Ankiya Naat is a religious theater form created by Shankaradeva (circa 1449 -1568). Ankiya means (one) act and Naat means drama. Introduced to spread the message of Vaishnavism
, the plays are based on themes and episodes connected mainly with Lord Vishnu
or his different incarnations, especially Krishna
. It is dominated by Bhakti rasa, and a subtle fusion of Sringara, Vatsalya, Shanta and Veera rasa.
Glittering white costumes of the orchestra and huge effigies of demons and animals made out of bamboo and covered with papier mache are the unique features of this art form. The effigies may be up to 15 m tall.
This performance usually begins around 9 p.m and ends at dawn. Musical instruments are used in accompaniment. Masks used for the play are those of Garuda, Jatayu, masks of demons such as Ravana and other rakshasas and of buffoons or jesters. Animal masks are also used.
First the entourage emerges from an archway of lights called agni-gad, opposite the main shrine. Prasad is distributed among the musicians and then the sutradhar appears. After praying to god, he recites a verse from the play to be presented and sings a song. Then Krishna appears and dances across to the shrine and the play formally begins.
Ankiya Naat is performed generally on religious occasions - Janmashtami, the death anniversaries of the forefathers of a Satra or monastery, and sometimes on the memorial days of Shankaradeva and Madhavdeva.