Dances of Assam: Now learn Indian classical dance Sattriya from anywhere
(L) Anuradha Kaushik and (R) Meenakshi Medhi

Dances of Assam: Now learn Indian classical dance Sattriya from anywhere

Sattriya is one of the eight classical dance forms of India recognised by the SNA, the others being Bharatanatyam, Kathakali, Mohini Attam, Odissi, Kuchipudi, Kathak and Manipuri.

By Aroonim Bhuyan

In what can truly be dubbed as a perfect synergy between culture and technology, a new mobile app launched this month will help those interested learn a major Indian classical dance form recognised by the Sangeet Natak Akademi (SNA) of India, virtually from anywhere in the world.

By downloading the app called Sattriya Darshan, now available in Google Playstore, users can learn, and understand the various aspects of the Sattriya dance that originated in the northeast Indian state of Assam in the 15th century.

Sattriya is one of the eight classical dance forms of India recognised by the SNA, the others being Bharatanatyam, Kathakali, Mohini Attam, Odissi, Kuchipudi, Kathak and Manipuri.

Recognised by SNA as a classical dance in 2000, Sattriya Nritya is a dance-drama performance art with origins in the Krishna-centered Vaishnavism monasteries of Assam and attributed to the 15th-century Bhakti movement scholar and saint Mahapurush Srimanta Sankardeva.

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Sankardeva created Sattriya Nritya as an accompaniment to the Ankiya Naat (a form of one-act plays devised by him), which were performed in sattras, as Assam’s Vaishnavite monasteries are called. As the tradition developed and grew within the sattras, the dance form came to be called Sattriya Nritya.

Today, although the Sattriya Nritya has emerged from the confines of the sattras to much wider recognition, the sattras continue to use the dance form for ritualistic and other purposes for which it was originally created 500 years ago.

The core of the Sattriya dances have been mythological stories and was seen as an easy way to present these to common people in an easy and accessible manner. Though this dance form was traditionally performed by male monks called bhokots in the sattras as part of their daily rituals and on special festivals, today Sattriya Nritya is also performed on stage by men and women who are not necessarily members of sattras and on themes not merely mythological.

Sattriya dance is divided into many genres like Apsara Nritya, Behar Nritya, Chali Nritya, Dasavatara Nritya and Rasa Nritya to name a few.

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Like the other seven schools of Indian classical dance, Sattriya comprises the three principles of such a school: nritta (pure dance, solo), nritya (expressive dance, solo), and natya (dramatic play, group).

The dance comprises three distinct parts: Guru Vandana, Ramadani and Geet Abhinaya. While the first two are performed without any music and to a great extent still remain unaffected by the changes, it is only the third, based on the childhood tales of Lord Krishna, that the dance form actually gets a facelift.

Sattriya dance is accompanied by musical compositions called borgeets (composed by Sankardeva among others), based on classical ragas. The instruments that accompany a traditional performance are khol (drum), taal (cymbals) and the flute. The violin and the harmonium have been recent additions.

The new Sattriya Darshan app is aimed at handholding new learners through this complex art form.

MEET THE PEOPLE INVOLVED IN CREATION OF THE APP

Conceptualised and ideated by Anuradha Kaushik, a 12-year-old Delhi-based student of this dance form who also attends coding classes, the landing page of the app takes the user through the following topics, among others: the history of Sattriya dance, Guru-Shishya Parampara (teacher-student tradition), the foundation of Sattriya dance, the repertoire of Sattriya dance, the music of Sattriya dance, and literature of Sattriya dance.

Anuradha attributes the inspiration behind this idea to her Sattriya dance teacher Meenakshi Medhi. Medhi, a leading exponent of this dance form, founded the Delhi-based Satkara dance academy that is focussed on Sattriya.

“I thought of this project three months back during one of my coding classes,” says Anuradha. “I discussed this with my teacher and my Sattriya Adhyapika Meenakshi Medhi and both of them were very supportive. Meenakshi Madam went out of her way with content, advice and inviting more people for the creation of this app.”

Medhi obtained her Nritya Visharad in Sattriya dance from Sangeet Sattra Pariksha Parishad, Guwahati (Assam), under the guidance of Adhyapak Late Jibanjit Dutta.

Anuradha Kaushik
Anuradha Kaushik

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After the demise of Adhyapak Jibanjit Dutta, she started learning this dance form under Sangeet Natak Akademi awardee Adhyapak Haricharan Bhuyan Borbayan. She has also been guided by Late Dr Jagannath Mahanta on the theoretical aspect of Sattriya dance during her research period in the University of Mumbai and received special training by Adhyapak Paramananda Kakoty Borbayan of Purona Kamalabari Sattra, Titabar, and Adhyapak Bhaben Borbayan of Uttar Kamalabari Sattra, Majuli. Apart from Sattriya, she has also completed her visharad in Bharatanatyam.

Speaking to The Northeast Today, Medhi said that the new app will help in meeting her long-nurtured dream of teaching Sattriya to non-Assamese enthusiasts, both in India and abroad.

She explained that she has been offering online classes via Google Meet and sending the related literature through Google Classroom.

“As of now, I have students in Belgium, the US and Canada and from December a new student will be joining us from the UAE (United Arab Emirates),” Medhi said. “In India, I have students in Madurai and Bengaluru, while I have 15 of them at my academy Satkara in Delhi.”

Meenakshi Medhi
Meenakshi Medhi

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On the same note, she said that though she had been approached by many youngsters from Assam, she had turned them down as they have the opportunity to learn directly from established Sattriya exponents in their own state.

However, at the same time, she is not keen to take total beginners for her non-Assamese online classes and prefers only those who have basic training in any form of the Indian classical dances.

“In the Satkara Darshan app, I plan to upload videos of some basics of the Sattriya dance to the users and then offer full video tutorials for a nominal fee to those interested,” Medhi said.

Apart from this, the app will also document the lives of veteran Sattriya teachers in Assam along with videos, and research articles by Sattriya scholars.

And here is something of additional value for those not really into performing the dance.

“Nowadays, a lot of candidates appearing for civil services examinations in India choose Indian culture as an option,” Medhi said. “However, I have noticed that much of the information about Sattriya Nritya available in the public space, including online, is not authentic. The Sattriya Darshan app will offer authentic information about this classical dance form to all such aspiring candidates.”

(The writer is a New Delhi-based senior journalist covering diplomacy and foreign affairs)

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