Thursday, February 28, 2008

Assamese Dance forms

Bihu Dance

Bihu Dance

Sattriya Dance

Doshowotaar nrittya

Santhal dance

Rabha Dance

Bodo dance

Bodo dance

Karbi Dance

Dewdhani Dance

Deodhani dance

Jhumur Dance

Chali nrittya

Assam, an ancient and colorful land, is a rich playground of many linguistic, ethnic and religious societies that have lived in harmony for centuries. Various national and social groups have developed and prospered on their own within the geographical confines of Assam, but with distinct and major influences on one another. Several hundred languages and dialects are spoken in Assam and its neighborhoods, in a relatively small geographical area. Assamese is the easternmost Indo-European language (whose speakers range from Ireland in the West to Assam). There is substantial Hindu, Muslim, Christian and animist representation in the population of Assam. However, the Assamese and the Hindu religion are the dominant forces in Assam, and the influences of both permeate every aspect of the overall society and its cultural manifestations. Dances, devotional or otherwise, play a major role in enlivening and strengthening the cultural life of the society in Assam. There are many types of prevalent dance forms in Assam. Of the various dances in Assam, the Bihu, a folk dance with no religious connotation, is widely popular among all sections of the population. No movie in Assam is complete without a Bihu dance! There are several classical dances that have prospered in Assam through the centuries. However, until recently, the classical dances had not received the acclamation and acceptance they deserve, particularly among the wider audience outside Assam. The most prominent of the classical dance forms is the Xattriya or Satriya (informally pronounced Shot-tree-ya). This Web site attempts to give a picture of the dance landscape in Assam to people in India and the world.
Click on the link of your interest to get an overview of a topic of interest.

The dances of Assam can be categorized as:

1. Tribal Dances
2. Folk Dances
3. Classical Dances

A Tribal Dance is the visible rhythmic formulation or expression of the joys and beliefs of people once referred to as Aborigines. For such people, a dance is more than an expression of physical or emotional exuberance, something more than a form of mere entertainment. Dance is their religion. The dance depicts the society's successes in chase and victory in war, fertility in women and yield from the land, pacification of the elements and elemination of pestilence, protection from evil and fruition of love. Tribal dances of Assam include the Faarkanti Dance, the Chakhela Dance, the Wangala Dance, the Hmar Dance, the Kherai Dance, and the Karbi Dance.
Almost akin to Tribal Dances, but less ritualistic in content are the Folk Dances, which are varied and reflective of the day to day activities of the mass of the people.The most popular Folk Dance of Assam is the Bihu Dance. The Bihu Dance generally reflects the joys and merriment of life, celebrated specially during the springs. Several tribal communities like the Mishings, Deories and Morans also perform the Bihu in their distinctive styles, but the inner meaning is the same.
Bagurumba is the most attractive dance of the Bodo community. Girls dressed in colourful attires perform this dance in tune of Bodo traditional musical instruments.
The Deodhani dance is associated with the worship of the snake goddess Manasa. A Deodhani girl, in a inspired state, goes on dancing to the accompaniment of Kham (drum) and Ciphung (flute) propitiating many a deity beginning with Siva and ending with Lakshmi.
Another popular Folk dance of Assam is the Jhoomoor are generally perform by tea garden workers.The tea tribes have a synthesised form of dance called "Jhumur Nach", performed by girls and boys together, or, sometimes by the girls alone, with precision of footwork while clasping tightly each other's waist.

Classical Dances Of Assam

It is widely accepted that there is an inseparable relation between God and dance in Assamese culture. Assam has a very rich tradition of dance.
Bharata's Natyasashtra or the "Principles of the Dramatic Art" (circa 200 B.C.) mentions Assam's ancient traditions in dance in details. Natyasashtra deals with all that concerns the drama; singing, music, dancing, the use of different dialects, and so on. Natyasashtra specifies four different divisions of Natya - Dakkhinatya (the Decean or the Southern part of Modern India), Awanty , Panchalee or Panchal-Mdhyama, and Udra-Magadha. Out of these four , Udra-Magadh indicates the Eastern Countries. It is mentioned in the Natyashastra that Banga, Kalinga, Battchya, Udra, Magadh, Nepal, Maladh, Tamralipta, Mallawartak, Pulinda, Pragjyotishpur, Baideha, Mahendra etc followed the Udra-Magadha style. In time, Pragjyotishpur-Kamrup became Assam. Assam remained fiercely independent of India till the advent of the British, but became a part of British India when the King of Burma signed it over to India without asking the native Assamese.

