Assam's Arisha Sheikh is keen to take classical Sattriya dance beyond India

Story by  ATV | Posted by  Aasha Khosa | Date 13-05-2024
Arisha Sheikh with Guru Ramkrishna Talukdar and his wife Guru Rumi Talukdar
Arisha Sheikh with Guru Ramkrishna Talukdar and his wife Guru Rumi Talukdar


Mukut Sharma/Guwahati

Arisha Sheikh, a 17-year-old dancer from Assam is determined to popularise Sattriya dance across the world.  Her performance and achievements at a young age bellie the notion that Muslim girls are not permitted to perform dances. Sattriya is one of the eight dance styles recognized as classical dance that has been prevalent in Assam since the 15th century through the Satras established by Mahapurush Srimanta Sankardev.

Arisha Sheikh has earned accolades in India and abroad for her Satriya dance, Bharatanatyam, Bihu dance, and acting talent. However, she is clear that she does not want to dilute the traditional genre of Sattriya dance and its purity in the name of modernisation and promotion.

In an interview with Awaz-The Voice Assam Arisha Sheikh said, “My vision for the future of Sattriya dance revolves around reverence for tradition and a commitment to maintain its purity. It is to propel our cherished art form of Sattriya beyond boundaries while maintaining its authenticity and adherence to tradition, resisting the urge to modernize for the sake of accessibility.”

Arisha seeks blessings from her Gurus Ramkrishna Talukdar and Rumi Talukdar

She says she wants to emphasize the sacred duty and reverence inherent in the title of 'Guru', alongside the ancient 'Guru-Shishya Parampara (tradition of teacher and disciple)'. “Today we witness an influx of individuals assuming the Guru’s mantle without adequate qualifications or understanding. Despite having completed my diploma and technically concluding my student journey, I perceive myself as a beginner in the journey of learning and unraveling this ancient art form. Teaching isn't merely about showcasing performances; it's about delving into the depths of the art's origins, gaining a profound understanding of the intricacies to pass on to future generations.”

Arisha Sheikh is the youngest daughter of Arman Sheikh and Anjuma Sheikh of Guwahati. She is currently a student of Class XII at Royal Global School, Betkuchi, Guwahati.

 Arisha showed her talent on August 15, 2009, by participating in a few dance performances during a cultural program broadcast on the Prag Channel. Then she was only 3 years old.

Dance poet Arisha Sheikh's Rang Yatra performance

Noticing her interest, Arisha's parents started teaching her Bharatanatyam under the guidance of Padma Shri Indira PP Bora.

"I started learning Bharatanatyam in 2011 when I was 5 years old, and I  Satriya when I was 7. For the Sattriya dance, I enrolled myself in Nartan Kala Niketan. I had the honour of learning Satriya dance under the supervision of Sangeet Natak Akademi award winner Guru Ramkrishna Talukdar and his wife Guru Rumi Talukdar,” Arisha said.

Arisha, who holds a B-Grade Certificate in Sattriya Dance from Doordarshan Kendra, has captivated thousands of people with her Satriya dance in various places across India such as Mumbai, Puri, Bangalore, and Delhi. Last year, Arisha had the opportunity to perform at the Round Square International Conference 2023 in Nairobi, Kenya.

How did she become attracted to Sattriya?

Arisha replied, “At first, my mother was captivated by a 'bhortaal' performance, which inspired her to enroll me at Nartan Kala Niketan to learn Sattriya. It didn't take long for me to develop a deep love for this art form. From the foundational Mati-akhara to the intricate compositions echoing life's essence, I've been captivated by the sheer beauty and profoundness of this art form”.

Arisha performs at a function at the Sankardev Kalakshetra, Guwahati

In 2023, Arisha attended a Sanskriti Sangam in Pathshala, Bajali where she played the role of Dronacharya in a play called 'Abhimanyu Badha'. Her role made a deep impression in the minds of art lovers.

Describing her experience of the show, Arisha said, “Initially I was cast as one of the Saptarathis and I felt deeply honoured when my guru bestowed upon me the role of Dronacharya in the dance drama "Abhimanyu Badh". It was a profound experience, delving into the depths of the character's psyche, and embodying his wisdom and conflicts. With each step, and each expression, I endeavored to breathe life into Dronacharya's character, drawing from a reservoir of emotions to convey the complexities of his mind on stage. The trust placed in me by my guru fueled my determination to do justice to the character.”

Arisha Sheikh earned the Visharad Point 2 Certificate in Bharat Natyam under Bhatkande, Lucknow. In Kolkata, Arisha got the opportunity to further improve her skills as she attended workshops of Guru Ram Vaidyanathan, a Bharat Natyam exponent.

Arisha’s talent is not limited to Satriya and Bharat Natyam. She also earned fame as a dance expert. She holds a three-year diploma in Western dance and holds a pre-foundation level certification in the PDCP program offered by The Dance Works. 

Arisha being conferred the title of Nittya Visharad by her Guru Ramkrishna Talukdar and his wife Guru Rumi Talukdar

Arisha was awarded the title of 'Mou Kunwari' and received accolades for her beautiful Bihu dance performance.

 Arisha has never faced any obstacles or criticism in her career in Sattriya and Bihu dance and acting from her Muslim family. "I am very fortunate that I was born into a cultured family. I have seen the atmosphere of arts and culture at home since childhood. My parents recognized my talent when I was young and they have inspired me to pursue dance or acting. "

Arisha, who will turn 18 on May 22, has been selected for the Royal Global School's Telegraph Award in 2021 in recognition of her contribution to the field of dance. He was also a recipient of the Future Face Award of IIDF Guwahati twice. She was awarded once in 2019 for Bharat Natyam and in 2022 for excellence in Sattriya dance.

Arisha Sheikh has honed her skills through a comprehensive three-year program in fine arts at the Guwahati Artists Guild. She also completed a three-month course led by talented actor Baharul Islam and actress Bhagirathi Bai Kadam in acting.

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Arisha also appeared in different roles on the small screen in several TV serials; and sang for a song album titled 'Monikut' in which she teamed with popular singer Kalpana Patwari.