Ankhiya Nat is a religious theatre form created by
Sankaradeva (circa 1449-1568) in order to spread the message of
Vaishnavism. 'Ankiya' means (one) act and 'Nat' means drama. These one-act
plays are characterised by the glittering white costumes of the orchestra
and the rather fanciful effigies of demons and animals.
A performance begins at 9.00 pm with singing and dancing to the music of drums, the entourage emerging from the "Agni-Gad" (archway of lights) opposite the shrine. After the distribution of prasada (sacred food) to the musicians, the 'Sutradhar' (narrator, stage manager) makes his entrance, and after paying his respects to the god, recites a verse from the play at hand and presents a song.
Only after Krishna has appeared on stage and danced across to the shrine can the play begin. The events are those of Lord Krishna's life and the actors (usually male) who play Krishna and Balaram (Krishna's brother) are believed to be temporarily possessed by the gods. The Sutradhar remains on stage to prompt the actors and explain events to the spectators.
Giant effigies of demons and animals are made out of bamboo and covered with painted papier-mache. These figures can be as tall as 15 feet and need several actors to manipulate them. Animal masks are worn as well.
Time Of The Festivity
Religious occasions of any kind are sufficient reason to stage an Ankiya Nat such as Krishna's birthday "Janamashtami ", the memorial day of the saint Sankaradeva and a full moon night.