Naba Moni Saikia

Satriya Nritya is the classical dance form of Assam which is based on the religious elements, performed with devotion and constantly practiced in the Satras of Assam. Like the classical dances of the other regions of India, Satriya Nritya also has its own features, instruments, dresses, poses, Ragas etc which are distinct from the others dance forms. The satras of Assam have played a remarkable role in the continuation, development, expansion and circulation of Satriya Nritya, infect this particular dance is known as Satriya Nritya especially because it is mainly practice and performed in the satras. These satras are the main pillars of Assam’s religious world and about the divisions of Satras, Hazarika (2014) said that, “the division of sattras into four songhatis (sub sects of Neo- vaishnavism) in the post- Sankaradeva times brought variety not only to the practice and propagation of neo-vaishnavite religion and culture in the satras but also to the lifestyle of their inmates as they got divided into basically three types monastic where all the inmates along with the satradhikar (head of a satra) are celibate, semi monastic where inmates are married while the satradhikar is unmarried, and house holding where all the inmates including the satradhikar are married” (“Satriya Asceticism: A Gem of Human pursuits” in Yuge Yuge Majuli).

The main scripture of classical dance and drama is Beda and later, the Natya Shastra was written by Bharata Muni, which is also considered as the fifth Beda. Depending on the Beda and Natya Shastra, the culture and society of the various regions of India, by preserving its regional features and with the help of political patronization, social discourses and skilful artists have created and expanded its dance and dramatic tradition. According to many wise researchers, in India, particularly, the south India played the role of torch bearer in this regard. With the changing of time, in all the regions of India, the music and drama also begin to change its shape and form. Though Natya Shastra became its base, the regional shape and elements enriched its beauty. Later, many noted Sanskrit writers wrote books on music and drama and enriched the musical granary which comprised of the regional characteristics useful for the people of all the regions when they are in need of it. In Assam also a book called Sri Hasta Muktayali is discovered and scholars of Assam have used this according to their need.

In Assam, the early scripture of songs-drama is Cinha Jatra Naat (drama) and a musical form is also reflected in this drama. Later, along with Madhaba Deva, Mahapurush Sankaradeva created the ‘Gutia’ dance. From the drama Bhujan Behar, the Boha Naas (dance), from Kaliya Daman the Nadu Bhongi naas and from ChorDhara Pimpora Gusuwa the Jhumura Naas were created. Though there were some particular names for all these dances, still they lack a common name which could represent them all wholly. Goswami (2009) wrote “the satriya dances were decorated by Srimanta Sankaradeva by smearing the plaster of devotion with the elements taken from Natya Shastra, musical scriptures written in later periods and the regional elements. Besides these, Sankaradeva also added his own creative talent with these and the dance and dramas, created by him were mainly Krishna centric while the dance- dramas of other regions of India are mainly Siva centric.” In this context, Dr. Mahanta (2015) also mentioned that, “Sankaradeva decorated the 21 types of pleasure, existed in Natya Shastra, with local characteristics” (“Ankiya Naat: Eti Bislesanatmak Adhayan” in BrindaBanChandra).

Though, during the time of Sankaradeva, dances and dramas were developed and expanded as the medium of circulating his religion and philosphies but a common name was not given to them, yet. These became known as Satriya Nritya only in the later period, when it became an utmost important thing for its formal recognition. When the approval of some other dramatic forms created many years later than Satriya Nritya got the priority, with the earnest effort Dr. Maheswar Neog, a remarkable personality of Assam, these dances were registered in Sangit Natak Academy by naming it as Satriya Nritya. But, then also it only got the half approval and in the year 2000 it was approved completely. By establishing Satra, Sankaradeva had begun the tradition of dance and drama in Assam, and the dances which were practiced and performed in the religious dramas in the satras of Assam are known as Satriya Nritya.

Satriya Nritya (dance) has its own tradition which is almost 500 years old. It has some own peculiar characteristics, which are described below as mentioned by K. Bora (2014) in his article “Satriya Nrityar Boishista” in Yuge Yuge Majuli-

