Showcasing Sattriya dance and allied traditions on public stage is a boost for the arts.

The Sattriya Kendra at Guwahati, a part of Sangeet Natak Akademi’s project to support Sattriya dance and allied traditions, has been organising annual festivals to promote this art form (Sattriya dance, music and theatre) of traditional Sattras (monasteries).

Sankaradeva bestowed on Assam a rich legacy of classical dance (sattriya). In addition, the Kendra also organises a festival of Ankiya Bhaona, traditional dramas (Ankiya Nat) of the Assamese, that not only carries the philosophy of Saint Sankaradeva, but is also a value-based entertainment through ritualistic dance and music.

The 13th Nritya Parva at the Rabindra Bhawan, Guwahati, was inaugurated by Imran Shah, president Asom Sahitya Sabha, in the presence of Kendra’s director Dulal Roy and project officer Raju Das. It provided a platform for young talents and also for gurus and senior dancers to present their work.

Apart from performances, seminars and discussions, the four-day festival also had an exclusive photo exhibition on Sattriya dance, music and theatre. The event, which included a bouquet of dances and the daily ritualistic ‘Gayan Bayan’ (singing according to Vaishnavite traditions and playing the khol with movements), also had an added attraction - the Ankiya Nat - Srimanta Sankaradeva’s masterpiece, ‘Keli Gopal,’ presented by Sattriya Kendra in the dance drama style.

Thriving project

The large number of participants from different parts of the state proved that the Akademi’s Sattriya project is prospering and the Kendra is contributing significantly (thanks to the untiring efforts of Dulal Roy, Raju Das and others) to its development by serving as a focal centre for training, production, performance, research, documentation and publication support.

The inaugural evening began with the ritualistic ‘Gayan Bayan’ recital by the troupe from Sri Sri Bhogpur Sattra Srimanta Sankaradeva Kala Parishad situated in Majuli island. Use of percussion instrument, khol, or sometimes mridangam and large cymbals (bortaal) form an integral part to the accompaniment of the singing or chanting, while the group moves in circles, spirals or in lines.

The young promising dancer and research scholar, Anwesa Mahanta, took the stage with the invocation of Saint Sankaradeva’s ‘Prakashila Govindar Naam,’ a Namghosha in raag Borari. The unusual patriotic Vandana by Madhavdeva, ‘Dhanya Dhanya Bharata Barikhey, in raag Bhatiyali, rakta tala, was followed by a crisp, energetic dance item known as Soru Ramdani (in Sattriya tradition). Anwesa is a fine dancer with chiselled movements and has also mastered the abhinaya as was evident in the geetar nach - ‘Govinda Dudha Piyu’ (Govinda drink milk), based on raag Shyam, Paritaal.

Especially appealing was the line, ‘Chand Mukha Dekhitey Nayan Sukha.’ In this Madhavadeva composition, Jasodha coaxes baby Krishna to drink milk and Anwesa’s abhinaya enacted the Vatsalya rasa inherent in the number with mature sensitivity, the thematic appeal being enhanced by the soulful singing of Nityananda Deka, khol by Ghanatkanta Bora Borbayan, Anwesa’s guru, and cymbals by her father, Dr. Pradip Jyoti Mahanta.

The striking duet by Arunima Gogoi, disciple of Jatin Goswami, and Pranjit Saikia, disciple of Ghanakanta Bora Borbayan, began with a visually appealing dance, ‘Suno Paramartha,’ a Kalakati Ramdani plus Jhumura nach being a ‘Vandana Ghosha’ of Madhavdeva in chuta taal, but it was the abhinaya based on Borgeet – ‘Pimpara(ant) Gosua Nat’ of Madhavdeva - where the expression of Vatsalya rasa in raga Sri Gandhar, taal chutkala that unfurled the subtle aesthetics of the song and dance beautifully. Bhupen Rajbangshi’s flute and Dhrubajyoti Baruah’s singing made the choreography interesting. While Arunima overdid her abhinaya at times, Pranjit’s execution was balanced and graceful.

