“We are not ‘chinkies’. Bamboo dance is not our only dance form. Wrap-around skirts are not our only form of dress. We have our own culture that mainstream India knows little about,” said Durlov Baruah, the founder of non-profit organisation, Kuhipaat Foundation. This two-month-old organisation is on a mission to dispel myths and promote the culture of the country’s northeastern region.
Launched in August by Baruah and eight young Assamese professionals, the Mumbai-based foundation will organise Saaneki, a musical showcase of Assam’s Sattriya culture, at the National Centre for the Performing Arts on November 13.
The event will include not just a performance of the classical Sattriya dance, but also Borgeet (Assamese celestial songs), two other dance forms, Bhortal Nritya and Gayan Bayan, and a photo exhibition explaining the various elements of the culture.
“In Mumbai, people are ignorant about the north-east and they lack empathy for our cultures. We feel alienated from mainstream India, and our aim is to bridge this divide,” said Durlov, 36, a banker from Guwahati, who has been working in Mumbai for the past decade.
“With Saaneki, we are targetting mainstream India, who have never seen Sattriya culture performed on stage before,” said Arindam Baruah, 20, Kuhipaat member and an aerospace engineering student from IIT-Bombay.
Sattriya dance was officially recognised as a classical Indian dance form by the Sangeet Natak Akademi in 2001, but was excluded from a showcase of the country’s classical dances at last year’s Commonwealth Games in Delhi.
Such exclusion, say members of Kuhipaat, has resulted in the northeast being left behind in the larger socio-economic development of the country. “People are not viewing the north-east as a potential hub for development. But we, who have been exposed to urban technologies and culture in Mumbai, can help our people study better and launch businesses there,” said Durlov.
The organisation draws inspiration from Srimanta Sankardev, a 15th century Assamese saint who invented the Sattriya culture as a means of creating a classless society.
Once the foundation is registered, they want to raise funds that can be directed towards the educational and economic development of the north-east.