Sattriya Dance of Assam


This paper titled-‘Sattriya Dance-The Living Tradition of Assam’ basically talks about two different aspects related to this dance form. In the first part of the paper, Sattriya Dance as a medium for propagation of Vaishnavism has been discussed. In this part, the prominent role played by Srimanta Sankaradeva to spread the message of Bhakti Movement by using an expressive dance form has been described. This part of the paper basically talks about how Sattriya Dance was used as a communication tool to spread the message of Vaishnavism among the different tribes in Assam.

In the second part of the paper, the rising popularity of Sattriya Dance due to the usage of different forms of media like Newspapers, Radio, Local Television channels, Internet etc have been described. Various examples have also been given where the prominent role played by the media in the promotion of Sattriya Dance can be clearly identified.


When we think of the beautiful state of Assam, the words that usually strikes us is ‘tea’, ‘Ulfa’, ‘Bihu’ etc.

But very few outsiders know that it is also a land of one of the exotic classical dances of India namely ‘Sattriya Dance’.

It is not just a dance or an art form which is used as a means of entertainment and fun. It is something which is much more than that and has always been part of Assamese culture and tradition. This research paper attempts to look at this dance form from two angles-Sattriya dance as a powerful medium for propagation of the Vaishnava faith and Sattriya dance and its rising popularity through the use of media.

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Sattriya Dance as a communication tool for the propagation of the Vaishnava faith in Assam

During the 15th century, Assam was the home of people belonging to different culture, tribes, religions etc. The majority of the people belonged to non-Aryan tribes and they had distinct culture, customs and religious beliefs. It was seen that many religious followers at that time used to indulge in evil practices like animal sacrifices, human sacrifices, magical rites, spells etc on the name of religion. As a result of this, many poor economically backward classes of people became victims of these horrendous practices.

There were religious conflicts and chaos all around. When Assam was going through this tough phase,Srimanta sankardeva appeared on the scene. Mahapurusha Srimanta Shankardeva was a saint-scholar, a spiritual leader, a social reformer, playwright and a very prominent figure in the cultural and religious history of Assam. He wanted to bring all the diverse communities of Assam under a systematized religious code by creating a religion which would bring new faiths, beliefs and abolish the trend of societal degradation and cultural distortion from the society.

So he started a social movement in Assam named as the Bhakti movement to create an egalitarian civil society based on the principles of fraternity, equity, humanism and democracy. Through this movement, Srimanta Sankardeva preached a monotheistic philosophy called ‘Ek Xoron Naam Dharma’ which reflects the idea that there is only one God for all of us. Now, in order to spread the philosophy of Bhakti movement throughout the state of Assam, Srimanta Sankardeva introduced Sattriya dance form and used it as a powerful medium for propagation of the Vaishnava faith.

Sattriya Dance is one of the classical dances of India which was originated in Assam. It is derived from the word ‘Sattra’ which means monasteries as it was earlier performed mostly in monastery kind of religious institutions. Rising popularity of Sattriya Dance because of the usage of media Even though Sattriya dance always had elements and features to become one of the Classical Dances of India, it was initially never considered as a classical dance. It was never put in the same pedestal as other classical dance forms of India. It was less popular as this art form was performed mostly within the walls of ‘Sattras’.

It was mainly due to the efforts of Srimanta Sankaradeva, Late Moniram Dutta Mukhtiar Barbayan and Late Raseswar Saikia that this art form became accessible to the common public of Assam. But here, we cannot deny the fact that media also played a very prominent and important role in the rising popularity of Sattriya Dances. METHODOLOGY The methodology that the researcher followed was basically based on secondary research. The researcher collected lot of information and data from various reliable sources like certain Websites, Articles, Newspaper stories, Journals etc.

Along with that, the researcher also did little bit of primary research by interviewing one of the very accomplished Sattriya Dancer named Mrs. Swapnali Chutia from Duliajan,Assam who provided with lot of essential information regarding the topic chosen by the researcher. After collecting all the information from these sources, the researcher analysed the data and came into conclusions that Sattriya Dance was very effectively used as a communication tool by Srimanta Sankardeva and the credit for its rising popularity can undoubtedly be given to the wonderful efforts made by media.

