Sattriya Dance Of Assam : An Overview
There are all together eight recognized Indian classical dance forms. They are :
Sattriya or Sattriya Nritya, is one of the prominent major Indian classical dance forms from North East India which was recognized on 15th November, 2000 by Sangeet Natak Akademi of India under the chairmanship of Dr. Bhupen Hazarika. It is an artistic way of presenting mythological teachings to the people in an enjoyable and accessible manner with the aim of a unified, classless society. This dance-drama performance of art has its origins in the Krishna-centered Vaishnavism and attributed to the 15th century Bhakti movement scholar, social reformer and saint, Srimanta Sankardev.
Historically, dance arts in Assam go back into antiquity, as evidenced by copper plate inscriptions and sculpture relating to Shivism and Shaktism traditions. Singing and musical traditions, similarly, have been traced to Assamese chorus singing tradition for the Hindu epics the Ramayana and the Mahabharata. The modern form of Sattriya is attributed to the 15th century Sankaradeva, who systematized the dance using the ancient texts, and introduced drama and expressive dancing (nritta and nritya) as a form of a community religious art for emotional devotion to Krishna. Since the 15th century, the Sattriya art grew as part of the Vaishnava bhakti movement, in Hindu monasteries called Sattra. The art was developed and practiced by monks in the form dance-dramas about legends and mythologies of Krishna, particularly from texts such as the Bhagavata Purana. One distinctive part of the Sattriya dance inside temples and monasteries is that the dance is not celebrated before any idol, but is performed before a copy of the Bhagavata Purana placed in eastern (sun rise) corner called Manikut of the dance hall (namghar).
As repertoire, Sattriya encompasses all the basic attributes of a classical dance form. The Sattriya repertoire (marg) includes nritta (pure form of dance, solo), nritya (expressive dance, solo), and natya (dramatic play, group). Like all major classical Indian dance forms,
Those three categories of performances are:
- TheNritta performance is abstract, fast and rhythmic aspect of the dance.
- TheNritya is slower and expressive aspect of the dance that attempts to communicate feelings, storyline particularly with spiritual themes.
- TheNatya is a play, typically a team performance, but can be acted out by a solo performer where the dancer uses certain standardized body movements to indicate a new character in the underlying story.
- The hand gestures (mudras), footwork (padas), postures, rhythms, training of artists and other aspects of the Sattriya dance drama closely follow those described in Natya Shastra and other classical Hindu dance texts.
Sattriya Nritya is a genre of dance drama that tells mythical and religious stories through hand and face expressions. The basic dance unit and exercise of a Sattriya is called a Mati Akhara, equal 64 just like in Natya Shastra, are the foundational sets dancers learn during their training. The Akharas are subdivided into Ora, Saata, Jhalak, Sitika, Pak, Jap, Lon and Khar. A performance integrates two styles, one masculine (Paurashik Bhangi, energetic and with jumps), and feminine (Stri Bhangi, Lasya or delicate).
Traditionally, Sattriya was performed only by Keuliyabhokots (male unmarried monks) in monasteries as a part of their daily rituals or to mark special festivals. Today, in addition to this practice, Sattriya is also performed on stage by men and women who are not members of the sattras, on themes not merely mythological. The plays choreographed in a Sattriya are those found in Hindu texts such as the Bhagavata Purana, the Epics, and the compositions by Assamese scholars. The stories related to the love between Radha and Krishna are particularly common.
