Thursday, July 18, 2024

A Conversation with Ramkrishna Talukdar – Renowned Classical Dancer

Among the major Indian classical dances, one is Assam’s beautiful Sattriya Nritya or ‘Sattriya Dance’, which was originally by Srimanta Sankardev. This 500-year-old dance form has been practiced and spread throughout the years by a handful of dancers and scholars. One of the most prominent names in the field of Sattriya dance is Guru Ramkrishna Talukdar, who is a dancer, choreographer and educationist in Sattriya Dance. He is the first person of Assam to achieve ‘A grade accreditation’ in Sattriya dance from the Doordarshan, Delhi. He wrote a book named ‘Nritya Kala Darpan’ which is acknowledged by the Board of Secondary Education (SEBA) as their textbook. He is the recipient of over many awards such as the Sangeet Natak Akademi President Award 2017, the Dr. B.R. Ambedkar award, in 2005 by Rastriya Dalit Sahitya Academy, New Delhi. RamKrishna Talukdar has been working in the field of Sattriya dance in various ways for over forty years. He himself has been trained under the Guru Sishya Parampara. His students include dancers from foreign countries too, like Belarus, Japan, Kazakhstan, USA and France.

Born in the year 1963 to Late Gajendra Nath Talukdar and Late Dhaneswari Talukdar, he has received immense recognition over the years for this contribution to the field of Sattriya Dance. Talukdar has been felicitated and bestowed with various titles by many renowned organisations as well, and some of the titles are- Asom Gaurav, Sangeet Jyoti Award, Nritya Ratna, Kala Gaurav, etc. He has received the prestigious Sangeet Natok Akademi Award, 2017.

Here, we present to you a conversation that Ramkrishna Talukdar had with Enigmatic Horizon.

EH: How did you get attracted to Sattriya dance initially?

RKT: My birthplace has the biggest impact in my great attraction towards Sattriya Dance. I was born in Bamakhata village of the Barpeta district. Our home is located exactly in front of the Bamakhata Satra. So, I got used to the sounds of sankha, ghanta, barkaah when I was still in my mother’s womb. And when I gradually grew up, I learnt to walk in the rhythm of these instruments. Hence, I eventually got naturally and automatically attached to the Sattriya culture. Besides, the most important fact is that the Bamakhata Satra was established in the year 1602 and all of my ancestors were involved with running the satra. So, that environment was naturally there in our home. My father Late Gajendra Nath Talukdar was a famous artist of Lokageet and Bargeet and my mother Late Dhaneswari Talukdar was a well-known Namotii of the satra whom everyone in the area knew. All of my brothers also are involved with the Sattriya culture and the Satra. Only I came out of the periphery of the satra in a different way.

EH: What struck in your mind that you took a risky decision of pursuing your career in Sattriya dance at that time when it was not even recognised as a classical dance form?

RKT: I wanted to study how the Sattriya dance could be established as equivalent to other classical dances of India by learning it scientifically. It soon came to my knowledge that the Assam Government had established a State Music College at Rabindra Bhawan where nearly all the Indian classical dances along with Sattriya dance would be taught, and Gauhati University had opened the course of Bachelor of Music (B.Mus.). I eventually took admission in the B.Mus. course there in Gauhati University.

EH: Kindly tell us about your career path.

RKT: As I have said, I took admission in the B.Mus. course, which was in 1982. I studied till 1987, and I graduated holding first class first position. Then I wanted to do masters in Sattriya dance but at that time, there was no opportunity for it in Assam. Then I pursued Master of Music (M.Mus.) diploma course in ‘Nrityalankar’ 1982 from Gandharva Mahavidyalaya, Indore. After that, I went to study MA in ‘Nritya Bixarad’ from Indira Kala Sangit Vishwavidyalaya, Khairagarh in Chattisgarh and became post-graduate in Kathak dance as there was no provision to do masters in Sattriya Dance anywhere. I was actually sponsored by the Government for pursuing that course so that after coming back, I could analyse the Sattriya Dance in Assam scientifically. After completing masters, I came back and researched on the science behind Sattriya dance. At present, I am Head of the Department of Sattriya Dance in Luit Konwar Rudra Barua State College of Music in Guwahati. And we have this Sattriya dance school named as ‘Nartan Kala Niketan’.

