The Satriya dances of Assam, performed for centuries in the monasteries called Satra-s, is slowly emerging as a classical dance- form. Perhaps because of the religious character of the dance, its emergence from the cloister onto the contemporary dance stage has been recent. But this dance-form has all the elements needed for it to be categorised as 'classical'. Nritta (pure dance) as distinguished from nritya (expressional dance), together with natya, the element of drama, are all clearly defined in it.
The stances in Satriya dances, moreover, reveal a commonality with other classical dance-forms. For instance, it has chauka--the squatting, square position as seen in Odissi, and the chakkar or spin of Kathak, with considerable footwork and hand gestures. The dance is accompanied by vocal music with the typical flavor of Assam, the khol (a kind of drum) and the flute.
The dance traditions in Assam have historic antecedents. There are references to the histrionic arts of Pragjyotishputra (an old name of Assam) in the Natya Sastra. They include the Ankiya Nat, Ojapali and Nati dances. The Satriya dances emerged from these, as did solo presentations like the Chali dance--the dance of the royal house. The Raslila of Krishna is a favourite theme with the Krishna Nach, Gopi Nach and Rasar Nach.
The Chali dances draw upon the Ojapali dance tradition and the music includes choral singing of mythological stories from the Ramayana, the Mahabharata and the puranas, based on classical raga-s and tala-s. The rhythm is maintained by footwork and the striking of the cymbals. As in the Manipuri dance tradition, the pung (a kind of drum) is played and the dancers perform acrobatic movements.
The rough edges in the movements of the Chali dance are being ironed out to bring them within the framework of classical or stylised dance. The use of hasta-s or hand gestures, as specified in Hastamuktavali, has added to the classical nature of the dances. Costume improvisation in the form of colourfully embroidered jackets, scarves and flowing robes is being introduced to enhance the beauty of the dance.
The first major exposure given to Satriya dance outside Assam was probably at the Sangeet Natak Akademi's first All India Dance Seminar held in 1958 when a troupe of Satriya dancers accompanied Dr. Maheswar Neog, a renowned scholar. Dr. Neog talked about the contribution of the saint Sankaradeva, who had ushered in an era of neo- Vaishnavism and revolutionised religious concepts in Assam. The saint had established the satra-s where celibate monks performed stories from the Bhagvad Gita and the puranas in dancedrama form. As in Kuchipudi and Kathakali, the dancers were male, with the female roles being impersonated by the male dancers. Therefore, the movements were vigorous and strong.
Recently, Indira Bora's Satriya dance performances held in different places have underlined the fact that this Satriya dance-form is beginning to be accepted as a classical dance-form of India. Indeed Indira Bora and her guru Ghana Bora are as enterprising as Kelucharan Mohapatra and Sanjukta Panigrahi were in regard to Odissi; and they might bring the kind of eminence to Satriya which is now being enjoyed by Odissi.
Supriya (Bharatanatyam), daughter of Mr. & Mrs. C. Unnikrishnan, and disciple of V.P. Dhananjayan & Shanla Dhananjayan (Bharata Kalanjali), 22 November in Madras.
V. Anupama & R. Bhuvanachitra (Bharatanatyam), disciples of V.P. Dhananjayan & Shanta Dhananjayan (Bharata Kalanjali) 26 November in Madras.
R. Gayatri (Bharatanatyam), daughter of Dr. S. Ramaratnam & Mrs. Sasikala, and disciple of Sudharani Raghupathy (Sree Bharatalaya), 27 November in Madras.
N. Nandini, daughter of the late N.K. Menon & Mrs. Leela Menon; N. Priya, daughter of Mr. K.R. Natarajan & Mrs. Nalini; G. Sridevi, daughter of Mr. K. Ganesan & Mrs. Thangamani; and R. Umadevi, daughter of Mr. V.K. Rajendran & Mrs. Kalyani (all Bharatanatyam), and disciples of Ranganayaki Jayaraman (Sri Saraswathy Gana Nilayam), 27 November in Madras.
Pooja (Bharatanatyam), disciple of Saroja Vaidyanathan (Ganesa Natyalaya), 28 November in New Delhi.