In the 15th century A.D., Mahapurusha Sankaradeva, an influential Vaishnava saint and reformer of Assam, invented the Sattriya Dance form as a powerful tool for spreading the Vaishnava faith. As time passed, this form of dance evolved and flourished into a unique style. Here’s all you need to know about the Sattriya Dance of Assam.
The Sattriya Dance originated from a monastery situated in Sattra, Assam, and was an indispensable part of the neo-Vaishnavite revolution spearheaded by Srimanta Sankardev in the 15th century. Sankardev believed in the significance of devoutly chanting the name of God, which served as the genesis of this form of dance. In the year 2000, the Sangeet Natak Akademi accorded Sattriya classical dance status.
The Sattras, also known as Vaishnava monasteries, have carefully nurtured and conserved this dance and theatre over the generations. Due to its religious and Sattras association, Sattriya adopted this dancing style. Sankardev ingeniously created the Sattriya Dance by amalgamating elements from various treaties, indigenous traditional dances, and his unique perspective. Prior to the neo-Vaishnava movement, Assam boasted two dance styles: Ojapali and Devadasi, which drew inspiration from several classical forms.
The Sattriya dance is a complex and beautiful art form that is governed by strict principles in respect of hastamudras, footworks, aharyas, music, and other components. It comprises three distinct elements - Nritta, Nritya, and Natya - that come together to create a mesmerizing performance.
This dance form can be divided into two categories - the Paurashik Bhangi, which is the masculine style, and the Stri Bhangi, which is the feminine style. Typically, Sattriya dance tells the stories of Krishna-Radha relations, or sometimes the tales of Ram-Sita. It is a genre of dance-drama that conveys mythical and religious stories through hand and facial expressions.
The basic dance unit of Sattriya is the Mati Akhara, and dancers learn foundational sets during their training. Akharas are subdivided into Ora, Saata, Jhalak, Sitika, Pak, Jap, Lon, and Khar. During a performance, dancers integrate two styles, one masculine and energetic, with jumps, and the other feminine and delicate. Sattriya was traditionally performed only by male monks in monasteries as part of their daily rituals or to mark special festivals on mythological themes.
However, today, it is performed on stage by both men and women. There are two distinctly separate streams of Sattriya - the Bhaona-related repertoire, starting from the Gayan-Bhayanar Nach to the Kharmanar Nach, and the independent dance numbers such as Chali, Rajagharia Chali, Jhumura, and Nadu Bhangi, among others. The Chali is characterized by gracefulness and elegance, while the Jhumura is marked by vigour and majestic beauty.
There are two types of costumes in Sattriya Dance, each with its own characteristics. Male dancers wear the traditional Chadar, Dhoti, and Paguri (turban), while female dancers wear the Chadar, Ghuri, and Kanchi (waist cloth). The Paat Silk Saree, which is known for its colorful motifs and designs, is the most famous saree used in Sattriya Dance, highlighting the location's heritage. In addition to these costumes, Sattriya dancers wear traditional Assamese jewelry, made using a unique technique called Kesa Sun, which involves raw gold. The dancers wear MuthiKharu and Gam Kharu bracelets and Kopali on the forehead, among other things. These accessories not only add to the overall appearance but also highlight the dance's cultural and religious significance. The combination of these costumes and accessories, along with the dance's intricate movements, makes Sattriya Dance an immersive experience that celebrates Assam's rich heritage.