Besides Natyasashtra, references to dances of Assam are found in other ancient Sanskrit books Joginitantra, Kalikapurana, Abhinayadarpana, etc. The existence of sophisticated forms of dance in Assam since the earliest times has been further corroborated by the discovery of the Nataraja figures (Dancing Shiva) carved in stone and the figure of dancing Ganesha. It is interesting to note that there is a vast difference between the famous Nataraja postures of South India and that of Assam.The Nataraja postures found in Assam is known as Lalita-Bhujanga, are also found in Ajanta and Elora caves near Bombay in Modern India. .The Nataraja in Assam has 10 hands and each hand holds different Ayoodh (a weapon and other instrument, for eg. the damaru, symbolises rhythm , lotus- the sign of peace, etc.), and it is the Nandi Bishava (the bull) upon whom Nataraja dances.
At least three different styles of Assamese dance can be categorzsed as classical, because elements of the Natyasashtra are found in these dances.They are namely:
(1) Sattriya dance
(2) Savaguwa and Rang-guwa Ojapali dance
(3) Dewgharar Dev-Natir Nritya
Out of these three different style, Sattriya dance has gained the classical acclamation in India only on 15th of November, 2000. The latness in this acclamation is a perfect example of how Assam and its neighbors in the Northeast have remained outside the mainstream of Modern India, politically as well socially.

The Bihu dance is a folk dance from the Indian state of Assam related to the festival of Bihu. This joyous dance is performed by both young men and women, and is characterized by brisk dance steps, rapid hand movement, and a rhythmic swaying of the hips in order to represent youthful passion. Dancers wear traditionally colorful Assamese clothing.
The Bihu dance is performed in conjunction with traditional Bihu folk music, played with: the "dhol", similar to a drum; the mohor singor pepa, a pipe instrument made from a buffalo horn; the tala, a cymbal; the gogona, a reed and bamboo instrument; and the toka, a bamboo clapper. The songs (bihu geet) that accompany the dance have been handed down for many generations. The subject of the lyrics ranges from welcoming the Assamese new year to describing the daily life of a farmer.

The dance takes several forms among the different northeast Indian tribes, e.g., the "Garo Bihu dance" and the "Khasi Bihu dance." However, the underlying goal of the dance remains the same: to express the desire to feel both pain and happiness.

Rongali Bihu competitions

In mid April, along with the onset of spring, falls the new year in the local calendar with the month of Bohag. Nowadays, during this period, there are Bihu competitions all over the Assam (as well as throughout the major locations with Assamese diaspora. These competitions attract visitors and locals alike in huge throngs. Apart from Bihu dance, there are competitions held to select the Bihu Konwori (Bihu Princess) and various singing talents.
At the end of the month of Bohag there is also the farewell to the month commemorated by numerous Bohagi Bidai functions.

Xattriya Dance of Assam

Though Xattriya Dance has its origin in religion and was practised and performed for centuries by celibate male monks in the Sattras, the Vaishnava monasteries of Assam, in recent years, it has been adapted for stage performance. The major part of the academic and scholarly cultural world is still ignorant about this dance due to lack of proper documentation. The Xattriya dance form was started by the 15th century Vaishnavaite saint and social reformer Mahapurush Srimanta Shankardev. Mahapurush Shankardev was a singer, dancer, music composer and a poet. His works, creativity and involement in every field of human activity ushered a new cultural and spiritual renaissance in Assam.

Like the other classical dance forms in India, the Xattriya dance has also its own distinctive characteristics. For example, the first position of Xattriya is called 'ORA', it is of two types Tandava (Vigorous) and Lasya (Elegent and Graceful). This 'ORA' is called 'Aramandi' in Bharatanatyam dance of Tamil Nadu of South India and 'Soak' in Odissi dance of Orissa. Over and above, in Xattriya the Griba Karma (the movement of neck), Dristy (eye movement), Pada Chalana (foot movement), Bhramari or Paak (the circular movement of the body) etc., are note worthy. The Hasta (hand gestures) are very beautifully described in Suvankara's 'Srihastamuktavali'. There are six types of Angya (Limb), six types of Pratangya, six types of Upanga (Lower limb), nine different types of Gati (gait or movement), eight types of Dristy (eye movement), sixtyfour types of Karana (Matiakhora or Exercises), ninetypes of Shirakarma (Head movement), four types Gribakarma are found in Sattriya dance.
Putola Naach: Puppetry

