Dance of the masses

You can always spot an Indian classical dance exponent from afar. The elegant poise, the crisp saree, and the doe eyes highlighted with kohl. Prateesha Suresh, Sattriya dancer and choreographer, walks into a city coffee shop where the writer is waiting to bombard her with questions on her dance festival at YB Chavan Auditorium on March 30.

(Left to right) Mohini Attam dancer Mandakini Trivedi, Odissi dancer Jhelum Paranjpe followed by Sattriya dancer and organiser of the festival Prateesha Suresh and Bharata Natyam dancer Anushree

Interestingly for the festival, which will pay tribute to Sankaradeva, Prateesha has brought together renowned dancers Mandakini Trivedi (Mohini Attam), Jhelum Paranjpe (Odissi) and Anushree (Bharata Natyam), who have created pieces in their respective dance forms based on the saint’s works. “These dancers will dance to the beats of the khol (percussion). I have invited players from Sri Sri Kamalabari Sattra from Jorhat, Assam,” says Prateesha, adding that this amalgamation will create something interesting. Along with these three, she will perform a traditional Sattriya dance as well. Ghazal singer Anup Jalota will sing Sattriya devotional songs or kirtans at the festival.

How it all began
Saint Sankaradeva introduced Sattriya, a classical dance form evolved in Sattras or monasteries of Assam in the 14-15th century. Based on the principles of Vaishnavism, it was introduced as a social reform for the common masses — a change from Brahminism. “It was a medium for devotion, which revered deities such as Krishna and Rama in the dance pieces,” explains Prateesha.

“They say William Shakespeare created one-act plays, but Sankaradeva’s Sattriya dance form also sees one-act plays way back in the 15th century. The name Sattriya is derived from the word Sattra, which means that what encompasses the truth,” says Suresh. Sattriya has similar swaying techniques as seen in Mohini Attam and Odissi but doesn’t have as many sharp tribhangas (the tri-bent posture). Suresh began learning the Sattriya dance form as a toddler and has also trained in Bharata Natyam from Kalakshetra. In 1989, she solely took up Sattriya dance.

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