatrical accessories. The stage is a round plateform. It is never covered from anyside. No curtain is used for the background. Traditional light arrangement is made.

Bhatra Naat opens in the evening with an invocation of gods and goddesses by the players (Naat Kuryas). This is followed by verses in praise of Sarswati (the goddess of learning) and Ganesh. The songs are rendered by the entire cast standing with folded hands on the stage. It is very attractive scene. The songs are sung with traditional musical instruments. Dialogues are deliverd in Bhatra language, an independent language, which is known to be an extention of Chhattishgarhi and Halbe languages. On this language prominent effect of Oriya language can be seen. That is why some scholars call this drama as ‘Oriya Drama’.

Most of the Bhatra Naat is based on the Mahabharata, the Ramayan, the Puranas, and the ethical stories such as Ravan Vadh, Kansa Vadh, Karana Vadh, Keechak Vadh, Abhimanyu Vadh, Bharat Leela, Rukmini Vivah and Draupadi Chirharan. In spite of many dangers, Bhatra Naat is surviving in its original state. This unique expressive art needs care and support of government. Without it this cultural heritage may loose its original colour.
References: Russell, R.V. and Heralal, R.B., Tribes and Castes of the Central Provinces of India, Vol.II. Reprinted. 
Blackburn S., 1977, “Creation Myths in Tribal India: problems in Cultural Diffusion”, Man in India, Vol. 57, No.-3. 
Dube, S.G., 1947, Field Songs of Chhattishgarh, Lucknow. 
Elwin, V., 1950, Bondo Highlander, Oxford University Press, London. 
Elwin, V., 1954, Tribal Myths of Orissa, OUP, London. 
Majumdar, D.N., 1958, Races and Cultures of India, Asia publishing House, Bombay.
 Upadhyay V.S. and Sharma V.P., 1989, Bharat Men Janjatiya Sanskriti, M.P. Hindi Granth Academy, Bhopal.
 Roy Chaudhary, H.C., 1950, Political History of India, Calcutta. 
Sinha A.K., 1998, Madhya Pradesh ki Adim Janjatian, K.K. Publications Allahabad.
 Vidyarthi L.P. and Roy B.K., 1976, The Tribal Culture of India, Concept Publishing Company, New Delhi.

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