• “A Unique Sattriya Workshop at the Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts (IGNCA) in New Delhi”

    Jyotirmoy Talukdar

    October 10, 2017

    In all likelihood, the year was 1948. A noontide natter was warming up in the front yard of some nondescript hamlet hut in Majuli, one of world’s biggest river islands. Niru, dainty and probably nineteen, is discussing with her circle of intimates how Jyoti Prasad (Agarwala) and Bishnu Rabha have already introduced women in Assamese “bioscopes” and that it is a matter of time before women from the island too walk off unshackled and unsubdued. “I want to touch the sky… and do you see those birds? I want to fly with them, too. And to follow our Gormuriya probhu’s dreams of advancing the country,” Niru almost soliloquises. This scene is from the National Film Award winning biopic of this Gormuriya probhu Pitambar Deva Goswami (1885-1962) who, from the position of a satradhikar — initiated and executed numerous reforms in the satras, as the Vaishnavite monasteries in Assam are called. One of these was inviting women to dance Sattriya (now one of the eight classical dance forms recognised in India) as early as in 1922.

    That being the case, it is only apt that the screening of this film Yugadrashta: The Visionary marked the midpoint of “Sahanartana” — a unique Sattriya workshop that ended yesterday (on Sunday 8 October 2017) at the Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts (IGNCA) in New Delhi. Since the idea of yet another floor exercise sounded clunky, it was not quite the story that lit a fire within me until I ferreted further. The organisers and preceptors – acclaimed Sattriya dancers Srijani Bhaswa Mahanta and Meenakshi Medhi – clarified, tout de suite, that it is not a diasporic endeavour to teach Sattriya to the immigrant generation Assamese in the city. Instead, the call for students was aimed at beginners as well as trained dancers from all other communities, ethnicities and dance forms. Despite being a major Indian classical dance and a living tradition for at least five hundred years, exposure and dissemination of Sattriya to the rest of India remains nugatory. So, the attempt of this workshop, as I found out sitting at a corner at IGNCA’s Bal Jagat as eager learners trained, had been to not just teach the dance movements, but also to acquaint the entrants with the satra way of life and its history thus far.



    Sriani says the best part of teaching them was that they asked questions / Image courtesy:Narottam Kar


    If Padma Shri and Sangeet Natak Akademi Awardee Kathak guru Shovana Narayan and Bharatnatyam exponent Arupa Lahiry were roped in to inaugurate and speak about how one must dance with an open and amenable mind, the preeminent TS Satyanath gave a talk on “Approaching Indian Performative Traditions” where he initiated a series of interrogations on categories like marga and desi, classical and folk, great and little traditions. Haricharan Bhuyan Barbayan, who won the Sangeet Natak Akademi last year for his contribution to Sattriya, had been flown in for the entire period of two weeks and, I must say, what a delight it is to watch the golden ager untiringly upskill the hoofers! Srijani feels that the lack of knowledge and information about the circumferential region often leads to its exoticisation. What follows is an insincere and often naïve nosiness about the place, its people and its cultures and further defers any far-reaching and lasting solution to the issue of marginalisation and discrimination. By inculcating a sense of the land and its cultural orientations in their fellow practitioners from across the country, these young organisers, hailing from the state, and branching off different satras, dream to see Sattriya through the back-breaking journey out of apathy and unconcern.



    The workshop was a microcosm of India, some of these faces are from Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, West Bengal, Karnataka, Mizoram, Delhi and Assam / Image courtesy: Narottom Kar


    On Sunday, their dream faced its first test when these gruelling fifteen days culminated in an elaborate evening of performance by the trainees as well as the trainers. Held at the IGNCA auditorium in front of an audience packed like sardines, this program may just have smoothed the path of awareness long overdue.



    When the curtain fell, some of them were seen weeping, even as the sonorous applause was sinking in / Image courtesy: Narottam Kar


    They will go away with what the living legend Shovana Narayan told them: to dance with an open mind, to acknowledge the differences and similarities in the forms they learn / Image courtesy: Nirottam Kar



    Jyotirmoy Talukdar recently completed an MPhil in English Literature from the University of Delhi. Currently, he is working as a Senior Consultant with a think tank, and freelancing for politically sane magazines.

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