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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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ICCR Northeast Music and Dance Festival held

Northeast India is known for its rich and varied forms of culture and traditions. Blessed with a number of ethnic groups and communities, the region boasts of tremendous richness in the field of arts as each and every community practices their own art forms which are indigenous to them. Northeast India is thus the very epitome of India’s much hyped ‘Unity in Diversity’ tag.

Art and culture – be it performance or aesthetic – is a mirror of social change and also the bond which unifies people. The people of the northeastern State are different in their traditions and practices but it is these art and cultural forms which bind them with one another.

In order to celebrate the diversity of northeast Indian folk traditions, the ICCR in a collaboration with the NEZCC organized a mega Northeast Music and Dance festival in the city recently. Held from July 12 – 15, a number of stellar performing artists from all over the Northeast participated in the four day festival

Inaugurating the festival, State Cultural Affairs Minister Pranati Phukan said, “A number of musicians and performing groups from different parts of the Northeast have gathered here in Guwahati for the four-day festival, which I am sure will give voice, form and expression, to a considerable extent, of the many indigenous folk arts practiced across the seven sister State. This is sure to go a long way in fostering the bond of unity and brotherhood amongst the people of the Northeast as we a get a chance to appreciate the richness and vibrancy of each other’s cultural traditions”.

The inaugural day of the festival was dominated by a Satriya dance performance and tribal folk dance performances from Nagaland. The tranquil rhythms of the Aye Kuzule (Cotton Spinning song of Nagaland) to the energetic tandab of Satriya recital was one of the many instances that provided a glimpse into the breathtaking diversity of traditions, which yet blended beautifully in the Shilpgram auditorium. The second day was devoted to Mizo folk performances and a tribute to late Dr Bhupen Hazarika by Mitali De and Rupam Talukdar.

The third day provided a glittering display into the folk dance traditions of Assam and Arunachal Pradesh. Presented by the Asom Sanskritic Mancha, Assamese dancers performed Bihu, Barat, Hamzaar (Rabha folk dance), Lewa Tana (Mising Bihu), Kahi Naach, Japi Naach, Pepa Badan, Lorar Lahori Naach. Meanwhile, Adi dancers from Arunachal Pradesh presented different dances of the Adi Ponung tribe.

The last day was devoted for musical performances. Popular folk fusion band Northeast Breeze, led by Rupam Bhuyan, and funk experimentalists Bluetooth performed on the occasion.

Experiencing Satriya in a new way

Satriya dance, a classical dance form of India, developed sometime in the 15th century at the initiative of great Vaishnavite saint and social reformer Srimanta Sankardeva. The Satriya dance form borrows its emotional thrust from Ankiya Bhaona theatrical traditions without forsaking its traditional moorings. Though Satriya dance has now traversed from the Satras to different corners of the entire globe, it has not forsaken its meditative character. It evokes a message of universal peace and harmony, just like Sankardeva’s preachings ushered in an era of renaissance; its unique blend of morality, simple philosophy, religion, poetry, music and dance empowering every being to free the shackled ‘jeeva’ or soul.

Keeping with the spirit of experimentation and innovation going on with the dance form, Vedajyoti Ojha – a spirited classical dance soloist and choreographer – has conceived and launched an Arts antiquity project, entitled ‘Satriya Heritage Project. Under this project, different dimensions and facets of Satriya traditions, like instrumental music, theatre and stage props can be used for traditional and contemporary interpretation of the dance form.

The first session of this project, ‘Noble Rhythms and Melodies: Experiencing Satriya through Mridanga and Sarinda’, was presented at the Vivekananda Kendra Institute in Guwahati last week. In this project, the traditional but no so popular rhythmic instrument, Mridanga, and the forgotten string instrument, Sarinda, have been introduced into mainstream Satriya dance by Vedajyoti in collaboration with musicians Bhaskar Jyoti Ojha (Mridanga) and Prasanta Kumar Choudhury (Sarinda), thus enriching Satriya repertoire.

The basic aim of the Satriya Heritage Project is to establish the Mridanga as a major rhythmic instrument in addition to the Khol. At present, no indigenous instruments have been used either in the Satras or other Vaishnava institutions, including Satriya dance music. The Sarinda is sure to fill the void of a stringed instrument in Satriya dance music, which was greatly felt till now.

Vedajyoti claims the Satriya Heritage Project to be an original concept carried out in close consultation with Nrityacharya Padmashree Jatin Goswami. She says, “This is the first time in the history of Satriya dance music that such a work has been attempted. The entire project has been documented through dance notation and digital music technology”.

Vedajyoti Ojha is a fulltime dancer who ameliorates her artistic realms through creative choreography, expressive dances, seminars and workshops. Based in Houston (USA), Vedajyoti is immensely committed towards performing Satriya dance and exploring innovative elements for presenting Satriya as a classical dance form within its traditional framework. She envisions herself as one who can create bridges – between culture and people.

Vedajyoti’s tutelage in classical dance vocabulary started at the age of five years under the tutelage of Guru Indira PP Bora, who is a highly acclaimed Indian classical dancer and choreographer and also a recipient of the prestigious Sangeet Natak Akademi Award. She received initial training in Satriya under Guru PP Bora and Sri Bhuban Bora. She has also received intensive training in Satriya dance under Sangeet Natak Akademi awardee Nrityacharya Pandit Jatin Goswami. Vedajyoti has performed in various cities of India and abroad with Guru Indira PP Bora and her troupe – Kalabhumi Dance Company – and also as a soloist. Persistent encouragement from her mentors to ascend from the purview of her dance education to different genres of traditional and classical dance forms has inspired Vedajyoti to actively associate herself with practical research, innovative presentation and performance of a 560-year old living dance tradition. Extensive study trips to India have put Vedajyoti I touch with the contemporary and traditional interpretations of Satriya. She delves into the changing dynamics of Satriya – checking out the current trends with her dance gurus. With these experiences and guidance from her mentors, her roots and insight went deeper, expanding her repertoire of the traditional and contemporary developments in Indian dance.