EH: What is your opinion regarding the status of Sattriya dance in India?

RKT: Sattriya dance has a prominent position in the Indian cultural field. Sattriya dance was given the status of classical dance of India on November 15, 2000. Almost all the Indian cultural festivals of India include Sattriya dance now. Created and developed in the hands of Mahapurush Srimanta Sankardev, the Sattriya dance form is one of India’s richest dance forms from its component point of view. People can’t even imagine what Srimanta Sankardev has gifted to us in the form of culture. Sattriya dance has now been established at an international level, after getting a status as a classical dance of India. We have carried forward as well as performed this great treasure of culture in many other countries. Dancers from several foreign countries also come to Assam to learn Sattriya dance.

EH: It is said that you are the key person in Sattriya dance getting national recognition in 2000. What would you say about it?

RKT: No, I don’t agree with it. Only one dancer cannot bring such a huge achievement for the culture of a nation. There was a big group behind me. One member of that group was renowned litterateur Maheswar Neog. At that time, many other people rigorously wrote about the Sattriya dance and increased its publicity through websites and VCDs. Only dancing does not work; getting national recognition needed mass publicity through writing at that time. The noble work was done by these people, including my Gurus. But the dance was performed by me, since I was the youngest and one of the skilled performers among other Sattriya dancers. The scholars found the form of Sattriya dance in my performance quite scientific. But I would never say that I did everything by myself.

EH: Did you face any challenge when you decided to choose Sattriya dance as your career path and in later stages also?

RKT: Some challenges came from my family, as everyone was afraid of my decision of adopting dance as a career path. They felt that I wouldn’t be able to earn a penny and would become a big failure in life, and therefore they tried to forbid me from my determined career path. But in a very short term, I could predict my bright future. But from the society, we received some hindrances, since the general people did not know anything regarding the dance, because the dance form at that time was confined to the four walls of the Satras only. In such a situation, we had to play the role of torchbearers. The cultural functions committees did not allow us to perform Sattriya dance as common people didn’t understand it. We brought the Sattriya dance out of the periphery of the Satras and after facing several obstacles from the ignorant society, we were able to make the dance form created by Srimanta Sankardev familiar to all the people. Over the years, it gained interest, hence establishing a very high status of the dance form.

EH: Would you like to explain in simple words about what is meant by the scientific manner of Sattriya dance?

RKT: Mahapurush Srimanta Sankardev included 64 types of exercises in Sattriya dance form, which is enough to keep people living a healthy life and increasing their lifespan. Sankardev studied and analysed the other forms of classical dance from different parts of India, such as Odissi, Bharat Natyam, Kathak etc. He blended all the scientific components of these dances and invented one of the richest classical dance forms for us – the Sattriya Dance. If you pay attention, you will see that most of the bhaktas live at least 100 years, as they practice the scientific Sattriya culture invented by Sankardev. Actually, the matter of science in Sattriya dance is not easy to answer in a few words.

EH: What, you think, are the most essential elements or qualities needed to learn Indian classical dance, especially Sattriya Dance?

RKT: Dance is not everybody’s cup of tea. It is true for Sattriya dance as well. There are certain body features essential for Sattriya dance. Like, people who are very tall, very short, very fat, very thin, and those with white marks in the eye pupils are generally able to learn and perform Sattriya dance. There is science behind these as well.

EH: What role has the government been playing in the aspect of establishing Sattriya dance in the national and international level?

RKT: As you have already learnt, Sattriya Dance received the status of classical dance of India on November 15, 2000. The Ministry of Culture and the Ministry of External Affairs under the Government of India have indeed done a lot for the upliftment of various classical dances of India, including the Sattriya dance. They organize big-budget festivals for this purpose as well. Since the Sattriya Dance has received a status as a national classical dance, I will not be giving any opinion on the role of State Government in this aspect. However, it gives me immense happiness as Sattriya Dance is included today in the academic curriculum in school, college as well as at the university level.

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