  • Satriya Nritya has an intact relationship with Ankiya drama and its objective, philosophy and greatness is almost similar to that of Ankiya drama, “Dekhaha Sunaha Nirantare haribolla haribolla”.
  • Ankiya drama is fully based on the vaisnhavite philosophy “Krishna bine chrestha deba nahi nahi aar” (there is no supreme god other than Krishna). As we found in Parijat Harana, “Karayata naat uhi bohu sande. Krishnaka bhakati karate prabondhe” (to worship Krishna, they staged drama with various styles of dances) the main aim of Satriya Nritya is also to worship lord Bishnu.
  • The main character of Ankiya drama is Krishna or Raam and the activities of such characters is technically tied up in the various meters or rhymes of dances “Aaye jagata guru Kaya paribesha, jiniye kama kouti natabara besha” (in the form of a dancer, world’s master enters). Hence the main worshipper of Satriya Nritya is Natabara Krishna or dancer Krishna.
  • Though not in the satra’s daily ritual of Naam Prasanga (kind of religious ritual performed in the satras everyday), in case of some particular rituals or occasions of satras, the satriya Nritya with the aim of worshipping lord is supplementary to 14 prasangas. By performing Borprabesh in the early night and Ojha paali in late night instead of Bahar Naas (dance) in the noon and Chali Naas in the afternoon, the Kamalabaria (from Kamalabari Satra) artist or austere endeavourer determined a particular characteristic of the performing process of Satriya Nritya.
  • The main root of the welfare, entertainment or the ascension of the masses that is done by Ankiya drama is formed by the units of Satriya Nritya.
  • One of the essential parts of the prologue of Ankiya drama is Gayan Bayan or Dhemali Badan. Many of the Satriya Nrity’s unit is attached with particular “Dhemalis” (particular way of beating khol playfully). Such as, Nadubhongi Naas is attached with Guru Mridanga Dhemali, Borprabesh Naas with Raamdhemali etc.
  • The tradition of Satriya Sangit (songs) is suitably based on the modesty of Assamese society. The colour of the dresses right from the dance units to pathak (main reader in religious activities) Gurus and devotees is white and has a glimpse of holiness. The dress of the graceful Satriya Nritya is determined in the imitation of Assamese women’s wearing of 3 clothes. The dress of Satriya Nritya like the Pati, wearing on their shirt’s, the wig on their head and Prakriti Ura (two flags like cloth wear in their chest in the style of cross) to cover their breast is the identification of the modesty of Assamese women.
  • Classical characteristics consisting tradition of Satriya Nritya is mainly located in the Satras of Assam. It has its own granary of musical text and repertoire.
  • Satriya Nritya is also a centre of physical education which makes the body healthy and flexible. In the beginning of Satriya Nritya’s teaching, Mati Ahkara (a satriya dance) completed this task.
  • Own characteristic of Satriya Nritya is also noticed in the acting of it also. The more focus is given in the word to word synchronized expression rather than full line or sung line interpretation. Satriya ojha Paali is an example of this.  

In 2000, the National Sangit Natak Academy gave Satriya Nritya national recognition on the basis of its eligibility but controversy surround this decision and at a time it even went to the court also. The naming of Satriya Nritya has almost completed the 48 years and a few books were also published in this name itself. School and colleges of music were also established in Assam and teaching and practices is also going on there. Now it is never a good sign for our society to create controversy regarding Satriya Nritya especially when it got the formal approval from the govt. Now our prime objective should be to strengthen the tradition of Satriya Nritya, its development, expansion and circulation and if possible to create some new dance forms on the basis of this classical Satriya Nritya.

As we noticed, in the present time, even in the national stage also, due to the lack of proper knowledge or attention or their inability to realize the sentiments of Assamese people attached with satriya Nritya, some people have tried to perform this classical dance form of Assam in wrong way. But it is not acceptable for us to accept any wrong performance of it, which became a main source of our identity of our culture in front of world. Within some rules and regulations, with particular dress, instruments, ragas and poses striya dances are performed and one needs to do austere and arduous practices of it for many years to become a perfect Satriya dancer. We should be careful of its proper maintenance and development and try to preserve it in its original form; otherwise in the grip of modernization and westernization some cheap and unacceptable elements will destroy the charm of it in the near future.

  • Dr. Rubi Mahanta (2015). “Ankiya Naat: Eti Bislesanatmak Adhayan,” in Dr. Sanjib Kumar Borgohain (editor), BrindaBanChandra. Dakhinpat Satra Prakashan Parishad, p. 144.
  • Karuna Bora (2014). “Satriya Nrityar Boishista” in Prof. Dilip Kumar Phukan (editor), Yuge Yuge Majuli. Bharatiya Itihas Sankalan Samiti, Assam, pp. 37-41.
  • Sri Narayan Chandra Goswami (2009). “Satriya Nrityar Udbhab, Uttaran and Sampratik Chinta” in Dr. Debajit Saikia (editor), Sri Narayan Chandra Goswami Prabandhavali, Voll ll. Sri Narayan Chandra Goswami Prabandhavali Editorial Board, pp. 134-136.
  • Prof. Apurbajyoti Hazarika (2014). “Satriya Asceticism: A Gem of Human pursuits,” in Prof. Dilip Kumar Phukan (editor), in Yuge Yuge Majuli. Bharatiya Itihas Sankalan Samiti, Assam, p. 83.

About author: The author Mr. Naba Moni Saikia, after completing his graduation in 2014 from Majuli College, has pursued his post graduation from Tezpur University, Assam with first class in English literature in 2016. In June, 2015 he has cleared the NET (National Eligibility Test) Exam. for Assistant Professor. In 2016 itself, the author has started working at Majuli College as an assistant professor (non-sanctioned) in English department and from October, 2016, He also started working as a correspondent of The Assam Tribune of Majuli District. A few short stories, articles and poems of mine have published in the magazines. He has interest in journalism, translation and reading novels.


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