Assam native Madhusmita Bora wins prestigious U.S. grant

U.S. based Sattriya dancer Madhusmita Bora is the recipient of one of 53 grants  to be awarded by The Pew Center for Arts & Heritage (the Center), which supports the Philadelphia region’s cultural organizations and artists. The Center’s Project grants are designed to support exceptional cultural programs by Philadelphia-area artists and organizations.

The grant would allow Bora to realize her project “Threads of History: Resurrection of a Textile” which will breathe life into the Cloth of Vrindavan, a 17th century textile currently housed in the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Bora plans to bring the Dancing Monks of Assam on their maiden tour to the U.S. for a performance at the museum, where the textile will be installed for public viewing. The monks, along with Bora and her dance partner Prerona Bhuyan are also expected to tour other major U.S. cities.

“It’s Gurujona’s blessings and I am overwhelmed and extremely humbled by the news,” Bora said. “There’s a deep connection between my birthplace on the banks of the Luiit and my adopted home in the banks of the Schyulkill. What are the chances of finding a textile connected to Sankardeb in a city where the only professional Sattriya company outside of India has roots?”

Since 2009, Bora and her sister-in-law Bhuyan have been on a mission to spread Sattriya in the U.S. through the Sattriya Dance Company. The duo have presented in notable venues across the U.S. such as Erasing Borders, Drive East and From the Horse’s Mouth festivals in New York, The Library of Performing Arts at Lincoln Center and San Francisco Ethnic Dance Festival.  The two have trained under Adhyapak Gobinda Kalita Bayan, Guru Naren Barua, Padmashree Jatin Goswami,  Shri Ram Krishna Talukdar and Sangeet Natak Akademi winner Anita Sharma.

Bora first became aware about the Coth of Vrindavan from an article written by Rosemary Crill, a senior curator at the Victoria and Albert Museum. For the last two years, she has been researching the textile and was finally able to locate it in the museum’s collection in 2016 summer. With the help of Dr. Bhabananda Barbayan, Bora was able to decode the stories and pursue further research about the cloth. The curators at the Philadelphia Museum of Art were unaware about the textile’s fascinating history. Bora expressed gratitude to the museum staff for supporting her in her work.

 “A core mission of the Philadelphia Museum of Art is to preserve the objects of special cultural importance and beauty we hold in trust for everyone and for the future,” said Darielle Mason, The Stella Kramrisch Curator of Indian and Himalayan Art at The Philadelphia Museum of Art.

“It’s thrilling that this rare cloth will come together with its sacred context through this extraordinary performance. The event builds a bridge that links half the globe and brings new meaning to all our lives.”

“This is such wonderful, happy news for Sattriya,” said Dr. Barbayan, who will be the lead choreographer in the project. “This will be the first time that Sattra monks will perform in the U.S. and it will be such an honor to present choreography based on the Vrindavani Vastra created so many centuries ago and  tied to Gurujona’s lineage.”

 Dr. Barbayan has been working on the Vrindavani Vastra since 2009, and it has become his life’s work. He has already decoded similar textiles and presented choreography related to it at the Musee Guimet in Paris in 2012 and the British Museum in London in 2016. Both museums have these textiles in their collections. Dr. Barbayan said for the U.S. tour,  he will create choreography to translate  the Sattriya philosophy for the American audience. The production will  aim to build a cultural bridge connecting Assam and Philadelphia.

“This project is a result of Madhusmita’s initiative and as a Sattriya artist and member of the sattra, I express my gratitude to her for her hard work and dedication,” Dr.Barbayan said.

The production is expected to take place in Philadelphia in the spring of  2018.

“I have always nurtured a beautiful dream about bringing and presenting the monks in Philadelphia. This grant from the Center will help me realize my dream.”

(Bora is a freelance writer, co-director of Sattriya Dance Company and works as an English  professor at Lincoln University. She is the daughter of former M.L.A. Hiranya Bora and Dipika Bora and daughter-in-law of Dr. Rajen Pathak and Bharotee Pathak. She resides in Philadelphia with her husband Dr. Saurav Pathak and their 9-year old Arush Ahan Pathak.)