Annual festival of dance and music by sangeet sattra 2022
The annual two-day dance and music festival 2022, together with the 12th and 14th Rasheswar Saikia Barbayan Sattriya Award Ceremony, 2020 and 2022, was organised by the prestigious Sattriya Institution Sangeet Sattra, at the Sri Sri Madhabdeva International Auditorium, Guwahati.
The founder and principal of Sangeet Sattra, the erstwhile Muktiar of Kamalabari Sattra (monastery), Rasheswar Saikia Barbayan, was a crusader of Sattriya. With a pioneering mind on whose sagacity of the sattra tradition and visionary insights rested, the future course of the Sattriya culture includes Sattriya dance, devotional raga-based songs (Borgeet) and drama (Ankiya Nat or Bhaona). Untiring efforts of Rasheswar Saikia and other intellectuals, with the persistence of the great scholar, Professor Maheswar Neog, led a movement championing the cause of this art form which was confined within the bhakats (devotees) in the sattras for worship to their deity, by imparting their knowledge of music and dance to dance lovers outside. Rasheswar Saikia Barbayan displayed a revolutionary initiative and took a bold step forward to teach women the dance form for which he was expelled from the sattra. And this was a boon in disguise.
The dance world in Assam, in the country and outside are indebted to Rasheswar Saikia Barbayan for bringing the intricate form of classical dance, possessing some rare qualities of its own, based on some principles of Natya Sastra, from the Kamalabari Sattra, for the first time to the world outside. He was the main person behind the establishment of the pioneer institution Sangeet Sattra, where Sattriya dance and music are practised and taught as an art form with a stipulated curriculum without ignoring its core devotional aspect. His unstinted dedication and persuasion was also motive for getting a classical status for the dance form. The seed in the form of Sangeet Sattra that he had sown has been nurtured with great care by two of his dancer-daughters, Ranjumoni Saikia and Rinjumoni Saikia, blossomed and flourished with more than 280 centres all around Assam and several others abroad.
As a mark of respect for this great maestro, an award was instilled in 2009 by a group of art lovers of Assam. From 2013, Sangeet Sattra continued the coveted award presentation to persons who contributed immensely to the development of Sattriya and Indian art and culture traditions.
The awardees honoured this year were Sonaram Sarma Burabhakat, Nita Vidyarthi and Kalavati Devi (recipients of 2020), Pradip Jyoti Mahanta and Sharodi Saikia (2022).
The invocatory Borgeet by students of Sangeet Sattra and the ritualistic inauguration with pushpanjali to the photograph of guru Rasheswar Saikia by dignitaries, awardees, daughters and officials of Sangeet Sattra ushered in the performance segment. The festival does not restrict to Sattriya culture but encourages other classical forms.
Well-known dancer Meenakshi Medhi and group from New Delhi began with a harmoniously executed Gosai Pravesh nach. Meenakshi Medhi won audience appreciation for her mature and involved abhinaya in her solo piece, Vishnu Vandana. This was followed by an undiluted and pleasing display of the gamut of the elements of Kathak and its essence by Aligunjan Kalita Mudiar, her sister Chandrani Kalita Ojah and her well-trained students. Fine footwork, good layakari, precision in the nritta segment, and the soothing pastel green-blue colour of the costume made for an enjoyable experience. In the item on nature, the ‘jhoola’ number Barkha ki ruth ayee jhoola jhoolungee appealed for its graceful rendition and imaginative choreography set to the lilting melody of the kajri. Aligunjan and Chandrani impressed with their technical prowess, grip on rhythm and clarity in the duet.
The final presentation of the evening was the well-crafted Ankiya Nat or dance-drama Keli-Gopal (the playful Lord) or rasa-kreeda, penned by Saint Sankaradeva and deftly staged by the senior students of Sangeet Sattra. Ankiya Nat or Bhaona draws upon a distinct technique and repertoire of its own. The language used is Brajawali (a blend of Assamese, Avadhi, Braja) with Sanskrit, and the theme is from Bhagavata Purana. The scenes or sequences were described with katha (prose), geeta (song), sloka (Sanskrit verses) and bhatima (panrgyric hymns).The vivid, and dramatic presentation of Sattriya by the dancers did not at any point deviate from the set eight distinctive dance items. Beginning with an opening musical repertoire gayanbayan or ganika or yora, followed in order sequentially by sootradhari-nach,(prologue), gosai (here, Lord Krishna) nach, gopi or maiki-nach, bhawariya pravesh-nach,yuddhar-nach,Geeta-sloka-bhatimar-nach and finally bhangi-nach.
Keli-Gopal is a phantasmagoria and gentle portrayal of romanticism, idealism fantasy with the divine dalliance of Krishna and the gopis. Love for God is the supreme theme of this play. Smitten by the Lord’s flute and charm on a moonlit night of Sharad poornima on the banks of river Yamuna, the gopis gather around him for the Rasleela. Krishna disappears suddenly but returns to the relief of the anxious girls, and all of them dance in the rasa-mandala. Thereafter they go frolicking in the Yamuna for several nights when the demon Shankasura attacks the girls. Krishna kills the demon. The scene was energetically displayed with yuddar nach (battle dancing), a combination of pure dance and mime and was enjoyed by the audience. Even though Ras is not a common item in Sattriya dance but has been incorporated in the Keligopal play of Sankaradeva for its contextual existence.
