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Mati Akhora - The foundation of Sattriya Dance from mallika kandali's blog

Dr. Mallika Kandali

             All classical dance traditions of Indiahave evolved for themselves a structural pattern or grammar, whether oral or written, for its sustenance and transmission. The Sattriya dance also, as an enduring tradition, has over the centuries as stated earlier, developed a structural grammar of its own. That structural grammar, which is the foundation of Sattriya dance, is called “Mati-Akhora”. These Mati-Akhoras are the basic exercise patterns, also considered as the basic grammatical forms of Sattriya dance and on the basis of these forms, the structure of the Sattriya dance has been designed. With the use of these exercise patterns various dance poses are created, and combining all those poses in different patterns, different  dance numbers have been composed.


In Assamese, generally Mati-Akhora means exercise done on the ground. The Sattriya dance training begins with these Mati-Akhoras. After completion of all the Mati-Akhoras, the dancer can be taught the individual dance numbers of Sattriya. Mati-Akhoras are foundation for the learners to make a healthy physical, mental and spiritual set-up which is very necessary for a classical dancer. It is worth mentioning that some of these Mati-Akhoras are similar with some yogic postures or asana (based on yoga Shastra), which help the learners to maintain a physical and mental discipline. For example - “chakrasan” of yoga is similar with the thiyo lon of Mati-Akhora, which helps to  make the back strong and the body light, which is essential for the dancer. Again “dhanurasan” is similar with the jur kamitona of Mati-Akhora, which makes the body active, strengthen the thaighs and help to remove extra fats from belly areas. Besides these many Mati-Akhoras have yogic quality which help the learners to shape their body from all sides. It is worth mentioning that Mahapurush Sankaradeva, the architect of Sattriya dance was a great exponent and expert of yoga, who studied Yoga Shastra thoroughly.


It has been observed that there is no unanimity about the total numbers of the Mati-Akhoras; in other words, the different Sattras advocate different numbers of Mati-Akhoras. Kamalabari group of Sattras have been following and practising 64 numbers of Mati-Akhoras. On the other hand, Sattras like Auniati, Bardowa (Narowa and Salaguri), Bengenaati etc. also follow some Mati-Akhoras. It is worth mentioning that, the Asom Sattra Mahasava, the highest association of the Sattras, in a seminar and workshop on Mati-Akhoras held at Jorhat from 13-03-1994, studied the Mati-Akhoras of various Sattras and accepted seventy three Mati-Akhoras. In the recent years, several dancers and researchers have enumerated this figure ranging from sixty seven' to one hundred twenty2. In one school of thought, these Mati-Akhoras are identified or named on the basis of the movements of the hands , while some experts have emphasised their views in naming them as per the movements and the direction of the feet. However, the origin is the same.


The Mati-Akhoras are broadly categorised into two parts – one part is (a) pure exercises and the other (b) basic dance units. Pure exercises are based on some  acrobatic poses. For example– thiyo lon, athu lon, tamal musura, morai pani khowa etc. These exercises are generally not used in  dance, though there are some exceptions. For instance – we can refer to the Natuwa dance of Auniati Sattra, where in these exercises or acrobatic poses are extensively used. On the other hand most of the Mati Akhoras belong to the basic dance units .


It has already been mentioned that the Mati Akhoras are grammatical forms for Sattriya dance, and at the same time they are the exercise as well as the structural basis of this dance form. That is why, almost the entire body processes are covered by the Mati-Akhoras and they are a) Utha (rising); boha (squatting), c) thiyo (standing position), d) calana (gati or gait), e) pak (turns and spins), f) jap ( jump), g) ulaha (undulating or wavy movements), h) citika (springing), i) bura or duba (porpoising) etc. On the other hand, the Mati-Akhoras are categorised under eight different broad units, such as - ora, chota, jalak, jap,  muruka, khar, pak and lon. These are categorised on the basis of different characters and application patterns. Under these broad units, there are many sub-units. For example - there are four types of ora - Purush Ora, Prakriti or Stri Ora, Phul Ora,and Lahi Ora. Like that there are at least six types of chota- ora chota, kati chota, Udha chota etc.


            Mati-Akhoras embrace all the features of Sattriya dance. They are – the basic body positions or stances, bhangas or body bending, body movements, foot-stances and foot movements, various utplavanas or jumps, bhramari or paks, gati or gaits, various hastas, sira bheda or head movements, griva - bheda or neck movements, dristi-bheda or eye movements etc.


