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Guru Ramkrishna Talukdar: A Torchbearer of Sattriya dance

 

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In the field of Sattriya dance, Guru Ramkrishna Talukdar is a name which hardly needs an introduction. A renowned choreographer and educator of Sattriya and Kathak dance, he is the first formal graduate degree holder in Satriya dance and music in the State. Besides being a renowned choreographer and teacher of Sattriya and Kathak dance, Ram Krishna Talukdar has been showcasing Assam’s famed Sattriya dance in various stages across the entire world for more than 40 years now. It can be said without an iota of doubt that his efforts towards the scientific study of this dance form paved the way for the official recognition of Sattriya dance as a classical dance form by the Indian government in 2000.

Trained under the Guru Shishya Parampara, he has spent an entire lifetime learning, as well as teaching the intricacies of Satriya dance to members of the new generation and has conducted several lecture-demonstrations/ workshops/ seminars in Sattriya dance – both in India as well as abroad. The first “A” Grade Artist in Satriya dance of Doordarshan, New Delhi, RamKrishna Talukdar was one of the first and very few Satriya exponents to undertake a scientific approach towards the study of this ancient dance form. Besides completing the five year B. Music degree from Guwahati University, he has also pursued a four year course in Nritya Visharad from B.S.V. Luknow, a two-year M. Music, Nrityalankar Diploma course from ABGMV Mandal, Mumbai and then a two-year Master’s Degree from IKS University, Madhya Pradesh.

Ramkrishna Talukdar was born at Bamakhata in the district of Barpeta in 1963 to late Gajendra Nath Talukdar and Dhaneswari Talukdar. He spent more than 25 years learning the intricacies of Sattriya dance under the Guru Sishya Parampara from doyens like Ananda Mohan Bhagabati, SNA awardee late Rosewar Saikia Barbayan, Padmashree Jatin Goswami and Padmashri Ghana Kanta Borbayan. Ramkrishna Talukdar has groomed several students in the art form through his institute, Nartan Kala Niketan, and his list of students includes dancers from other countries like Belarus, Japan, Kazakhastan, USA and France. In an illustrious career, both as an educationist and as a performer, he has produced more than 12 dance dramas and composed and choreographed around 30 dance numbers.

As an educationist, Guru Ramkrishna Talukdar has also authored the book, ‘Nrity Kala Darpan’, which is the prescribed course book for 10th standard students studying under the Secondary Education Board of Assam. He is also a member of the Srimanta Sankaradeva Studies department of Guwahati University, the Indian Council for Cultural Relations – Northeast region, under Ministry of Culture, and a member of the Expert Committee for Sattriya dance, Ministry of Culture, Government of India.

Recognising his immense contributions in the field of Sattriya dance, he has been felicitated and honoured by a host of organizations, like the Asom Sahitya Sabha, Asom Sattra Mahasabha and the like. He has been conferred with various titles by different socio-cultural organizations like “Asom Gaurav”, “Sangeet Jyoti Award”, “Nritya Ratna”, “Kala Gaurav”, “Nrityanjali Award”, etc. Earlier this year, his name was announced for the prestigious Sangeet Natak Akademi award to be conferred later this year.

I met the illustrious dancer and educationist at his residence in Guwahati to know more about his life and journey in the world of Sattriya dance. Following are excerpts.

  1. At the outset, please accept our congratulations for being named for this year’s Sangeet Natak Akademi Award. What were your immediate feelings when your name was announced for the award? Do you feel that the award should have come your way much before?

 Ans: I am definitely thrilled at receiving the Sangeet Natak Akademi award. Any recognitions or awards for that matter go a long way in encouraging performing artists like us to pursue with our passion. I have spent my entire life in the pursuit of Sattriya dance; in fact, I know nothing else apart from this dance. Growing up in Assam and being the first student to take formal training in Sattriya dance from Guwahati University, I have had to face a lot of humiliation on my decision to pursue dance as a career. Many people rubbed me off saying that I had lost my mind because of my decision to pursue dance. However, I am glad that I have been able to survive and establish myself in this chosen field.

Coming to your second question, I do not feel that the award has been late. In fact, I feel that the award came a bit too soon because now my responsibilities have increased manifold.

