Sattriya: The Sacred Dance of Assam's Cultural Heritage

Sattriya: The Sacred Dance of Assam's Cultural Heritage
Posted on 29-07-2023

Sattriya: The Sacred Dance of Assam's Cultural Heritage

Sattriya is a classical dance form from the state of Assam in northeastern India. It has strong devotional roots, as it was originally intended for the propagation of neo-Vaishnavism, a reform movement that emphasized the chanting of the name of one God devotedly. The dance was introduced in the 15th century A.D. by the great Vaishnava saint and reformer, Srimanta Sankaradeva.

Unlike some other classical dance forms, Sattriya has remained relatively unchanged since its inception. It was developed and practiced within the social and religious groups known as "Sattras" (Vaishnava monasteries), who used it to celebrate their beliefs deeply rooted in Hinduism.

Sattriya dance draws influences from various folk dance forms of Assam, such as Ojapali, Devadasi, Bihu, and Bodos. Over time, it evolved into a distinct and refined classical dance style with its unique repertoire.

The dance form comprises three main components: Nritta (pure dance), Nritya (expressive dance), and Natya (dance drama). It features intense emotional fervor and emphasizes dramatic abhinaya (facial expressions and storytelling) in its solo performances, in contrast to the pure dance elements.

Sattriya dance is characterized by strictly defined principles regarding hastamudras (hand gestures), footwork, costumes, music, and more. It includes both masculine and feminine styles, known as "Paurashik Bhangi" and "Stri Bhangi," respectively.

The themes of Sattriya dance often revolve around the stories of Krishna-Radha or Ram-Sita, drawing from mythology and religious narratives. It uses hand and facial expressions to tell these mythical and religious stories.

Traditionally, Sattriya was performed by male monks in monasteries as part of their daily rituals or during special festivals. Today, it is also performed on stage by both men and women, not necessarily associated with the monasteries.

The dance costumes for Sattriya are specific to gender. The male costume includes a dhoti, chadar, and paguri (turban), while the female costume comprises a ghuri, chadar, and kanchi (waist cloth). The dancers wear traditional Assamese jewelry made of Kesa Sun (raw gold).

Various musical instruments accompany Sattriya performances, including Khol (drum), Bahi (flute), Violin, Tanpura, Harmonium, and Shankha (Conch Shell). The songs used in Sattriya performances are known as "Borgeets," compositions by Srimanta Sankaradeva.

Some renowned exponents of Sattriya dance include Guru Jatin Goswami, Guru Ghanakanta Bora, Manik Barbayan, Sharodi Saikia, Indira PP Bora, Anita Sharma, and others.

Overall, Sattriya dance continues to be a significant cultural expression in Assam, celebrating its religious and mythological heritage while also evolving as a captivating classical dance form.

Sattriya is a classical Indian dance form that originated in the northeastern state of Assam. It is one of the eight major classical dance forms of India, and it has a rich cultural and religious significance. Sattriya is closely associated with the Sattras, which are monastic institutions established by the saint-reformer Srimanta Sankardeva in the 15th century.

Key features of Sattriya dance:

  1. Origin: Sattriya dance was initially developed to be performed within the religious institutions (Sattras) as a form of devotion and worship. Over time, it evolved into a classical dance form.

  2. Themes: The dance form primarily draws its themes from the life and teachings of Lord Krishna and other episodes from the Hindu epics like the Ramayana and the Mahabharata.

  3. Music: Sattriya dance is accompanied by classical Sattriya music, which includes various musical instruments like khol (a traditional drum), taal (cymbals), flute, and violin.

  4. Costumes: The dancers typically wear traditional Assamese attire, which includes a dhoti, chadar (wrap), and a turban. Female dancers often wear a distinctive cylindrical headgear called 'khopa' along with the traditional dress.

  5. Dance Techniques: Sattriya is characterized by graceful movements, intricate footwork, and meaningful expressions. The dance form includes a range of foot positions, hand gestures (mudras), and body postures.

  6. Nritya and Natya: Sattriya can be categorized into two main styles – Nritya (pure dance) and Natya (dance with enactment or dramatic element). Nritya emphasizes rhythmic movements and abstract expressions, while Natya incorporates storytelling and dramatic elements.

  7. Revival: Sattriya faced a period of decline and was almost forgotten outside the religious institutions. However, in the 20th century, efforts were made to revive and promote this ancient dance form. Sattriya was recognized as a classical dance by the Government of India in 2000.

Today, Sattriya has gained popularity not only in Assam but also in other parts of India and internationally, with its mesmerizing beauty and cultural significance capturing the hearts of audiences worldwide.

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