The final Ras dance of Krishna with the gopis was a beautiful sight where song, music, dance, and drama came to a confluence and the entire dance–drama was interspersed with the geeta-sloka-bhatimar nach. In this elegant amalgamation where the words were the inspirational basis of the work, mostly lasya elements in the dance predominates and contributes to its visual delight. The large number of actor-dancers showed wonderful teamwork without any cluttering on stage and gave their best. The narrator or sootradhar who takes entry at the beginning and concludes the drama plays a pivotal role and is a fine mature dancer with compelling expressiveness. The dramatic spectacle closed with a customary kharmanar-nach and a final frieze creating a stunning visual masterpiece.
Bright shimmering costumes, skilled and graceful dancing, good dynamics by a large number of dancers (as gopis), convincing acting, and melodic singing created an ethereal effect that made for a gratifying viewing experience. Rishikanya, in the role of Krishna, stood out for her shining execution.
This successful production was directed by Paramananda Kakaty Barbayan of Titabar (also on the harmonium) with the support of Krishnakamal Goswami and Narendra Khataniar Bargayan for the Borgeet, geeta (songs) were by Prangopal Das, with Dhrubajyoti Pathak on the daba (kettle drum). The credit also goes to the musicians and teachers of Sangeet Sattra, Ranjumoni and Rinjumoni Saikia for the imaginative choreography.
The second evening was essentially a Sattriya segment, and students of Sangeet Sattra opened with an impressive recital of khol badan led by Arunabhjyoti Malakar. Sattriya dancer Juri Das’s understanding of the dance form and underlying nuances of the Borgeet, Sundar Gopalam kadambatoley with extremely graceful movements was limited to the lyrical but nonetheless real. Her chaali accompanying the song by Madhavadeva also needs special attention for the movement aesthetics and rhythmic character of the work.
Naren Baruah is a seasoned Sattriya dancer who is a cut above the average male dancers and drew attention for his rendition of Krishna Vandana, which was soaked with devotion. The Rajagaria chali was matchless as its extended texture of the rhythmic part was enriched with his understanding of Sattriya.
Gopal Chandra Bordoloi and group began with the Ramdani part of the Nandi sloka of Kalia Daman play. The uncommon Lul lua and Sattriya nritya set to Megha Shymala, Jai jai jadukula Kalia damana captivated the audience. The Jhumura nritya, with its masculine character, was distinctive and enjoyable, as was its Ramdani nritya part. The young learners gave a good account of themselves in mati akhora—basic exercises.
Seasoned Bharatanatyam dancer Tatini Das and the group of three dancers began with the popular padam Krishna nee begane baro set to raga Yamunakalyani and tala misra Chapu in which the depiction of the viswaroopa darsan would remain etched in one’s mind. The solo Devi Stuti set to raga Revati, Adi tala by Tatini saw her as a powerful, agile dancer with sharp teermanams and technical prowess in an undiluted impactful style. In the Kali stotra, Hum hum humkarey Kali korali namostutey, the flashes of gruesome expressions with frightening details of the stotra standing out in burnished clarity portrayed the expressional felicity of a consummate dancer winning over the audience.
As always, the festival closed with an offering of pure dances by different groups of students of Sangeet Sattra.
As a bonus after the festival was the exciting drive of 45-minutes from Guwahati across the historic huge Saraighata Bridge over the Brahmaputra to the branch of north Guwahati Auniaati Sattra, where a young bhakat – Atul Bhuyan showed around the sprawling lush, well-kept compound of the monastery and its different functional wings. Situated on a slightly elevated plane beside the Brahmaputra, the rustic beauty and serenity enhanced the religious atmosphere. While entering the prayer hall from one side, to the altar of Radha-Krishna in front, the silence and the soft prayers of the monks from the opposite side and a slight gaze to the visitors did not tarnish the sleepiness of the hall.
Atul showed us the residential area of a row of rooms with asbestos roofs beside a long corridor. Atul’s room spoke of simple living under strong conditions with the bare necessities but some with modern amenities—the fan and lights, a laptop. A bed with a mosquito curtain, a chair and piles of books on a table occupied the ante-room. The attached kitchen was a tiny space. In the main room were several khols, the percussion instrument used for singing and dancing. Portions from the set of Ankiya Bhaona were hanging from its roof. One could see a huge ‘bakasur’ peeping from one part and Kalia, the five-hooded snake, from the other.
Atul is an exhaustively trained khol player and a dancer who performed widely also for state-level functions. Bhakats seem to be gradually looking for some openings, and the sattra culture appears to be on the wane. Social conditions may be the reason for the change that is felt in this very basic sattra as fewer young boys are joining the sattras.
While walking around the compound, the philosophy and the religious ambience do influence and linger long after one leaves this first-time visited monastery of a different kind—the sattra.
PHOTOS COURTESY: RANJUMONI SAIKIA
SATTRA PHOTOS: NITA VIDYARTHI AND ATUL BHUYAN