Mobilising Assamese Vaishnavite performance practices

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


This thesis considers processes of mobilising a dance form in new social arenas, across international borders and between different bodies. What is the value of taking dance into new contexts, and what new systems of values are anticipated and encountered on route? How does such mobilisation effect what is danced? These questions are explored in relation to a community of monks from Assam, northeast India, who have a long tradition of performing in ritual and public contexts and who have recently started to mobilise their art form on the national and international stage. In 2000 the Indian government recognised part of the monastic repertoire as an ‘Indian Classical Dance’ called ‘Sattriya’, and the concomitant interest in the dance form from Indian middle class and foreign students has led to new pathways and opportunities for the bhakats of Assam. 
The study draws from the author’s ethnographic fieldwork and professional engagement in Uttar Kamalabari Sattra between 2012 and 2018 as well as historical material and recent scholarship on ‘Sattriya’ dance. Focusing on the work of monastic choreographers Bhabananda Barbayan and Govinda Kalita, it includes close ‘textual’ and ‘contextual’ analysis of dances produced for the ‘national’ and ‘international’ stage. I relate these choices to the value systems of both the dance producers and the gatekeepers of mobility—the funders, national bodies and institutions which enable the dance to move. In doing so, it contributes to scholarly understanding of the institutional and discursive landscape which Indian artists navigate, and the ways which creative agents interact with, manipulate and operate beyond national institutions and representation which frame their work.
Date of Award1 May 2020
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • King's College London
SupervisorKatherine Schofield (Supervisor)

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