Sattriya – An Assamese Dance Form
This classical dance form of Assam is unfortunately at the verge of extinction. This dance was recognised by Sangeet Natak Academy as a classical Indian Dance Form in the year 2000. This traditional dance is based on mythological stories. Male monks or bhokots performed sattriya in the monasteries (sattras) as a part of their spiritual journey in the olden days. It got its name from the Assamese name of Monastery- sattras.
Classical ragas form the base of the borgeet (the music which accompanies this classical dance). Khols (drums) are the accompanying musical instruments which complete the performance of sattriya. Taals (cymbals), violin, flute and harmonium are also used to enrich music of this classical dance form.
The history of Sattriya
It is believed that in the 15th century when India was in dark ages, Srimanta Sankardev conceptualised this dance form in the sacred land of Assam, India. Sankardev’s disciple Madhavdev took the tradition further and came up with Ankia Naat (plays with a single act).
Monasteries practicing Eksarana Dharma are the birth place of this classical dance form of Assam. Ekasarana Dharma means ‘Shelter-in-One religion’. This religion does not believe in the rituals of veda and was a part of the bhakti movement which took India by storm in 15th and 16th centuries.
These monasteries are vaishnav in their thought-process and the celibate monks sang the various ‘’pads’’ of Krishna Leela while dancing on the taal of khol. It was performed by the male dancers alone in an extremely strict ritualistic manner to worship their aradhya- Krishna.
With time this dance form evolved and female dancers also started adopting it. By the middle of twentieth century this classical dance crossed the borders of sattras and became a metropolitan dance form.
When is this dance form performed in Assam
Being a spiritual dance form, it is performed by the sattriyas to remember the name of their God known as ‘’naam gaan’’. Since this was a strict dance form, for centuries it did not go though much evolution and has been able to preserve the pure classical form. Today this dance form is performed in International dance festivals.
Various forms of Sattriya
There are various aspects of this dance form and a disciple has to start with learning Apsara Nritya. In Indian mythological stories apsaras were those beautiful women who used to dance in swarg lok and entertain the dev raaj (king of devatas) Indra and other devatas. Through this dance form the dancer tells the tales of sattva yuga.
There are several sub-sections of this dance form such as Behar Nritya, Chali Nritya, Manchok Nritya etc. Dasavatara Nritya are the stories of Lord Vishnnu’s ten incarnations. In Rasa Nritya, the raas leela of Krishna and Radha is depicted which is the epitome of bhakti rasa – (devotional feeling). “Sutradhara’’ is where the story teller of a mythological story keeps on coming to the stage to tell what the dancer performed. He makes it very dramatic (natakiya) with the way he narrates the story.
Due to its lack of popularity, it took time for the Sangeet Natak Academy to recognise this dance form.
Famous dancers who have kept this dying classical dance form alive
Dr. Mallika Kandali is a renowned dancer of Sattriya. She considers this as a ‘’Sadhana’’ worship. Krishnakshi Kashyap too is a famous female sattriya dancer.
Some of the famous proponents of Sattriya dance are Jibeshwar Goswami, Haricharan Saikia and Lalit Ojha.
The dress and ornaments used to perform Sattriya
After women have entered this arena, the entire costume (saaj-sajja) of this dance has changed. The female dancers wear traditional Sattriya dance costume made of Assam Pat silk and traditional Assamese jewellery (abhushan). Traditional Kingkhap motif is used in the main costume with Keshpattern on the border. The Kanchi or the waist cloth has the traditional Miri motif.
The jewellery consists of Kopalion in the forehead, Muthi Kharu (bracelets), Thuka Suna (earrings) and Galpata (special type of necklace), Dhulbiri (traditional Assamese Jewelry), Jethipata (Assamese Jewelry which is inspired by nature) and Bena (necklaces).
Men wear traditional Assamese dhoti (a long piece of cloth which is draped around the waist), and a pitambari (a piece of cloth which crosses the chest) and some jewellery.
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