Sangita Phukon and Dimple Saikia’s duet, ‘Sugandhika Pushpaharan’ was a contrived dance presentation in Shuddha Ramdani in ektaal and chuta taal of the episode from Mahabharata, where Bhimsen had to fetch the sugandhika flower for Draupadi and Hanuman interferes. Eventually Bhim realises Hanuman is his brother. Dimple as Bhimsen and Sangita both as Draupadi and Hanuman had good stage presence and were convincing in Ramdani and abhinaya. The colourful costumes and familiar story won good audience response.

The final presentation of the evening, ‘Keli-Gopal’ or Rasa-Krida by the Sattriya Kendra was the most entertaining programme at the festival. The play by Srimanta Sankaradeva had been presented for the first time as a visually pleasing dance-drama, designed and directed by Dulal Roy, known for his minimalistic yet striking set design and performance strategies.

The dance drama began with fear in the woods of Vrindavan, while gopis search for Krishna and his foot-prints. Observing female foot-prints on Krishna’s they are disturbed. Through a series of events, eventually the Rasa-Krida, the gopis become conscious of the Supreme Being. Rasa beautifies the heart and Rasa-Krida is the game of happiness that brings bliss.

Love for God is the supreme theme of this play. The production used only rectangular boards painted like tree trunks at the back of the stage, depicting the forest and a large group of relatively junior dancers as gopis gave their best to make ‘Keli Gopal’ a success.

Praiseworthy effort

The music was pleasing and so was the well-trained Krishna. Enormous amount of hard work and challenge had gone into this production, as a traditional Sankaradeva play was being presented in a Sattriya dance style. The challenge of making a rare tradition entertaining and successful needed courage and the Sattriya Kendra must be lauded for this step forward.

After the gayan-bayan, the second evening began with a spirited rhythmic suddha nach (pure dance) in thukani and chhuta taal embracing raga Dhanasree by Lima Das, a skilful dancer who proceeded towards a not-so appealing abhinaya piece of Draupadi’s Chirharan. Out of the two trios, Sagarika Pathak, Aditi Saikia and Junamoni Tamuli were more impressive with their suddha chali and ‘Govinda Golanidhi’ in Krishna bal-leela in kharmaan taal.

Of the solos, Swagata Das deviated from the purity of Sattriya at times in the Krishna Vandana and Rajaghariya Chali, but impressed in the short mela nach. Seujpriya Goswami Bortakur presented pure dance in misra sahi taal, thukani and chuta taal with technical exactitude, but her abhinaya of ‘Kalia Daman’ had jerky movements and lacked grace. Shrutimala Medhi and Malati Rajput, both powerful dancers, presented Rajaghariya Chali, set to an old tune and a delightful abhinaya piece ‘Adhibsa,’ based on the ‘Aranyakanda’ from Ramayana portraying the Sita-Marich episode.

The twins, Rimpi and Dimpi Sonowal, were good to watch in the Borgeet of Ram-Vandana in ektaal and chutkala taal as was the solo of Ptreetilekha Dutta Chowdhury presenting Chali and Ramdani in raga Sarang and chuta, thukani and ektaal. The Byas Ojhapali in the concluding day by Rudra Kanta Nath and group from Darang was an intriguing experience with the high pitched singing of the Ojha (the main singer in the centre) surrounded by accompanying choral singers, ‘Palis’.

At the seminar, Dr. Pradipjyoti Mahanta talked of ‘Sattriya, Plurality of Expressions: from word to performance,’ but eventually deviated to an inconclusive area. Devadasi dance of Assam by Krishna Kanta Handique, Sivasagar, brought in interesting aspects of devadasis from the Saivite temples at Dergaon and Dubi (Barpeta District) with a demonstration by young girls of the devadasi dance tradition. ‘Hegemonic masculinity: rethinking the concept in art’ by Madhurima Goswami raised a number of questions as far as the success of male dancers went but ended unsuccessfully. Dulal Roy, Raju Das and his team at Sattriya Kendra must be lauded for organising the festival so successfully.