The questions that were asked to Mrs. Swapnali Chutia,an accomplished Sattriya dancer from Duliajan,Assam are as follows: 1. What was the main purpose behind creating this rich art form of Sattriya Dance by Srimanta Sankaradeva? 2. Why Srimanta Sankardeva wanted to spread Bhakti Movement in Assam? 3. What are the special features of this art form which makes it special and unique? 4. What are the efforts made by media in Assam to promote this dance form among people? 5. How can it be promoted in a better way? ANALYSIS

After scanning through all the information collected from various sources as well as the information received from the interview with Mrs. Swapnali Chutia,it can be said that Sattriya Dance is a very effective way to spread a message or a philosophy as more people come forward to watch these kind of dances and thereby gets influenced by the philosophy depicted by these art forms. It is entertaining as well as informative at the same time. Even though this dance form uses no narrations, it has many unique gestures and facial expressions which make this dance form very expressive.

Not only this, it also has the flavour of many regional tribes in Assam because of which this dance form has been successful in reaching out to many people. After interviewing Mrs. Swapnali Chutia,who is an accomplished Sattriya Dancer, the researcher found out the history as well the origin of this rich dance form. It can be said that Srimanta Sankardeva could spread the philosophy of Vaishnavi in Assam so successfully only because he created this Dance form as a part of his plays ‘Ankiya Naat’.

Otherwise it would not have been possible for him to bring so many people belonging to different tribes together under the common umbrella of Bhakti Movement. This dance form is so expressive that even without any narrations, with the help of only dancing, singing, footwork and hand gestures, it was able to spread the message of Bhakti. With the spread of this dance form, Srimanta Sankardeva united the various sects of Assam by establishing a universal social brotherhood of Neo-Vaishnavism.

Thus Sattriya Dance became a very important part of the Bhakti movement led by Srimanta Sankardeva. The initial steps that Srimanta Sankaradeva took to spread bhakti movement through this dance form was setting up of many sattras or monasteries including the kirtanghars or the prayer halls and the namghars or the community prayer halls in various places in Assam. The doors of these religious institutions were open to all irrespective of caste or gender as Srimanta Sankaradeva believed in the principle of equality. It is in these institutions where ‘Sattriya Dance ‘was performed.

This art form reflected the philosophy of Vaishnamism and when large scale of people came to see the dance, they got influenced and became part of the Bhakti movement. In this way, this dance form attracted a number of disciples, who followed Srimanta Sankaradeva’s preaching with great zeal and took the same to the common people. Slowly and gradually, Sattriya dance began to gain roots in the Assamese society. Seeing the growing popularity of the Bhakti Movement due to ‘Sattriya Dance’,Srimanta Sankaradeva established many more ‘Sattras’which became the nerve –centres of the Bhakti movement.

In a way, this dance form was responsible in giving birth to a new culture-‘Sattriya Culture’, which was immensely successful in moulding the Assamese society. Sattriya Dance as a dance form has lot of hastas or hand movements, choreographic patterns, distinctive costumes and a variety of masks which reflects the philosophy of Vaishnavism. The music mostly depends on the ‘Khol’, a drum associated with Vaishnavism. The Sattriya Dance basically extols the virtues of Krishna who was an important and popular focus of the devotional and ecstatic aspects of the ‘Bhakti Movement’.

In order to attract the different tribes residing in Assam, Srimanta Sankaradeva employed various techniques in this dance form. There are influences of Assam’s traditional and folk dances, sculpture and other images in Sattriya dance. Also the colourful cultural elements of different tribes such as the Mishings, the Bodos and the Deuris can be found in Sattriya. Many folk characteristics like hand gestures found in the dances of the Mishings, footwork and body movements in Bodo dances and the gait of the Deuri folk dance are present in Sattriya Dance.

In this way, Srimanta Sankaradeva introduced these indigenous elements of the Assamese culture in this dance form so that the natives of Assam could relate to this dance form and thereby gets influenced to follow the path of Vaishnavism. Thus we can say that Sattriya Dance proved to be a very powerful medium for the propagation of Vaishnavism in Assam. The second part of the research paper clearly points out how media have played a prominent role in promoting this dance form not only within Assam but also throughout India.

It can be seen that though because of media and various other kinds of promotional activities, this dance form was finally recognized as a classical dance form of India in 2001,it has still a long way to go as far as its popularity throughout India is considered. But at the same time we cannot deny the fact that different forms of media like Radio, Print, and Television etc are making efforts in every possible way to popularize this dance form throughout India. The problem lies in the fact that till now only Assamese media have made more efforts to spread this art orm. If the media belonging to various other states also come forward to promote this rich traditional dance, then it will surely reach out to more people and thus become more popular. In the recent past, different forms of media in Assam like Newspapers, Television, different other media organizations have really come forward to extensively cover this art form and make it more popular. The role played by media in making this art form more popular can be seen through various examples.