The costume of Sattriya dance is primarily of two types: the male costume comprising the dhoti and chadar and the paguri (turban) and the female costume comprising the ghuri, chadar and kanchi (waist cloth). Traditionally the costumes were of white or raw silk color with use of red, blue and yellow for specific dance numbers. In earlier times velvet and satin materials were mostly used for the costumes. With change of time, as this dance form evolved from the sattras onto stage, the design and materials of the dance costumes changed. Pat (also spelled paat) – a silk produced in Assam which is derived from the mulberry plant and muga ( golden silk of Assam) is also used in preparing the dance costume. Other brilliant colours are also used in the female costumes. These hand-woven materials normally have intricate local motifs like Kingkhap, Miri Motif, Kolka etc. Uses of play-specific costumes are also seen in Sattriya dance. The dress of Krishna Nritya and Nadubhangi Nritya is of yellow and blue keeping in line with the attire of Lord Krishna. The Sutradhar Nritya also has its specific white costume with a special turban.
Traditional Assamese jewellery is exclusively used in Sattriya dance. The jewelleries are made in a unique technique in Kesa Sun ( raw gold). Artists wear Kopali on the forehead, Muthi Kharu and Gam Kharu (bracelets), different type of neck pieces like Mata Moni (for male dancers), Golpata, Dhulbiri (shaped like the musical instrument dhol), Bena (pendant shaped like a crescent), Jethipata (lizard shaped), Dugdugi (leaf shaped), Senpata (eagle shaped), Dhansira (strand of rice grain), Lokaparo (pegion design). Earrings are made in similar designs and also Thuka Suna and Keru are worn by dancers. Female dancers wear white flowers in the hair. The costumes of Ankiya Naats (dramas) are colourful and character specific. Use of Mukha (Masks) to depicts demons and special characters are also unique of this dance form. The art of mask making is an integral part of Sattriya culture and originated in the Sattras of Assam. Beautifully decorated turbans and crowns made by the local artisans are used in the Ankiya Naats.
Sattriya Nritya is accompanied by musical compositions called borgeets which were composed by Shrimanta Sankardeva and Shrimanta Madhavdevwhich are based on Indian classical ragas. A key musical instrument that accompanies a Sattriya performance are khols (two faced, asymmetrical drum quite different from the rest of India) played with fingers. The special shape and materials of construction – clay, wood, leather, rice dough, iron filings, rope straps – of Sattriya khol produces a high pitch with the right side (Daina), while producing a deep bass sound on the left (Bewa). Accompanying the khol are various types of Talas or cymbals (Manjira, Bhortal, Bihutal, Patital, Khutital) and the flute (bansuri). Other instruments like the violin and the harmonium have been recent additions.
Originally, Sattriya dance was performed exclusively by men. However, today women are equally giving their contributions to it, thus providing an additional grace and elegance to the art. There are even the female dances or Lasya such as ChaliNritya, GopiPravesharNritya, etc which are performed by women. Sharadi Saikia, Garima Hazarika, Sitarani Hazarika, Indira PP Bora, Pushpa Bhuyan are some of the leading female exponents of Sattriya dance, to name a few. Again, Sattriya is no longer simply a culture. It has become a topic of research. Scholars are exploring the various dimensions and the spheres of Sattriya. Extensive studies are being done on its history to bring to light various new features, to know the unknown and to unveil the veiled. The researches on Sattriya have also helped it to modify itself and to be viewed with a scientific outlook. Some of the prominent and eminent researchers in this field are Lt Sonaram Chutia, Lt Dr Maheswar Neog, Lt Keshav Changkakati, Dr KD Goswami, Jagannath Mahanta and others.
Thus, the seeds that were sown by Sankardev long time back, has today grown into a magnificently huge tree, under whose shadow we have achieved recognition of our culture. During its long and eventful journey, Sattriya has gone through quite a lot of changes in its form, its significance and its position in the society. But one thing that has remained unaltered and will remain so for the centuries to come is its infinite contribution to the Assamese culture and, at a larger perspective, to the Indian culture. This culture explicitly talks about equality and indiscernability of life. It patronises a culture of dignity to the mankind as a whole. In its present state, it has even crossed the boundaries of India, thus traveling far and wide. Presently, it has defined a forte for itself on the world platform, thereby earning a lot of adoration, praise and recognition globally.
Department of Philosophy
Madhab Choudhury College