Sudarshan Thakur: An active journalist, writer and cultural activist of the state and Shri Thakur has received the National Junior Fellowship in art, 2003 from the Ministry of Culture, Government of India & Sangeet Natak Akademi, New Delhi.

cultrual reportage :

the bells toll for them persons behind the rediscovary of sattriya dance

15th November is a red letter day for lovers of Sattriya dance.

It was on that day in the year 2000, Sangeet Natak Akademi declared Sattriya dance tradition of Assam as one of the major dance traditions of India at par with all other major dance traditions like Bharat Natyam, Kathak, Kathakali, Oddisi, Manipuri etc. This announcement has served to focus national attention to this dance form, increase its respect and also paved the way for Sattriya dance being projected and presented in the national arena through the official agencies of the state. This has also brought new challenges before the people associated with preserving, propagating and developing Sattriya dance. However, a note of caution needs to be sounded at this juncture. The real challenge at this juncture of national recognition is to preserve this living dance in its pristine form in the Sattras on one hand and to promote, develop and present this multilayered, multifaceted, multihued form rich in nuances, texture and content as an attractive and viable performing art form on the other, keeping intact its non negotiable core.

All the major dance forms of India that have emerged from the cocoon of history to a resplendent major artform recognised and appreciated by all have done so through lots of hard work, contemplation, searching of roots, evaluation and conscious identification of the core. All these lay the foundation of the art form. To be a major force in the field of Indian dance Sattriya also needs all these and more.

The core of the dance form of Sattriya has evolved historically mainly through the tradition and practice extent in the Kamalabari Sattra where this dance form is practised from the time of its creation through a well laid and systematic process as a part of religious ritual and devotional practice. There are also in some other Sattras some different items of dance which also need to be incorporated into the body of Sattriya to give it more variety and strength.

The beautiful, intricate and versatile body of danceform of the Sattras - now named as Sattriya and recognised also as such, have continued to inspire the dancers, artists and cultural personalities outside the Sattras from a long time. Many of them have brought and borrowed different elements of Sattriya dance and have incorporated it in their own work. Some have brought parts of it to the prosenium stage at different times. One must also note that some of these Sattriya dances which formed an integral part of the dramas known as Ankiya Bhaonas, which were created by the Mahapurush Sankardeva and Madhavdeva, and also the latter Bhaonas that were created in its model, were practised widely in the rural and semi urban areas of Assam in different Namghars (community prayer hall - an inalienable part of Assamese Vaishnavism) during enactment of such dramas. Thus the drama form in part had also an existence among the laity and were quite familiar to the people of Assam. The umbellical cord of such efforts were always tied to one or other of the Vaishnava Sattras and it was the Bhakats, Gayans, Bayans of the Sattras who usually taught such drama and dance to the lay people for performance in the Namghars. This bimodal existence through time is an important point to note.

It was late Sri Pitambar Deva Goswami, Sattradhikar of Garmur Sattra of Majuli, a person of rare vision and commitment, a great artist and freedom fighter, was the person who pioneered in bringing the Vaishnavite cultural pageant specially the danceform to the modern stage in the twenties of the last century from the confined periphery of the Sattra. It began with the introduction of various traditional dance performances, prevalent in the Sattra, in to the Raslila presented in the ‘Tarun Ranga Mancha’ – a modern stage- eracted on the occasion of Raas Purnima in 1922. Pitambar Deva himself trained the dancers and he was assisted by late Bapuram Bora Bayan of the Garmur Sattra. He also valiantly crossed the barriers imposed upon co-acting till then and introduced same through the Raslila performance.

Late Sri Jibeswar Goswami of Bholaguri Sattra, Kaliabor, Nagaon, took the cue and performed music and dances from the Sattra on modern stage in Shillong, then the capital of Assam for first outside the Sattra in the mid forties. He became the center of attraction of the newly established cultural organization for upliftment and promotion of the dances of Assam, named Prachim Kamrupi Nritya Sangha. On the banner of the aforesaid Sangha late legendary Bishnu Prasad Rabha and noted dance personality of Assam late Suresh Ch. Goswami composed and performed a good number of dances including some of the Sattra’s dance sequences both in the state and national level. Likewise late Guruprasad Ojha of Barpeta, late Gajen Barman of Jamugurihat and late Purna Sarmah of Biswanath Chariali contributed their mite towards popularising through stage performances the danceform of the Sattra. It also needs special mentioned here that late Pradip Chaliha, another distinguished artist who was latter honoured with the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award, also contributed towards bringing the dance forms of Sattra closer to the people by his composite performances.

In the year 1938, the Prachin Kamrupi Nritya Sangha toured the lengths and breadths of the State with its repertoire of traditional dances of Assam for a period of six months continuously and earned great applause for their presentation of Sattra based dances too. It will be apt to remember the valued contributions of the Sangha. I must however, hasten to add here that in contrust to Sangha. Which dwelt more on improvisation on the Sattra tradition, late Pitambar Deva Goswami devoted solely in promoting the dance form of Sattras truly in its traditional way.