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2. You were born in Bamakhata of Barpeta district. Please share memories of your growing up days and how you got interested in the field of Sattriya dance.

 Ans: I was born to late Gajendra Nath Talukdar and Dhaneswari Talukdar in Bamakhata of Barpeta district September 4, 1963. Our house was located right opposite the Bamakhata Sattra and my entire family is involved with the Sattra. In fact, I belong to the third generation of the family involved with the Bamakhata Sattra. I was the fourth son among six brother and sisters.

My father was a renowkned folk artist of Kamrupiya and Goalpariya folk songs. Although he was not formally educated, he was an institution in his own right and possessed a lot of knowledge of the folk songs of that era. My mother, late Dhaneswari Talukdar, was a teacher in Bamakhata Sattra. My entire family members are involved in the Sattra in some way or the other.

3. Please tell us about your education.

 Ans: I passed my matriculation from Soukhuti High School and completed my higher secondary education from Bajali HS. During that time, the Assam Government decided to establish the first State Music College at Rabindra Bhavan. The Guwahati University prescribed the course for the same and in 1982, I joined the B.Music Course of the State Music College as its first student. That was the sole music college in Assam at that time. Of course, in 1982, Sattriya dance has not received the classical status that it enjoys today and it was taught as a folk tradition. Eminent scholar late Dr. Maheswar Neog was instrumental in setting up the college. He was of the opinion that Sattriya dance needed to be taken out from the Sattras and brought in the ambit of formal education so that this glorious tradition could be passed amongst the new generations. I paased out in first class as the first graduate in Sattriya dance.

The Directorate of Cultural Affairs then sent me outside to study classical dance so that I could find out why Sattriya was not being accorded Classical dance. I learnt Kathak in Luknow under my guru Sri Surendranath Saikia. After coming back, I was offered a job at the State Music College in 1992.

After that, I went to the Madhya Pradesh to study at the Indira Kala Vishavidyalaya, was the sole Music and Fine Arts University of India during those days. Students from all over the world used to come and study Hindustani music there but very few people in our State knew about its existence. I completed my Master’s degree from that university in 1997.

4. You were the first Sattiya exponent to study the dance in a scientific way. Please tell us about those days.

 Ans: As I mentioned, I was sent by the State Cultural Affairs department to learn Kathak dance in Luknow. My primary aim was to find out why our Sattriya dance was not able to receive the recognition of a classical dance form. While in Luknow, I realised that our Sattriya dance was not being taught in a scientific way. I found that compared to other classical dance forms, there was a difference in the theory and practical presentation of Sattriya dance. Experts like Dr. Maheshwar Neog were indeed presenting papers on the theoretical aspects of Sattriya dance but there was no dance expert who could practically explain those aspects through the medium of dance. I, through the Directorate of Cultural Affairs, tried to incorporate those aspects in modern stage presentations of Sattriya dance. I was lucky to be associated with luminaries like Ananda Mohan Bhagabati, SNA awardee late Rosewar Saikia Barbayan, Padmashree Jatin Goswami and Padmashri Ghana Kanta Borbayan, who first took the initiative to study Sattriya dance in a scientific manner.

We had to meet with a lot of controversy once we started teaching Sattriya dance in a scientific manner. Although my colleagues and office bearers of the cultural affairs department were confident of my capabilities, people outside, especially in the Sattras were hesitant to incorporate the new changes because they did not want to tamper with the originality of our dance form. But once Dr. Bhupen Hazarika became chairman of Sangeet Natak Akademic, it became easier for Sattriya dance to achieve classical status.

5. You have also authored a book…

 Ans: In 2004, I studied six classical dance forms. I underlined the reasons why our dance was not accorded the classical dance status despite it being a classical dance form. That book is now the prescribed course book for 10th standard students of SEBA.

6. What were the main steps you took towards the scientific study of Sattiya? Please tell us about your steps towards the popularisation of Sattriya dance.

 Ans: Having studied other classical dance forms and being a teacher of Sattriya dance, I realised that practice was crucial for Sattriya to be recognised as a classical dance form. While dancers practicing other dance forms would practice more than 8 hours a day, we could hardly find a Sattriya dancer who would practice for even an hour. I started the trend myself because I had to show the way to others. I began practicing the dance for more than 14-15 hours a day.

