In the year 2000, the Sattriya dances of Assam received recognition as the eighth classical dance form of India. This living tradition from the monasteries known as sattras has been practised for over 500 years by celibate monks. Created by the Vaishnava saint and social reformer Sankaradeva and his principal disciple Madhavadeva in the 16th century, it possesses all the elements of classical dance, following the principles of natyashastra. Today, it has moved to the metropolitan stage, performed by male as well as female dancers. Retaining its basic core of bhakti, it has metamorphosed into a form with high aesthetic appeal, as is evident from the rich visuals in this book.
Dance historian Sunil Kothari has visited sattras over several years, watching performances and documenting this dance form. The chapters reflect the voices of acknowledged scholars, gurus and practitioners from Assam, covering different aspects – the institution of the sattra, the dance-dramas known as Ankiya Nat and Bhaona, Ojapali dance, ground exercises and technique, abhinaya and the use of masks, the traditional repertoire, devotional songs, music and recent innovations. The concluding section features some leading exponents of Sattriya dance.
Sunil Kothari, the editor of this book, has written and edited several volumes on dance, including for Marg. He is currently editing a two-volume collection of the All-India Dance Seminar 1958 papers, for the Sangeet Natak Akademi (SNA). He participates regularly in dance seminars. Former Professor and Head of the Department of Dance, Rabindra Bharati University, Kolkata, and former Dean and Professor, School of Arts and Aesthetics, JNU, New Delhi, he has also taught as a Fulbright Professor at universities in the USA, and lectured in various countries. He has been honoured with an SNA award and the Padma Shri.