In the post- independence period, late Maheswar Neog, a celebrated scholar, and a famous litterateur of Assam, endeavoured in a systematic way for upliftment of the rich heritage of art-music and dance in particular of Assam with a thrust on Sattras’ tradition. Though he was neither an artist nor one leading the life of hermit of the Sattra, what he did for the dance form of Sattras was unique. And it would remain as remarkable feature in the history of Assamese culture. The term Sattriya dance (Sattriya Nritya), a modern appellation was a result of innovative and realistic thoughts of late Dr. Maheswar Neog, as this form was prevalent traditionally in the Sattras for centuries. Late Dr. Neog was supported by late Maniram Dutta Muktiyar, Principal teacher and performer of Purani Kamalabari Sattra of Majuli in knowing the technicalities of the form.

Being goaded by the encouragement from late Dr. Maheswar Neog and generous help from late Shri Shri Chandrahas Goswami, then Sattradhikar of Kamalabari Sattra, late Maniram Dutta Muktiyar came forward to present dances and other music performances of the Sattra with his group outside Sattra premises for the first time. In recognition of his rare talent as an exponent and teacher of dance and Khol (drum) playing and his valued contribution for the upliftment of Sattriya dance, music and theatre, he was honoured with the first-ever Sangeet Natak Akademi Award for Sattriya Dance in 1963. At the age of 79 his laudable performance of dance and playing of the Khol at the National Seminar of Dances in New Delhi (1958) spellbound all the audience and draw the attention of the critics, exponents and scholars in the National level to the Sattriya dance.

A contemporary of late Dutta Muktiyar another exponent, teacher and performer of Natun Kamalabari Sattra, Majuli, late Bapuram Bayan Atoi also come forward in popularizing the Sattriya dance, theatre and music by performing and teaching outside the Sattra. At the initiative and invitation of Assam Sangeet Natak Akademi late Bapuram Bayan Atoi performed Sattriya dance and music with his group at Shillong and Nagaon in 1953 and 1954 and received wide appreciation from the audience. In the year of 1960 being invited by Garmuriya Sattradhikar late Sri Sri Pritambar Deva Goswami, Bayan Atoi trained some Sattriya dances of Kamalabari style in the Raslila of Bangshi Gopal Natya Mandir (the Tarun Ranga Mancha was renamed) to make the dance performances more attractive. With the bidding of then Sattradhikar of Natun Kamalabari Sattra, Bapuram Bayan Atoi also went to various places outside Majuli to teach Sattriya dance and music. In the year 1979, Bapuram Bayan Atoi was also honoured with the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award.

In the year 1938 at Kamalabari, the Majuli Milan Sangha, a modern stage came to light where Raslila was enacted from 1958. Bor Bayan (chief drummer) of Bengenati Sattra of Majuli late Dhaniram Lekharu Bar-Bayan trained all dance performances there braving the opposition from various quarters. This was a daring endeavour to give vent in presenting the Sattriya dance in a wider platform with a variety at that time.

Followed the visionary steps initiated by late Pitambar Deva Goswami a renowned Sattriya artist Late Lilakanta Goswami of Gharmara Sattra, Lakhimpur contributed significantly in popularizing the Sattriya dance tradition outside the Sattras. Late Goswami himself trained several artistes from village to village in Northern part of Assam and also extended his endevour to the hill areas of Arunachal Pradesh in mid sixtees. Bapuram Bayen Atoi of Natun Kamalabari Sattra also helped late Goswami in teaching and training of the form.

In real sense Sattriya dance became worthy of recognition on the secular stage due to the immense contribution of the eminent exponent and popular Guru of Sattriya dance and music late Raseswar Saikia Bar-Bayan. He was the person whose relentless efforts brought out the dance from the peripheries of the Sattras. Bar-Bayan was guided by great orientalist late Maheswar Neog in popularizing the form on modern stage. After Maniram Dutta Muktiyar late Dr. Neog received prime support in compiling his book ‘Sattriya Nritya and Sattriya Nrityar Taal’ from late Raseswar Saikia Bar-Bayan. Dr. Neog was also assisted as co-writer by late musician Keshav Changkakoti in bringing the aforesaid compilation which helped to lay the academic foundation of the danceform. Late Rasewar Saikia Bar-Bayan was also honoured with the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award.

As far as performance, outside the Sattra is concerned the names of late Pitambar Deva Goswami, Jibeswar Goswami, Maniram Dutta Muktiyar, Bapuram Bayan Atoi, and Raseswar Saikia Bar-Bayan would remain immortal in Assamese cultural history and they will always be remembered with deep respect. At the same time we should also remember with gratitude the names of late Bishnu Prasad Rabha, Suresh Ch. Goswami, Guru Prasad Ojha, Gajen Baruah, Purna Sarma, Pradip Chaliha, Dhaniram Lekharu Bayan and Lila Kanta Goswami who also contributed in their own way to popularize the form. Those erudite pioneers are no more amongst as today. But their names will be written in gold in our history.



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