Assam's Classical And Vibrant Dance Tradition Of Sattriya Nritya

Sattriya is a 600 year old dance form that originated from the Vaishnavite monasteries of Assam
Sattriya dancers performing at Konark Sun Temple in Odisha
Sattriya dancers performing at Konark Sun Temple in OdishaShutterstock: Shaikh Meraj

The Sattriya Nritya is one of the eight major Indian classical dance forms. Sattriya originated in 15th century Assam by Vaishnava saint Srimanta Sankardev, who formalised the dance form to accompany the Ankia Naata – a one act drama which he also invented. The name 'Sattriya' comes from Assam's monasteries which are called sattras.

Assam has a long relationship with dance and art. Copper plate writings and art from the Shaivism and Shaktism traditions have been discovered, and the region's singing and musical traditions can also be traced back to the choral singing tradition for the Hindu epics Ramayana and Mahabharata.

In the year 2000, the Sattriya dances of Assam received recognition as one of the eight classical dance forms of India
In the year 2000, the Sattriya dances of Assam received recognition as one of the eight classical dance forms of IndiaWikimedia Commons: Ramesh Lalwani

Sattriya's origins are rooted in ancient theatre and musical literature, notably Bharata's Natya Shastra. Sankaradev is credited for utilising ancient scriptures and introducing drama and expressive dancing (nritya) as a type of communitarian religious art devoted to Krishna.

The sattras maintained severe discipline and devotion within their confines until the first decade of the 19th century. Male dancers alone performed the dance in a highly committed and spiritual manner.

Sattriya Nritya by choreographer Menaka P P Bora
Sattriya Nritya by choreographer Menaka P P BoraFlickr: Santosh Kumar - Sant's Fotos

In the second half of the 19th century, Sattriya Nritya emerged from the temple and reached the metropolitan stage. One of the main advantages in following the rules of the sattras has been the capacity to preserve its original form and distinct style.

Sattriya became famous and well-known after the Sangeet Natak Akademi, India's national academy for the performing arts, classified the dance form as one of the country's classical dance genres.

Sattriya dance by students of Ghanakanta Bora
Sattriya dance by students of Ghanakanta Bora Wikimedia Commons: Ramesh Lalwani

Styles And Techniques 

Sattriya's dance positioning differs from that of other classical Indian dances. Men adopt the Purush Pak position during the dance, while women employ the Prakriti Pak posture.

The dance honours several mythological creatures and characters and involves complicated positions and steps. Traditional Assamese music called borgeet is played during the performance.

A Sattriya Nritya dancer
A Sattriya Nritya dancerFlickr: Asit Jain

Sattriya dances takes inspiration from the indigenous folk dance tradition of Ojapali and Sankaradev's Ankia Bhaona. In all of them the lead vocalist performs while singing so they are known as abhinaya, or the art of telling stories.


The chadar, dhoti and paguri (turban) are male costumes. The female costumes include the chadar, ghuri and kanchi (waistcloth).

The sarees used in Sattriya dances are Assamese indigenous silks like the Pat Silk saree (also known as Paat), which depicts the locality via its vivid themes and decorations.

Assamese jewellery
Assamese jewelleryCopyright: Assam government

The dancing attire incorporates traditional Assamese jewellery called 'Kesha Xoon' or raw gold. Dancers wear silver jewellery called muthikharu and gam kharu (bracelets).

Sattriya Nritya Today 

Sattriya is a living tradition and ceremonial art conducted by monks in Assamese kirtan ghars (prayer halls). For decades the dance was kept within the gates of monasteries as a sacrifice to Krishna and until recently, women had little access to it. The dance is now performed by all genders.

The sattra culture, folktales, and the guru-shishya parampara (teacher student custom) ensured the survival of this dance form. In today's fast-paced world, digital technology and social media play an essential part in enabling dance groups to reach a bigger audience in a shorter period of time, whether through performances, instruction or research.

Related Stories

No stories found.
Outlook Traveller