Sattriya is a classical Indian dance that originated in its eastern state of Assam.

Sattriya (Assamese: সত্ৰীয়া), or Sattriya Nritya, is originated in the eastern state of Assam.[1][2] It is a dance-drama performance art with origins in the Krishna-centered Vaishnavism monasteries of Assam, and attributed to the 15th century Bhakti movement scholar and saint Mahapurush Srimanta Sankardev.[1][3][4]

One-act plays of Sattriya are called Ankiya Nat, which combine the aesthetic and the religious through a ballad, dance and drama.[5][6] The plays are usually performed in the dance community halls (namghar[6]) of monastery temples (sattras).[7] The themes played relate to Krishna and Radha, sometimes other Vishnu avatars such as Rama and Sita.[8]

Recognized in 2000 as a classical dance by Sangeet Natak Akademi of India, modern Sattriya explores many themes and plays, and its performances staged worldwide.[9]


Sattriya posture by Ramkrishna Talukdar

Sattriya is a classical dance of India, a classification that traces its roots to ancient drama and music texts of India, particularly the Natya Shastra.[10][11] The Natya Shastra is a foundational treatise on the performing arts attributed to the ancient scholar Bharata Muni. Its first complete compilation is dated to between 200 BCE and 200 CE,[12][13] but estimates vary between 500 BCE and 500 CE.[14] The most studied version of the Natya Shastra text consists of about 6000 verses structured into 36 chapters.[12][15] The text, states Natalia Lidova, describes the theory of Tāṇḍava dance (Shiva), the theory of rasa, of bhāva, expression, gestures, acting techniques, basic steps, standing postures – all of which are part of Indian classical dances.[12][16] Dance and performance arts, states this ancient text,[17] are a form of expression of spiritual ideas, virtues and the essence of scriptures.[18]

The history of dance arts in Assam go back into antiquity, as evidenced by copper plate inscriptions and sculpture relating to Shaivism and Shaktism traditions.[19] Singing and musical traditions, similarly, have been traced to Assamese chorus singing tradition for the Hindu epics the Ramayana and the Mahabharata.[19]

Monasteries and temples in Assam, called satras, have dance halls (Namghar) for Sattriya. Above: Namghar entrance.

The modern form of Sattriya is attributed to the 15th century Sankaradeva, who systematized the dance using the ancient texts, and introduced drama and expressive dancing (nritta and nritya) as a form of a community religious art for emotional devotion to Krishna.[3][7][19]

Since the 15th century, the Sattriya art grew as part of the Vaishnava bhakti movement, in Hindu monasteries called Sattra.[7] The art was developed and practiced by monks in the form dance-dramas about legends and mythologies of Krishna, particularly from texts such as the Bhagavata Purana.[20] One distinctive part of the Sattriya dance inside temples and monasteries is that the dance is not celebrated before any idol, but is performed before a copy of the Bhagavata Purana placed in eastern (sun rise) corner called Manikut of the dance hall (namghar).[20]

These dance-dramas were, in the early days, written and directed by the Assamese poet-saint Sankaradeva, and by his principal disciple Madhavadeva. They were mostly composed during the 16th century.[21] Once the domain of male monks, it is now performed by male as well as female dancers. In the second half of the 20th century, Sattriya Nritya moved from the sanctum of Assam's sattras/monasteries to the metropolitan stage.[22]

The Sangeet Natak Akademi recognized Sattriya Nritya as an official classical dance of India in 2000. Sattriyas are now performed on world's stages.[21]