In the year 1988, Door Darshan organized a Sattriya dance performance based on the role of Shishu Krishna in Ankiya Nat ‘Pimpora Gusuwa’, which was directed by ‘Natasurjya’Ratna Ojah. One Devdasi Sattriya performance was made part of a T. V serial ‘Gunjan’ (Commission serial) in the year 2000. Sattriya dance was also part of a National Level VCD ‘Nandera Nandan’ which was produced and directed by Smt. Anjali Mahanta Roy Choudhury in the year2006. In the year 1999,Sattriya Dance was also made part of a documentary named ‘Masoloi Mature Batere’.

Indira P. P Bora is a very famous Sattriya dancer and also one of the two grade artistes of Doordarshan(Indian National Television Network). She had used the medium of television to promote Sattriya dance. She had presented many series of ‘National Programme of Dance’ on Sattriya in the Indian Television. She is still a regular performer of Guwahati,Chennai and Kolkata Television centres. She has also appeared in BBC television, Vision of Asia Television (USA) and in many foreign television channels where she had spoken about Sattriya dance.

Miss Prateesha Suresh who is a very acclaimed Sattriya Dancer had established a non –profit organization named as ‘Pratishruti Foundation’ in the year 2008 to promote and spread the richness of Sattriya in Assam as well as around the world. In one of the festivals organized by this foundation, media had played a very prominent role by presenting around 15 different artists who had come from places like Majuli, Guwahati etc to the common public through local channels and news-papers.

Along with that, several people from media also came forward to help this organization by conducting Seminars, Lecture-Demonstrations, and Cultural Shows, Dance festivals to promote Sattriya Dance in and around Assam. Media have also contributed immensely by designing several websites such as www. sattriya dance . com, www. sattriya. com,mridusattriya. blogspot. com based on this exotic dance form. These websites in a way helps in promotion of this art form by reaching to a large group of people. Media have not only promoted this dance form through the usage of Print or Broadcast communication.

It has also made Posters, Hoardings, Pamphlets, and Manuals etc to spread this dance form. Sri Ghanakanta Bora, who is one of the most eminent Gurus of Sattriya dance has written two books on this dance form-‘Mati Akhora’ and ‘Khol Sikhsa’. In this way, he used the medium of print to promote and preserve this dance form among the natives of Assam. Also Dancer Mallika Kandali had written two books based on Sattriya dance. The names are as follows- ‘Nrityakala Prasanga Aru Sattriya Nritya’ and ‘Sattriya Sanskritir Surabhi’. Radio is also not left behind in the promotion of this art form.

All India Radio, Dibrugarh airs a programme called as ‘Bhakti-neeti’ every morning where ‘Borgeet’ which is the main music of Sattriya Dance is played. Also the time when Sattriya Dance was not considered to be one of the classical dances of India inspite of having all the elements of a classical dance, All India Radio, Guwahati used to air a lot of programmes based on this issue like debates, seminars, speeches etc. It is mainly due to these efforts taken by the different forms of media that Sattriya Dance was finally recognized as a classical dance form of India on the 14th November of 2001 by Sangeet Natak Academy.

Sangeet Academy under the ministry of culture had launched a special project of support to Sattriya dance and all traditions since 2002. Under this project,many seminars on the subject of ‘Sattriya Dance’ as well as training programme of Sattriya Dance for children under eminent gurus was organized in different parts of Assam. It was media who came forward to support this project. The local newspapers covered the seminars,training programmes extensively. The local news channels also came forward to cover these events and thereby promoted this exotic dance form among the Assamese people.

Local newspapers have also played a very important role in the promotion of Sattriya Dance in Assam by publication of various articles related to this beautiful art form. For examples, the online edition of The Hindu newspaper had recently on February 27th, 2011 had carried one article titled ‘Sattriya Dance yet to get its due’ where Mallika Kandali, a famous Sattriya dancer had spoken about the preserving of the rich heritage of the ‘Sattriya Culture’. Also one more article titled ‘Sattriya’s spectacle’ was published in the online version of The Hindu ewspaper on May 27th,2011 where Madhavi Puranam had written a detailed review on a Sattriya performance held recently in the city of Guwahati. The Telegraph, Kolkata edition had also published an article titled ‘Sattriya exponent dies’ on the issues of March 27th,2011 where the journalist had written about the demise of eminent Sattriya dance exponent Mr. Ananda Mohan Bhagawati and his immense contribution in the field of Sattriya. In this way, different newspapers have played a role in the promotion of Sattriya Dance.

