Sattriya on centre-stage

Sattriya exponent Anwesha Mahanta   | Photo Credit: Avinash Pasricha

What sets Sattriya apart from other classical dance forms is its unique charm and grace, which evocatively imbue it with the bhakti rasa. This is what one surmised from an insightful talk delivered by Dr. Sunil Kothari, the noted dance historian, during the screening of Emmanuelle Petit-directed documentary “From Mists Of Majuli Island”, at the Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts recently.

“Sattriya dances are devotional in nature as they were intended for propagation of neo-Vaishnavism. Its highlights are intense emotional fervour, and in its solo avatar now dramatic abhinaya is prominent in contrast to nritta, pure dance,” comments Kothari. He was recently bestowed the prestigious Madhabdev Award by the Government of Assam for his work in making Sattriya popular in India and abroad.

Sattriya originated in Sattra, monastery, as a part of neo-Vaishnavite movement started by Srimanta Sankardev in the 15th Century. He propagated the “ek sharan naama dharma” (chanting the name of one God devotedly). “It consists of dhemali, drum playing, known as gayan bayan, where several men play drums, in various talas and also use hand gestures. Corpus of Sattriya dances thus consist of ankiya bhaona, dance-dramas in Brajabuli which is understood by common people. They also consist of Ojapali dances in which the main singer sings and enacts abhinaya, telling stories and a group of dancers dance as back up dancers playing small cymbals,” explains Kothari, who has edited a book on the dance form, “Sattriya: Classical Dance of Assam” (Marg Foundation).

The dance was formerly performed by celibate monks and female roles were also enacted by them. “Now married monks leave Sattra and teach women among others,” observes Kothari. Some of the leading male artists include Guru Jatin Goswami, Guru Ghanakanta Bora, Manik Barbayan and Bhabananda Barbayan, while the prominent women dancers include Sharodi Saikia, Indira PP Bora, Anita Sharma, Anwesha Mahanta and Mallika Kandali, among others.

Though long recognised as a traditional dance form, Sattriya was given the status of a classical dance in the year 2000 by the Sangeet Natak Akademi. Highlighting on how it differs from other forms, Kothari says, “In its basic stance for male and female known as Purush Pak and Prakriti Pak, Sattriya dances differ from other dance forms. They have special mnemonic bols, typical Assamese music known as Borgeet, musical instruments like large cymbals, drums, colourful costumes which stand out from other dance styles, besides complicated choreographic patterns using various talas for each stanza sung by the vocalist. Dance-dramas are distinct living tradition and use vachikabhinaya, dialogues. Special masks are also used in dance-dramas.”

The documentary screened highlighted the pivotal role played by monasteries in preserving and nurturing Sattriya for more than 500 years. Leading an austere and simple life, the monks are completely devoted to the dance form. Referring the monasteries as “nurseries of Sattriya dances”, Kothari adds, “from childhood the monks are trained in dance, music, and performing the mythological themes, Rasalilas which lead them to surrender themselves to their one Lord Krishna. There are more than 600 Sattras all over Assam, besides some major ones on Majuli island. Therefore, the Sattriya has survived.”

With the passage of time, the Sattras, too have undergone changes. “With exposure to the outside world and technology, some monks do leave Sattras, but they continue to teach Sattriya dances where they settle. The dance form which has moved away from Sattras, now in its new avatar is finding its new life, retaining the traditional core and will survive as forms like Bharatanatyam, Kuchipudi, Kathak, Odissi have survived, absorbing the changes. Of course, what we see as Sattriya dances in Sattras, necessarily would transform for the metropolitan stages and audiences,” avers Kothari.

Related Topics
This article is closed for comments.
Please Email the Editor

Printable version | May 13, 2021 10:22:17 PM |

Next Story