Embodying traditions, mapping transitions

If I am preoccupied with thoughts of survival, how will I pursue my goal with complete bhakti? I have to concentrate on the quality of my work, recognition will follow,” asserts Anwesa Mahanta, a Sattriya dancer and researcher. All professions including dance are competitive and demand quality, she reasons, citing Darwin’s theory.
Mahanta grew up steeped in the culture of the sattras in Assam (Vaishnava monasteries). “I am affiliated to a sattra so I was unconsciously taking part in Vaishnava rituals before I started training in Sattriya. I began at a young age, learning under Bayanacharya Ghanakanta Bora, who belonged to the Kamalabari Sattra. At that time, I was also learning Bharatanatyam from Indira PP Bora, so my Adhyapak (sattriya guru) would make me aware of the differences between both the styles. Bharatanatyam had sharper, linear movements, whereas Sattriya is full of circular and rounded movements. He would discuss how different movements can be attempted in Sattriya and Bharatanatyam,” she says, describing her training.
In 2000, Sattriya became the eighth style to be accorded the status of a “classical” dance, drawing more attention to itself and perhaps redefining the form in some ways. Mahanta comments, “When I was learning, we didn’t know Sattriya was ‘classical’. Only later was it accorded classical status. In terms of technique, the art form has not changed. We still use our own terminology for the movements and the hastas. Yes, the form has attained more recognition with the classical status, and the choreography has undergone a few changes. Sattriya is a living tradition, performed in the Sattras by monks as a devotional ritual. In the namghar (prayer hall) where it is offered to the deity, the monks/ performers are surrounded by an audience. Their performances are multi-directional but they look inward, dancing only for the deity. Adapting it to a proscenium stage where the audience sits on only one side requires a few changes in choreography.”
Talking about the ripples proscenium performances have created in the sattras, she adds, “Nowadays, the monks from sattras are also being invited to perform on stage, so they are thinking in terms of presenting their performances to an audience. But the rituals remain the same, regardless of these public appearances. For example, monks are usually invited to perform gayan bayan, which is the purvaranga (prelude) in Ankiya Bhaona (a dramatic tradition). When you see them do the same piece in the namghar, the movements don’t change, but the choreography is different, suited to that space.”
Mahanta is a doctoral candidate at Delhi University. Her research delves into the performing arts traditions of Assam and the role played by the sattras. She describes the two kinds of sattras — some are loosely structured bodies whose members assemble for periodic rituals while others are strictly celibate monasteries populated only by men. While the monasteries nurture rich traditions of music, dance and art, in celibate monasteries, women can only participate in the rituals as spectators. “It is believed that the monk or performer in the monastery connects the audience to the divine. Through the union of the audience and performer, the effect of bhakti is experienced equally by all devotees,” she elaborates.
There is a lot of scope for innovation within the Sattriya idiom, Mahanta feels. She actively works with her adhyapak, creating new choreography within traditional structures.
She says, “Of late, during the 150th birth anniversary celebrations of Rabindranath Tagore, we began looking at Sattriya in terms of Tagore’s life and work. Usually, our repertoire incorporates the compositions of saints, themes of Krishna bhakti and Krishna’s avatars. Nowadays, we are trying to explore the theatrical element in Sattriya. Since it is a living tradition, simultaneously existing as ritual, we feel that innovation should remain within the boundaries of tradition. In terms of choreography, costume and music, there are some stage-specific changes. For instance, there are references to the flute and violin being used in Sattriya in the biographies of saints, but in the namghar, you might see monks sing by themselves, using the khol and cymbals as accompaniment. On the proscenium stage, however, you might have solo performers; with an orchestra making music for them,” explains Mahanta.

Post new comment

<form action="/comment/reply/85867" accept-charset="UTF-8" method="post" id="comment-form"> <div><div class="form-item" id="edit-name-wrapper"> <label for="edit-name">Your name: <span class="form-required" title="This field is required.">*</span></label> <input type="text" maxlength="60" name="name" id="edit-name" size="30" value="Reader" class="form-text required" /> </div> <div class="form-item" id="edit-mail-wrapper"> <label for="edit-mail">E-Mail Address: <span class="form-required" title="This field is required.">*</span></label> <input type="text" maxlength="64" name="mail" id="edit-mail" size="30" value="" class="form-text required" /> <div class="description">The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.</div> </div> <div class="form-item" id="edit-comment-wrapper"> <label for="edit-comment">Comment: <span class="form-required" title="This field is required.">*</span></label> <textarea cols="60" rows="15" name="comment" id="edit-comment" class="form-textarea resizable required"></textarea> </div> <fieldset class=" collapsible collapsed"><legend>Input format</legend><div class="form-item" id="edit-format-1-wrapper"> <label class="option" for="edit-format-1"><input type="radio" id="edit-format-1" name="format" value="1" class="form-radio" /> Filtered HTML</label> <div class="description"><ul class="tips"><li>Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.</li><li>Allowed HTML tags: &lt;a&gt; &lt;em&gt; &lt;strong&gt; &lt;cite&gt; &lt;code&gt; &lt;ul&gt; &lt;ol&gt; &lt;li&gt; &lt;dl&gt; &lt;dt&gt; &lt;dd&gt;</li><li>Lines and paragraphs break automatically.</li></ul></div> </div> <div class="form-item" id="edit-format-2-wrapper"> <label class="option" for="edit-format-2"><input type="radio" id="edit-format-2" name="format" value="2" checked="checked" class="form-radio" /> Full HTML</label> <div class="description"><ul class="tips"><li>Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.</li><li>Lines and paragraphs break automatically.</li></ul></div> </div> </fieldset> <input type="hidden" name="form_build_id" id="form-f8b925c92869cde61bfba264138e5961" value="form-f8b925c92869cde61bfba264138e5961" /> <input type="hidden" name="form_id" id="edit-comment-form" value="comment_form" /> <fieldset class="captcha"><legend>CAPTCHA</legend><div class="description">This question is for testing whether you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.</div><input type="hidden" name="captcha_sid" id="edit-captcha-sid" value="69163161" /> <input type="hidden" name="captcha_response" id="edit-captcha-response" value="NLPCaptcha" /> <div class="form-item"> <div id="nlpcaptcha_ajax_api_container"><script type="text/javascript"> var NLPOptions = {key:'c4823cf77a2526b0fba265e2af75c1b5'};</script><script type="text/javascript" src="http://call.nlpcaptcha.in/js/captcha.js" ></script></div> </div> </fieldset> <span class="btn-left"><span class="btn-right"><input type="submit" name="op" id="edit-submit" value="Save" class="form-submit" /></span></span> </div></form>

No Articles Found

No Articles Found

No Articles Found

I want to begin with a little story that was told to me by a leading executive at Aptech. He was exercising in a gym with a lot of younger people.

Shekhar Kapur’s Bandit Queen didn’t make the cut. Neither did Shaji Karun’s Piravi, which bagged 31 international awards.