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Sattriya: The living dance tradition of Assam
- Nita Vidyarthi

February 11, 2015

This ready reckoner of Sattriya, the classical dance of Assam, is the first English version on Sattriya dance published by the Publication Board, Assam. The author, being a Sattriya dancer, critic and a scholar herself, is at her best in describing the striking features of the dance form together with its major aspects and historical background in easy, lucid language. Altogether, twelve chapters concisely cover the essentials of Sattriya, complete with a short glossary of terms, an essentially long bibliography and photographs at the end of the book.

At the beginning, a short discussion on the three basic styles of dance in Assam, viz. Devadasi, Ojhapali and Sattriya are followed by the information on the Sattra institution, Ankiya Nat or Bhaona, Sattriya dance and dances derived from theatrical representation and those independent of theatre. The evolution and Srimanta Sankaradeva’s contribution to the dance form has been dealt with very briefly in the second chapter.  Pages 32 to 67 are the  most informative and the author has, in a nutshell, stated the structural grammar or “Mati-akhora,”  the basic exercise patterns with which the Sattriya dance training begins in Chapter 3, supported by a list of names of these exercises, where to apply them with a few photographic illustrations.  Chapter 4 speaks of the major aspects of the dance form. But once again “Pada-karma”- footwork in Sattriya, in Chapter 5 and hastas or hand-gestures in Chapter 6 are the most enriching and useful parts of the book as they give an insight into the technique of the dance form both for interested readers and the learners.

The Shastric elements in angika of Sattriya discussed with respect to the description of body positions and body movements are instructive as well. Kandali gives attention to the music, literature and aharya (costumes and makeup) at the end, complete with a historical mapping of the initiative in the post independent period where she refers to the activities and initiatives by scholars and performers in popularizing and promoting this dance form of Assam. 

Photographs (mostly colour) of major gurus and dancers of Sattriya occupy the pages 113 - 120 at the end of the book. Of the many books and articles being published on Sattriya this one stands out for being able to convey the dance form in simple English with the necessary information in a lean, crisp edition. The same photographs in black and white in chapters 7 and 8 should preferably not have been printed again in colour at the end of the book. The front cover photo is attractive.

Sattriya: The living dance tradition of Assam
By Dr. Mallika Kandali
Jacketted, Glossy Hard Bound
120 pages
Publication Board, Assam
Price Rs. 400

Dr. Nita Vidyarthi is a critic of performing arts, specialising in dance, dance theatre and expressions and is a regular contributor to The Hindu, and the Statesman Kolkata in dance, vocal music and theatre. She is trained in Kathak, Bharatanatyam and Manipuri as well as vocal, semi-classical music and Rabindra Sangeet.

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