It is not known when the art of puppetry first made its appearance in Assam. The puppet theatre was prevalent before Sankaradeva, the great fifteenth-century savant of Assam, thus taking it back at least to the early fifteenth century. The puppet shows were called Tatak-tatak Natak with a class of showmen, designated by such terms as Tetekiya and Bajikar (magician), who specialised in the art of animating puppets with the help of Yantra (mechanical devices).
The string puppet of Assam is known as Putala Natch (Putala meaning doll and Natch meaning dance). The puppet theatre is more popular in lower Assam, while fairly competent troupes have been working in Nowgong and other upper Assam districts, including Satras (hermitages).
The puppets are made of solapith or some soft wood by joining together different parts forming the head, torso and limbs with the help of cloth. They cover the head and hand with a paste of clay and cow dung, and colour them. Some puppets have joints in elbows but no legs. The lower portion is normally covered with cloth so that, while manipulated, the figures glide smoothly along the floor of the stage. The size of the puppets varies from 1 foot to 3 feet.
Most of the troupes still perform mythological themes and epic stories. Commonly the same figures serve for more than one role. There are also animal figures of various kinds, and some of them appear as mounts of the gods and goddesses. Stage props like thrones, chariots and boats are used with painted background scenes. Rama and Krishna are painted light blue and their consorts are light yellow or pink, while demons and other evil characters are deep green or blue.
A puppet group consists of at least five persons. The key person is the leader of the chorus called the Bayen, Sutradhar, or Oja. He is the producer, director and co-ordinator of the show. The other two are his helpers or Jogali, or Bhari. The chorus sit in front with Khol (drum) and one or two cymbals. Nachua (manipulator) remains behind the screen.
The stage is small and simple. A frame is put up with a few bamboo posts. Within this frame, a small platform, measuring about 10 to 12 feet in length and 3 to 4 feet in breadth, is raised on one side at a height of about 3 feet from the ground. Three sides of the frame are covered other than the platform side. Upper and lower portions are covered with screens, leaving a space of about 3 to 4 feet open along the length of the platform. At the back of the platform is another screen, normally black, standing about 4 feet, behind which the manipulators stand either on the ground or on a low bench and are not visible. A bamboo stick called Kathi achieves control. A manipulator can easily manipulate two puppets with two hands, but an expert player can handle up to 4 to 5 puppets at a time! The speeches are made in a high-pitched, squeaking sound by a Pyapa (whistle) made of bamboo frame with a leaf or rubber membrane. The leader enters into a conversation with the characters speaking in a shrill voice in a skilful manner.
A traditional show starts with the playing of special rhythmic patterns singing of Vandana (invocation) and other special songs. Then come Kalu-Bhelu or Kalua-Bhelua : two puppets who sweep the stage floor. Often a modern-looking figure, called Chengra or Mastan, not only indulges in horseplay but also passes social comments. Nowadays, even many traditional and semi-traditional troupes are given to the influence of the extremely popular mobile theatre and are starting their shows with short dance-dramas in place of the conventional preliminaries.
Generally, 500 to 700 people come to see a show and audiences like to see mythological plays. Rich persons or management committees of the village-fairs sponsor the shows. They go to other states to perform their plays. Sometimes they have ticket system in fairs. Women generally do not take part. Using folk tunes, they play themes like Rama Banabas, Sita Haran, Bali Badh, Sita Swamvar from Ramayana. Characters enter from the left side and exit from right. Sometimes thrones and chairs are used for the set.

One group has 80 to 90 puppets, with each puppet used for many characters. Sutradhar, joker, dancer, dholak player and kartal player are present in all plays. They keep the puppets in back-stage in a sequence. They have one puppet Tadaka (demon) whose neck can be long. They keep each puppet in the bamboo box and hang it on a pole. Occasionally, troupes take up stories from Mahabharata, Bhagavata and historical episodes like Sati Behula, Sati Jaimati, etc. Modern troupes perform all kinds of themes including old classics, romances and fantasies.
The art is hardly ever a purely family business. They are at best semi-professionals who earn a little extra cash, now and then, from their performances. It is true that normally the economic status of the puppeteers has been rather low. They are invited to perform on such occasions as village fairs and in festivals and also rarely on occasions like marriage ceremonies. The winter season, when the farmer-artists are free from their agricultural chores, is the best time for the puppet shows.


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