So we can say that media have really played a very prominent role in the popularization as well as in the promotion of this unique dance form called as Sattriya Dance.


Through this research paper titled ‘Sattriya Dance-The living tradition of India’, it is concluded that Sattriya Dance was very effectively used as a communication tool by Srimanta Sankaradeva and his disciples to spread the philosophy of ‘Bhakti movement’ among the various tribes of Assam. This dance form is based on the virtues of Lord Krishna who was a very important aspect of the ‘Bhakti Movement’.

In this way, with the usage of this dance form as a tool,Srimanta Sankardeva had influenced many different tribes in Assam to follow the philosophy of Vaishnavism. Through the second part of the paper, it can be concluded that media had played a very prominent role in making this dance form more popular in Assam as well as outside Assam. Different forms of media like Print media, Radio, Broadcasting media, Internet etc had contributed in their own way in promoting the richness of this exotic dance form.


  1. Das Mridusmita “Sattriya Dance,an Indian Classical dance that originated from the state of Assam’WelcometoMridusattriya. om25june,2011
  2. Tankha Madhur “Spotlight on Sattriya Dance “The Hindu 15 june, 2011< http://www. hindu. com/2006/07/15/stories/2006071503040200. htm>
  3. www. sattriya. com
  4. Ponmellil, V. A. “India-Sattriya dance”newkerala. com24 June, 2011< http://www. newkerala. com/india/Dance-Forms-of-India/Sattriya-Dance. html>
  5. www. sattriyadancecompany. com
  6. Lalwani Ramesh “Sattriya dance by students of Ghana Kanta Bora Borbayan-3”Flicker 25 June, 2011< http://www. flickr. com/photos/ramesh_lalwani/5083331177/>
  7. January 2011. http://en. wikipedia. org/wiki/Sattriya.
  8. Swapnali, Chutia. What is the origin of Sattriya Dance Meghna Devchoudhury. Tuesday june 2011.


1. The questions that were asked to Mrs. Swapnali Chutia,an accomplished Sattriya dancer from Duliajan, Assam are as follows:

  • What was the main purpose behind creating this rich art form of Sattriya Dance by Srimanta Sankaradeva?
  • Why Srimanta Sankardeva wanted to spread Bhakti Movement in Assam?
  • What are the special features of this art form which makes it special and unique?
  • What are the efforts made by media in Assam to promote this dance form among people?
  • How can it be promoted in a better way?

2. [Assam] Sattriya Dances must endorse Bhakti Ras Nava Thakuria Mon, 21 Jul 2008 06:36:39 -0700

Dear friends, Here is a news item for your information and use. Regards, Nava Thakuria Sattriya Dances must endorse Bhakti Ras Guwahati: The Sattriya dances must endorse the devotional character and Bhakti Rasa (spiritual aspect) should be predominant in this Nritya. More over, the gracefulness of the performers must be maintained during the performance, commented Dr PJ Mahanta, an authority on Sattriya Sanskriti.

Attending a media workshop on the appreciation of Sattriya dances in Guwahati Press Club on Monday (July 21), Dr Mahanta also maintained that media persons should have the authentic and comprehensive knowledge on the dance form before reporting the events related to the classical dace form. Mentionable that Sattriya Nritya is recognized as one of eight principal classical Indian dance traditions. Sattriya dance has been a living tradition since it its creation by the greatest son of the soil, Srimanta Sankardeva in the 15th century in Assam.

Sankardeva created the Sattriya dance to accompany the Ankiya Naat (a form of Assamese one-act plays devised by him) which was usually performed in the Sattras (Assamese monastery). One can find references of Sattriya Nritya are found in the ancient Indian classical texts like Natyashastra, Kalikapurana, Yoginitantra, Abhinayadarpana and also in various sculptures and historical relics. The other resource person of the workshop, Krishnamurti Hazarika has advised the journalists to continue reporting on the cultural activities with a sustained effort. He also emphasized on personal interaction of the journalists with the performers.

Anwesa Mahanta, a young Sattriya performer of Assam, presented few Bhangimas of the dance form. Nearly 20 journalists attended the workshop. The GPC secretary Nava Thakuria, while offering thanks to the resource persons, declared that the press club would organize a major media workshop, comprising journalists from all Northeastern states, on all the classical dance forms of the country in Guwahati.

3. K. PRADEEP |Indira P. P. Bora has reinvented `Sattriya Nritya’ and given it a new lease of life.

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Sattriya Dance of Assam
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