It is worth mentioning that generally the dance is divided into two kinds – 1) tandava and 2) lasya. Tandava style of dance represents the masculine and vigorous expression or movements. On the other hand lasya style of dance represents the smooth, delicate, graceful, gentle expression or movements. This division of tandava and lasya is observed in Mati-Akhoras. It is worth mentioning that Sattriya dance is basically a lasya based dance form. So, though the division of tandava and lasya exists in this dance form, yet we do not have extreme vigorous expression in tandava part of Sattriya dance. Basically it is divided on the basis of general nature or temperament of man and woman. Anyway - this division is strictly followed in the Mati - Akhora. For example - Ora (the basic stance or position of Sattriya) is divided into "purush ora" and "prakriti ora" which represent the male and female elements. On the other hand, one of the bhramaris is also divided on the basis of male and female elements, that is purush pak and prakriti pak. It is worth mentioning that the dance numbers of Sattriya are also divided into two types– a) purusha bhangir nach (male style of dancing) or tandava style dance numbers and prakriti or stri bhangir nach (female style of dancing) or lasya style dance numbers etc.


It is worth mentioning that, the Natya Shastra has mentioned the chari and karana, which are also certain kind of exercises and bhangis like Mati-Akhoras and are used to compose certain dance poses. It is worth mentioning that there are some similarities in the structural pattern of Mati-Akhoras with the structural pattern of those chari, karana, khanda, mandala, matrika and angahara of Natya Shastra. As described by N.S. – poses created by the movements of a single foot are called chari, poses created by using two feet are called karana, combination of three or more karanas create a khanda and the combination of three or four khandas create a mandala. On the other hand two karanas create a matrika and two, three or four matrikas create an angahara. The application pattern of chari, karana, khanda and matrika is directly observed in Mati-Akhora.For example-the features of chari

 are observed in Citika of Mati-Akhora,karana in Hat-Bhari Chalona,khanda in Hat Soluwa etc. It is worth mentioning that, there is a lot of scope to create the mandala and angahara in Sattriya by using various Mati-Akhoras.


After the completion of Mati-Akhora, when the learner's foundation becomes strong, then she or he is generally taught Nadubhangi nach, a dance numbers of Sattriya.


Now, some important Mati-Akhoras are mentioned below, according to the application pattern:


Name of the Mati-Akhoras      WHERE TO APPLY

1. Khasaka                                           As exercise, and salutation to Guru 

2. Ora (Purush and Prakriti)                 Initial position in male and female style of dancing

3. Orat baha-utha                                 Both exercise and dance

4. Harbhanga                                       As exercise, can be used in dance

5. Pani-sisha                                         As exercise, can be used in dance

7. Saman ora                                       As dance pose

8. Udha-chota                                       in dance

9. Baha chota                                       in dance

10. Ora chota                                       in dance

11. Samukhalai chota                          in dance

12. Kati chota                                       in dance

13. Etiya chota                                    in dance

14. Gerowa-sowa                               A exercise, can be used in dance

15. Orat jap                                         in dance

16. Bagh jap                                        in dance

17. Beng jap or bhekola jap                both exercise and dance

18. Samukhaloi jap                             in dance

19. Kachobandh                                  As exercise

20. Hatpakowa                                    As exercise, can be used in dance

21. Moropa                                          in dance

22. Muruka                                          in dance

23. bahamuruka                                  in dance

24. thiyo muruka                                 in dance

25. Hat salowa                                    in dance

26. Citika                                             in dance

27. Ketela                                            in dance

28. Jalak                                             in dance

29. Sigha jalak                                    in dance

30. Tewai                                            in dance

31. Kakilakhosa                                  in dance

32. Khahaki                                         in dance

33. Jatoni                                            in dance

34. Athuwa                                          in dance

35. Kati khar                                        in dance

36. Cit khar                                         in dance

37. Luti Khar                                        in dance

38. Olata khar                                     As exercise

39. Chatrawali                                     both exercise and dance

40. Morai pani khowa                         As exercise

41. Kachai pani khowa                       As exercise

42. Udha lon                                        As exercise

43. Thiyo lon                                       As exercise, use in natuwa nach

44. Athu lon                                         As exercise, use in natuwa nach

45.Tamal muchora                            As exercise

46.Buku chuwa                                  both exercise and dance

47.Purush pak                                   in dance

48.Prakriti pak                                   in dance

49.Akal pak                                       in dance

50.Uor pak                                        in dance

51.Pithi pak                                      in dance

52.Thita pak                                     in dance

53. Cereki pak                                    in dance

54. Shari pak                                       in dance

55. Geri pak                                        in dance

56. Thengmela tukura pak                  in dance

57. Udha Cereki pak                           in dance

58. Teltupi                                           As exercise

59. Zor kamitona                                 As exercise

60. Kamitora                                       As exercise etc.

61. Tukura pak                         in dance

62.Kati pak                                in dance

63.Uddha cereki pak                 in dance

64.Theng mela tukura pak         in dance

65.Uor pak-tukura pak               in dance  etc.  

Bibliography :

1.         Goswami, Jatin : Sankari Nrityar Mati-Akhora, Part I

2.         Saikia, Govinda, Sattriya Nrityar Ruprekha.

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By mallika kandali
Added Dec 15 '11


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