SMITA AGARWAL is enthralled by a lec-dem of Sattriya dance by Menaka PP Bora
The soft dulcet tones floated over the hall, mesmerising the audience from the first word.
Relating her journey, Dr Menaka PP Bora revealed that she started dancing at the age of 2 years, when children are barely out of their mother’s lap. She is the daughter of the acclaimed classical dancer, Indira PP Bora, who tirelessly worked to popularise the Sattriya dance form all over the world. She was made to follow a flexible schooling schedule, in which dance was given as much importance as academics, and was the youngest dancer to perform solo at the prestigious Kalashetra in Chennai. But it was not easy, in the rarified, artistic circles of Chennai’s cultural elite, she had to prove herself, as she was from the Northeast, an Assamese.
London, being the cultural, artistic capital of the world, was her next choice and destination. But it was not merely for higher studies or a Phd. Exposed to Western music and dance, specifically Ballet, Contemporary Jazz and Piano, she realised that the innate difference between Indian and Western musical traditions is that in the West Music and Dance have evolved independently , whereas in the Indian sub-continent, the accompanying music and musical instruments are integral and essential elements of Indian Classical Dance. That inspired her to research why a particular instrument is used to make that particular sound/sounds for that particular gesture or ‘mudra’.
As a research scholar at Oxford University, she came across some rare Sanskrit texts, relating to Indian classical dance. At first embarrassed that British Scholars were researching them and not an Indian like herself, she managed to read them and decided to “dance the Text”. Unused to such an idea, Oxonians were sceptical, but intrigued. She put up a show, in full ethnic dance regalia in one of the hallowed libraries, creating a shock with her cheeky, innovative ideas.
Thus, through her research and lec-dems all over Europe, the USA and India, Menaka has created awareness about Sattriya Dance in the world’s best academic circles, while maintaining links with the grassroots from wherein these nitrya traditions have sprung from. She is very sensitive to those who maintain these traditional streams of dance and music, viz. The Sattras, but at the same time knows that it is imperative to spread awareness and appreciation of them to wider audiences of Bihutolis and private ones like that of FLO, to prevent Sattriya and its rich cultural heritage from being a dying art.
Dr Menaka’s strong grounding in Indian Classical Dance and Western Academia allows her to experiment and innovate in order to make these changes acceptable to society. She delighted everyone with her graceful and perfect hand gestures, her embracing of the space around her as circles of dance, her production of the indigenous ‘nagara drums’ sound with her vocal cords, perfect modulation of voice as she described her journey, transcending the boundaries of dance, rhythm and life, and may I add now, of tradition….because she has been invited by the Barpeta Sattra to share her research on the sounds of the ‘nagara drums’, with the traditional musicians based there. She is an outstanding artiste of a high calibre. Her journey has been awe-inspiring and deserves all accolades.