• Prateesha Suresh


Sattriya Art is a great treasure handed down to us by Gurujona - Mahapurush Srimanta Shankardev. Due to his vision, we have been able to find our respectful place in the world of arts. For centuries the art was sacredly practiced within the precincts of the Sattra. However, today this has found its place in classrooms and in our households. Over the past five hundred years, society and lifestyles have undergone many changes. Today we are faced with the challenges of practicing an ancient art form in the modern times. Young dancers and musicians are faced with many questions.

Once a young dancer completes his/her basic education there seem to be road blocks for them to further their career. In this respect creative growth is very essential for an artist. In the olden days the “guru-shishya parmpara” had helped in creative growth. The mentor would encourage his protege to create and grow as an artist. Sattriya followed the same pattern which helped the disciples compose dance, music and plays thereby enriching the arts.

Creativity and skill are the two major factors in any art form. The two complement each other where one without the other becomes meaning less. Creativity is the mental capacity to generate novel and useful ideas. In turn, skills help in converting these ideas into works of art. While educating ourselves in any art form we learn the skills of that particular art but to become an artist in our own right we have to also learn to think creatively. World famous artists - painters, playwrights, musicians - have contributed to the world of art with their creative genius. Shakespeare is considered the greatest dramatist in the English language, Michelangelo was the greatest sculptor of his times, and Leonardo Da Vinci was a polymath who was a master of various arts. Shakespeare, Michelangelo and Leonardo Da Vinci belonged to the medieval times - 15th/16th Century. Shankardev also belonged to the same period and did similar revolutionary work in Assam. Today as artists from Assam, we have to understand and take inspiration from him to become creative artists.

Let us look at the various work done by Shrimanta Shankardev. They are as follows;

One Act plays based on Bhagavat, Ramayan, Purans Music - Borgeet, BhatimaReligious writings - Kirtan, Dasam, etcInstruments - Khol, Negera, TaalsPaintings - manuscript paintings, backdrops to performances (Chinha Yatra)Mask making - for use in the playsWeaving - Vrindavani VastraDances

From the above we can see that through his creations Shankardeva created a style, a School of Arts. The common feature throughout is the sentiment or philosophy of Bhakti. His disciples contributed to this school through their creations of plays, songs, paintings, mask making or weaving. Madhavdeva was the foremost in all the creative work in this school. He is followed by Damordev, Bhattadev, Gopaldev and many others who have contributed immensely to the Sattriya School. It was a common understanding that disciples would practice the arts and contribute in their own way with various writings and compositions. Shankardev was known for encouraging his disciples to do so. He believed in collective effort. He had the foresight and sharp observation to know what each disciple was good at. So, he would encourage Madhavdev in composing literary work, dances, music, etc. He would encourage others in manuscript paintings and mask making. He took the expertise of Gopal Ata and Mathuradas Budha Ata in weaving the Vrindavani Vastra. Later the Vrindavani Vastra became a style of weaving.

As Sattriya artists it is essential to follow the path of these great disciples in contributing and enriching the art form. The two essentials in this art form as I see it are “style” which is where the skill comes into play and “content” where-in creativity comes into play. In the olden days the main purpose of the Sattriya School was to spread the philosophy of Bhakti. In those times this was essential to bring cohesiveness to the society which was infested with caste system and other divisions. Therefore Shankardev took one and all under the umbrella of Bhakti where the divisions of the society were minimised. Today we have a different set of challenges in our society. We can address these issues through the medium of our art. This not only helps us in our creative thinking but also brings the artist and the audience closer to each other. While creating such content we can resource the same either from old texts or modern writing. Here the content takes precedence. This also helps the art form to be a flexible tool and become a rich style in communication.

Since Sattriya has come out of the Sattra, it is important to establish the “style” and enrich the “content” in days to come. However it is also important to support the sattras in preserving the art form in its sacred state since there is always the fear of losing tradition. As artists we have the dual role of preserving the foundation and growing the art form. However we can not do everything alone. This is a collective effort. A single artist may not have the skill of all the arts. Just as Shankardev had the vision and employed the skills and creativity of his disciples to create an extraordinary School of Art, it would be ideal if we came together and collaborated to this art form with our particular expertise.

The time has come now to have discussions, brainstorm ideas, think creatively and bring about a collective effort to make Sattriya relevant to the modern times. The young artists of today can play a big role in this regard. When we choose an art form we also take on the responsibility to preserve as well as contribute to the legacy of the art!

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