Besides I was the first A grade artist in Sattriya dance for Doordarshan. Then I took the initiative to produce video CDs on Sattriya dance for mass dissemination. Then we also created a website where people from all parts of the world could know about Sattriya dance.

7. Please tell us about your family.

 Ans: My wife and daughters are all involved with Sattriya dance. My wife Rumi Talukdar is an empanelled Sattriya artist with ICCR and has performed all across the world. My daughters have both received national-level scholarships from CCRT, under Ministry of Culture, Government of Assam, to study Sattriya dance.

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Musical delight in Guwahati

While March was harrowing and nerve-wracking for professionals and the business community on account of the closure of the financial year, the same month proved to be a delight for music connoisseurs living in Guwahati. Despite the increasing number of cultural and allied events that are organized in the city in regular intervals, the city hardly gets to witness music performances or concerts worth reckoning.

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But to soothe the blues associated with the financial closure, the city hosted two prolific music festivals last month, each within a short period from the other.

Sangeet Madhuri, a carnival of dance and music which was organized from March 11 to 13, was initiated by the Department of Cultural Affairs to make up for the lack of a classical music festival in the region. An open air concert held at the newly inaugurated Shradhanjali Kanan park, the festival featured many prolific musicians like Pt Hari Prasad Chaurasia, Ghulam Mustafa Khan, Manoj Baruah, Prabhat Sharma, Pragyan Baruah, Hem Hazarika and his son Subhankar, besides a host of other danseuses and musicians.

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Organized by a department that seems to lay more emphasis on theatrical productions and other performing arts, Sangeet Madhuri proved to be an earnest attempt by the directorate to reaffirm that music was still part of its agenda. Cultural Affairs director Shankar Prasad Kakoti Bora said, “Our effort is not only to make great Indian classical music performances by reputed artistes accessible to the people of the city but to also provide patronage and encouragement to young and talented artists.”

Hundreds of people were seen thronging the open air park during the festival, proving that the city indeed has a sizeable audience which appreciates quality music. And just while the enthusiasm of the people was settling down, another vocal and instrumental music festival was organized in the city that proved to be a treat for listeners. Organized by the Sangeet Natak Akademi, Sangeet Sangam or ‘Confluence of Music’ featured a host of well-known musicians from the Northeast as well as from outside. The event was spread over three days and it was special in the sense that in addition to the regular evening performances, it also featured a couple of morning sessions that enabled the audience to hear some of the later morning raags – a rarity in concerts held in the city.

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Sangeet Sangam was inaugurated by eminent Sattriya exponent and Padmashree and SNA awardee Jatin Goswami in the presence of Assam Satra Kendra project director Dulal Roy, flautist and SNa awardee Prabhat Sharma, violinist Minoti Khaund and Indian Art History Congress chairman Robin Choudhury.

The festival kicked off on the evening of March 23 at Rabindra Bhavan with a presentation by violinist Ashok Das of Agartala, whose performance echoed the style of his guru late Pt VG Jog. He was followed by Gulam Sadiq Ali Khan whose vocal recital was strongly rooted in the Rampur Saheswan Gharana. Having chosen Raag Anand Kalyan, Khan was accompanied by Kamal Sabri on the Sarengi and Pradyut Mishra on the harmonium.

The second and third days were both divided into morning and evening sessions. The first morning saw flautist Dipak Sharma and Satoor artist Pankaj Sharma engaging in a duet. They were followed by Paban Bordoloi and his group, which provided a stellar performance exploring the varied aspects of percussion. Later in the evening Vinayak Torvi captivated the entire audience with his vigour and powerful voice, while Hindustani vocalist Mandira Lahiri brought out the exuberance and joys associated with the current spring season in her kheyal. With Sabir Khan from Kolkata accompanying her on the tabla, the singer’s rich baritone was the defining feature of her performance.

Hindustani vocalist Jitendra Singh’s performance marked the beginning of the final day performance and the same ended with vigour in the form of a highly energetic recital by Purabayan Chatterjee. Marked by his trademark liveliness, Chatterjee was accompanied by Anindo Chatterjee on the tabla.