Despite being a trained Bharatanatyam dancer, Meenakshi Medhi’s connect with Sattriya drew her to her home state Assam’s classical dance tradition of Sattriya in 2003. Since then, the 28-year-old has been “single-mindedly” promoting the dance form, and also started ‘Satkara’, a society for engaging youth to the dance form of Sattriya.
Known for its Krishna-centered dance-drama, the 600-year-old dance tradition of Sattriya mostly comprises of a one-act play commonly called ‘Ankiya Nat’ where the dancers perform devotional play in a single scene. The major dance tradition created by saint-scholar Mahapurush Srimanta Sankaradeva traces its roots to ancient drama and music texts of India, particularly the Natya Shastra, and is known for its music, perfectly executed hand movements (hastamudras) , bright and dramatic costumes and make-up (aharyas), and dramatic expressions.
In an interaction with indianexpress.com at her recent performance ‘Satkara – Unleashing the Spirit of Sattriya’ with her ensemble for Impresario India in New Delhi, the danseuse shares about her vision, her love for the dance and the significance of connecting with the youth.
I am a trained Bharatanatyam dancer as well but the connect I feel with Sattriya is very different. Sattriya has its origins in my home state Assam, and I feel it’s my responsibility to take it to every nook and corner of the country, and also the world when the opportunity arises. I have been practicing the dance form single-mindedly and also have done a few events so as to promote the Sattriya culture. I have also established a society in 2013 by the name of Satkara which is engaged in propagating Sattriya and related art forms.
Despite India being diverse in terms of it’s dance cultures, do you think the ‘lesser-known’ dance forms still haven’t received their due?
India is a diverse country in almost every field and dance is no different. Out of the eight recognised major dance forms in India by the Sangeet Natak Akademi, Sattriya was only recognised in 2000, and as a result the level of awareness is less. It makes it equally tough to propagate it and actually compete with the other well-known major dance forms of India.
What do you think can be done to increase awareness about such dance forms?
There have been efforts to bring the lesser dance forms to the fore. I believe we need to put more efforts to bring Sattriya, in particular, to the front. I believe the government has a very critical role to play here as they can help in propagating the dance. An equally important role has to be played by the exponents. Workshops, demonstrations and performances have to be more regular across the country and has to spread across a diverse diaspora instead of limiting it to the the homogeneous group where the dance is prevalent. Like other dance forms, Sattriya too must be included in the NCERT and other national curriculum to reach out to the youth.
How has the interest of youth towards Sattriya been?
There is amazing response from the youth, at least in my home state for Sattriya. The interest of the youth is lacking in the other cities where the Assamese diaspora is lesser in number. I am making a conscious effort to change this and trying to introduce the youth in Delhi to Sattriya. I also run a Sattriya School in Mayur Vihar.
The one change you would like to see when it comes to Indian dance forms?
There should be more events for Indian classical dance forms. Classical dance forms are mostly non-commercial; hence there is a requirement that the artistes who put in a lot of blood and sweat into their performances be adequately compensated. This may happen through greater government and sponsor support.
How will you be celebrating World Dance Day?
We don’t have a specific performance on International Dance Day but I am travelling to Dehradun as a part of SPIC MACAY’s workshop demonstrations where we have introductory sessions in various schools to spread the knowledge about Sattriya and other related dance forms. This is an effective way of connecting to the youth of India and letting them know about the rich and diverse cultural and traditional heritage of the country.