Together We Heal : Remembering Sukracharjya Rabha (1977-2018)

Together we heal
in memory of you Sukra Da.
Together we mourn
with sadness, tears and fears.
Together we love
ourselves and each other.
Dear Sukra Da,
Together we live
for you, for us, for them to come.
Together we hope
the sal trees continue singing and dancing.


Today (8th June 2020) is the second death anniversary of Sukracharjya Rabha (1977-2018), whom I lovingly called Sukra Da. He was my senior, my big brother. We both learned theatre from our Oja Kanhailal and Ima Sabitri. He was the founder-director of the theatre group Badungduppa Kalakendra, Rampur, an extended family of Kalakshetra Manipur. Under the guidance of late Heisnam Kanhailal, Sukracharjya Rabha started the theatre festival Under the Sal Tree in 2008 at his village Rampur. The first festival was jointly organized by Badungduppa Kalakendra and Kalakshetra Manipur, the theatre group founded by late Heisnam Kanhailal and Heisnam Sabitri.

Sukra Da was a visionary. Sukra Da used to call me up regularly and talked about theatre and cultural development of his village Rampur. He was a dreamer and an untiring cultural soldier. He had a big dream for his community and society. He wanted to develop a cultural village in Rampur. Rampur is my second home. He had always welcomed me to stay there as a younger brother. Rampur has always welcomed me. The villagers will call me for breakfast tea, lunch, dinner and choko (rice beer) drinks. Indeed, more for the stimulating conversations. There is so much left unspoken. It was too soon for our conversation to end. So much more time to spend. Indeed, many memories left behind and many unfinished dreams.

In 2011, we went to Dhaka together to perform Dakhgar directed by late Oja Heisnam Kanhailal. The day before our performance, we were watching a play Rather Rashi (the ropes of the chariot), performed by a group from Bangladesh. He was sitting beside me. In the middle of the play, he told me he would like to direct that play for his theatre group. After the play, we had a long conversation on Tagore, adaptation, politics and many more. We went for dinner together and continued the conversation for hours. The next morning during our breakfast, we continued talking about the play and how it could be adapted in the context of Rabha community. I told him, “Sukra Da, your adaptation of the play should be rooted to your social issues and politics.” He nodded his head.

Later, after a month or so, he called me up, “I am doing Rather Rashi and in this way…” Yes, he found the way. The play was successful. Later, it was the best production in the Happenings, a festival of Tagore plays in 2013. In his adaptation, the metaphor of the chariot and its rope were theatrically prominent. Sukracharjya intriguingly shifts Tagore’s idea of united labour into an upper-caste – Sudra conflict and untouchability, which Tagore did indicate – but not in the form of crisis. His insertion of scenes where the lower-castes are denied drinking water or entry into the village temple has social forces rooted to his milieu. To Paidom was another masterpiece which had multifarious interpretations and aesthetic simplicity and brilliance. Like Oja Kanhailal, his theatre has the flavor of indigenous aesthetic.

What is more important is the ideas and thoughts that goes into the making of theatre. Being followers of Oja Kanhailal, we were very much concerned of our own indigenous philosophy and aesthetics. We are very much critical of the spectacle of the so-called ‘theatre of roots’ being projected by Sangeet Natak Academi and National School of Drama. Sukracharjya was very much concerned about their traditional religion, philosophy and their performance traditions. Once while we were discussing about the concept of ‘live theatre’, he came up with Rabha’s indigenous concept of ‘rasong’, which means ‘the being of existence.’ He tried to interpret and make meanings of ‘live theatre’ from his understanding of his lived-world.

What is important concerning the rich concept of ‘rasong’ is the safeguarding of the community participation and Nature-Human symbiosis. The insistence on performance as a way of creation and being as opposed to the long-held notion of performance as entertainment has brought forth a movement to seek and articulate the phenomenon of performance in its multiple manifestations and imaginings. The concept of rasong was more of bringing closer to the celebration of life with nature. We shared the idea that this concept has a close affinity with the concept of noiba in our Meetei tradition as well.

For Meetei, noiba, which means ‘movement’, has a philosophical meaning embedded in the cultural practices and day to day lived-world of the Meetei. Life and body movement are inextricably connected in our Meetei worldview. It is believed that just as noiba (movement) of the foetus within the mother’s womb gives her the joyous anticipation of a new life; the Meetei believe that they are immersed in a womb-like Universe, so god and goddess are pleased when they perform dance. Therefore, body movement is life and thus we celebrate life through dancing in Lai Haraoba. We discussed these rich indigenous concepts which can possibly be source of our journey of formulating the concept of ‘live theatre’ which late Oja Kanhailal had initiated. However, it is important to note that Sukra Da was trying to find his own way of formulating the concept of ‘live theatre’ through his understanding of the Rabha indigenous philosophy and performance traditions.

Badungduppa Kalakendra, with many talented artistes, still has the potential and energies. I am happy to hear that they manage to complete the play which Sukra Da had left unfinished. I know they will complete the dreams of Sukra Da. Sukra Da is among us amidst the breeze of sal trees.

He is free to fly on wind
to catch the breeze,
floating where he please.

He is free to shine with the sun
to light up the day
freshen up the sal trees.

He is free without his body
to live on in our memory.



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Dr. Usham Rojio Written by:

Dr. Usham Rojio is a theatre scholar and practitioner. He completed his PhD in Theatre & Performance Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. He had worked closely with Heisnam Kanhailal and Heisnam Sabitri.

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