Indian Dance - Sattriya Dance Of Assam
Sattriya or Sattriya Nritya is one among the eight principal classical Indian dance traditions. In the year 2000, the Sattriya dances of Assam received recognition as one of the eight classical dance forms of India. Where as some of the other traditions have been revived in the recent past, Sattriya has remained a living tradition since its creation by the founder of Vaishnavism in Assam, the great saint Srimanta Sankardev, in 15th century Assam.

Srimanta Sankardev and Madhavdev created Sattriya Nritya as an accompaniment to the Ankia Naat (a form of Assamese one-act plays devised by them), which were usually performed in the sattras, monasteries associated with the Ekasarana dharma. As the tradition developed and grew within the sattras, the dance form came to be known as Sattriya Nritya, a name first coined by Maheswar Neog. Today, although Sattriya Nritya has emerged from within the confines of the sattras to a much wider recognition, the sattras continue to use the dance form for ritualistic and other purposes for which it was originally created circa 500 years ago.

History of Sattriya Dance Of Assam

This dance form has remained a living tradition in Assam’s Vaishnava monasteries, known as sattras, for over 500 years now. It was originally practised by celibate monks in the form of mythological dance-dramas. These dance-dramas were, in the main, written and directed by the Assamese Vaishnava saint and social reformer Sankaradeva, and by his principal disciple Madhavadeva. They were mostly composed during the 16th century. In the second half of the 20th century, Sattriya Nritya moved from the sanctum of Assam’s sattras/monasteries to the metropolitan stage. Once the domain of celibate male monks, it is now performed by male as well as female dancers. The sattras had observed and maintained certain rigid disciplines and austerities within their walls and, until the first half of the 20th century, this dance style was performed in a highly ritualistic manner by male dancers alone. The classical rigidity, the strict adherence to certain principles, and the non-engagement of academic research on the dance form all contributed to the delayed recognition and acceptance of Sattriya Nritya as one of the eight classical dance forms of India. On 15 November 2000, the Sangeet Natak Akademi finally gave Sattriya Nritya its due recognition as one of the classical dance forms of India, alongside the other seven forms.

The Dance

The core of Sattriya Nritya has usually been mythological stories. This was an artistic way of presenting mythological teachings to the people in an accessible, immediate, and enjoyable manner. Traditionally, Sattriya was performed only by bhokots (male 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.

Sattriya Nritya is divided into many aspects: Apsara Nritya, Behar Nritya, Chali Nritya, Dasavatara Nritya, Manchok Nritya, Natua Nritya, Rasa Nritya, Rajaghariya Chali Nritya, Gosai Prabesh, Bar Prabesh, Gopi Prabesh, Jhumura, Nadu Bhangi, and Sutradhara, to name but a few – these being the counterpart to items in Bharata Natyam. Like the other seven schools of Indian Classical dance, Sattriya Nritya encompasses the principles required of a classical dance form: the treatises of dance and dramaturgy, like Natyashastra, Abhinaya Darpana, and Sangit Ratnakara; a distinct repertoire (marg) and the aspects of nritta (pure dance), nritya (expressive dance), and natya (abhinaya).

The costumes are usually made of pat – a silk produced in Assam which is derived from the mulberry plant – and woven with intricate local motifs. There are two types of costumes: the male costume comprising the dhoti and chadar and the female costume comprising the ghuri and chadar. The waist cloth which is known as the kanchi or kingkini is worn by both the male and female dancers. The ornaments, too, are based on traditional Assamese design.